Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Baby talk nonsense words

I checked out David Crystal's A Little Book of Language from the library the other day. In one of the early chapters he talks about how babies pick up the cadence of a language first (p. 10). He mentions the iambic stress pattern that English tends to fall into. ti-TUM-ti-TUM-ti-TUM.

Which made me think about the patterns of how I speak around the kids. I would say that I speak Latin with the music of English, which is to say that I follow Latin's stress patterns with English intonation. Questions rise at the end. Statements are usually flat, maybe falling off a bit at the end. And so on. But I hit the stress where it's supposed to go. LUdere VIS. TIbi LIcet. (Usually. Some accents get misplaced accidentally.) Otherwise I sound like a fairly typical American.

Well, maybe not when I get upset with the kids. It can sound pretty Italian, to my ears anyway. Just take my word for it.

Which brings me to the nonsense words I like to say to the kids. I remember saying these to Little Girl before she spoke too much. I'm saying them again to Little Boy. I don't know why I say these, but I do. They aren't quite as constrained in sense as gitchy-gitchy-goo—you can't say that when getting cereal, just when tickling. I can say my nonsense words whenever I like.

After reading that bit by Crystal, I realized that the words I use fit Latin's stress pattern on individual words. ti-TUM-ti or TUM-ti-ti. I really am partial to [haj'baba] and ['wibubu]. I know they sound ridiculous, but they're what I say. I didn't mean to do them that way, but I did.