Trixie has started to communicate verbally. Now, I’m not talking about when she screams because she’s hungry, tired, dirty or startled. She’s also not even close to being able to talk. What she is doing is repeating phonetic sound clusters over and over and over again. Examples include:
aaahh-ruuu [rhymes with Peru]
hi-eelll [rhymes with Isle]
It’s incredibly interesting to watch her create these sounds and to think about the context. This is the genesis of language. This is the defining trait that sets us apart from every other species on the planet.
She mostly practices these sounds at diaper changing time. She’s comfortable and relaxed because she’s just gone to the bathroom and she’s lying down and doesn’t have to worry about balancing herself. So she’s free to play with her mouth and the noises it can produce. (Listen to a 60 second sample below in QuickTime or MP3 format.)
You can see in her eyes that she wants to communicate. She’ll open her mouth, accidentally make a noise and then try to repeat it. She’ll spend time forming her mouth in different shapes trying to make something happen. Her tongue trembles and wags all over the place, often getting in the way of the noise that she’s trying to get out.
We encourage her by mimicking the sounds she makes and exaggerating the mouth form. It works. She watches carefully, and tries to do it again until she just gets too excited to make any noise except a sort of baby howling.
Do the noises she makes mean anything? I definitely don’t think so. Some sounds are just easier to replicate than others, and these are the ones she repeats. For example, the “ahhh” sound is one of the least sophisticated sounds we use to communicate. Your mouth just basically has to be open; it doesn’t have to be drawn into any particular shape and your tongue doesn’t have to do anything. Long “e” in contrast requires the tongue to be pressed to the bottom of the mouth and the lips are drawn out. Try saying “ahhh” and “eeee” out loud; while you might accidentally stumble across either one, it’s a lot easier to repeat the first.