Friday, May 15, 2009

First Language Acquisition

My friend Jessica has inspired me to comment on Anna’s language development. I’ve noticed it a bit more than I did with the boys (James didn’t say much until age 3 with all that French in his head, and Joel had long sentences by 18 mos! –I’ll confess those are overgeneralizations). Lately, she’s talking incessantly and loudly whenever the four older people in her family give her ‘air time’, which is, in itself, a minor miracle given that I was so worried I had her hearing tested at 9 months for not EVER babbling! Ha!

Anyway, Anna has plenty of cute phrases like “Pick me down!” but linguistically a lot is happening these days for her. She has always substituted alveolar (t and d) for velar consonants (k and g): Daddy’s name is ‘Tent’ and ‘Ready to DOE!’ Recently, I’ve noticed she forms them just fine in word-medial and word-final positions: gecko is ‘decko’ and ‘lick’ is fine for instance. I take this as great progress. She CAN physically make those sounds just fine, but for now hangs onto the alveolars word-initially.

Anna also has trouble with consonant combinations like ‘tr’ ‘pl’ and ‘st’. She told me she wants to go really, really ‘fat’ on her bike and it took me a few seconds to understand. =) Every airplane flying overhead is ‘airpwane’; totally normal first language acquisition for English. If she were learning a Bantu language, on the other hand, it would never be an issue as they are almost entirely CV (consonant-vowel) by rule and end up with long words like : amenibariki (‘he blesses me’), but would never have to master our tongue-twisting consonant combinations!

As for vocabulary, she shocks me everyday learning what a ‘trocodile’ and ‘taterpillar’ are correctly. She called the trocodile a dinosaur first, but hey, I can see the resemblance! She’ll be the first Swahili speaker in the family I think. Last week she was sitting on the couch ‘reading’ a book when one of our employees arrived, she looked up and said, ‘Jambo!’ like she’d been doing it all her life. It totally shocked him. He said something like, “Wow! She’s a smart one!” (in French)

Sorry for your daily dose of linguistics! I recognize it's underwhelming for most people, but fun for a few of us!


Job 77 said...

Hi Kim! Thanks for the linguisic analysis. I enjoyed hearing how Anna is doing.

About the alveolar for velar substitution: completely normal at this age. And you're right that the fact that she can produce it in some contexts but not in others does show that it is "emerging" and she is starting to pick it up.
Usually when I'm working with students on the velar sounds, we'll start with it in the final position. It seems to be easier to pick up there than at the beginning of words. Not sure why. So it's not surprising that Anna's got it in final position before initial.

And you're also completely right about the difficulty with r blend, s blend, and l blend being completely normal at this age.

The Six of Us said...

Wow, I wish I had a degree in this! I just took Max into Early intervention for speech issues. It is all so interesting but for the most part you may as well be speaking French. It is kind of fun to learn though. Max has trouble with his hard g, the k sound and several blends.

Anna sounds like such a little go-getter. I am so glad to hear that things are going well for the most part.