Saturday, October 16, 2010

What is your first word, anyway?

Dear Delilah,

I've come to realize that talking is quite a skill. Now that I've been doing it for 30-ish years, I've taken for granted all of the tiny factors that go into forming a word, the precise and complex coordination of lips, tongue, throat, and teeth that produce specific sounds.

When you were a tiny little baby, two months old or so, Daddy was taking you into change your diaper, and as he laid you down to do so, he said "Time to change your diaper, okay?" When you responded with a gleeful "OGEEEE!" You gave him a startled look, like you were shocked that you had formed sounds similar to the ones he just did. He loves telling that story, by the way. You've come a long way since then, and are able to mimic lots of sounds, although your ability to associate words with things is still very, very new.

It's common to ask parents of newly verbal babies "What was her first word?". Most parents will answer with a smile and say it was 'mama' or 'dada' or 'no'. I hadn't really spent much time pondering precisely what your first word was, until I recently shared this video with friends and family:

I found myself fumbling a little bit when someone asked "Is that her first word?" Ummmm....uh....I guess I don't know! You've been saying 'dada' and 'mama' for months now, but you only reliably use them to refer to the applicable parent 10% of the time. Oh, who am I kidding? 5% of the time. Maybe 2% of the time. You say 'Nala', our oldest cat's name, but you use it to refer to any of the pets, and even say it when there is no pet in sight.

When we started waving "hi" and "bye" to you, our purpose was to teach you how to wave, so we were pleasantly surprised when you started saying "hi" along with your wave! You've even moved on from waving and saying "hi" at random times and to random things, and have started mostly doing them in the correct context. Waving "bye" is still a little bit elusive, although yesterday at the doctor's office, when you waved at the door right after the nurse exited the room, I thought you might be starting to grasp that, too!

This morning, you gave us the most convincing piece of evidence yet that you're starting to understand this whole language thing. While you were eating breakfast, Nala jumped up on the table, and you waved at her and said, clear as day, "Hi Nala!". Your father and I looked at each other in disbelief, but agreed that since we both heard it clearly, it must have been real.

I had a bit more to say on the subject, but you're calling "mama" from your room right it really me that you're calling for? I guess I better go find out!




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