Saturday, March 25, 2006

figuring things out

You would be amazed to hear Olivia talk. Something about the spontaneous eruption of intelligible language from a toddler is miraculous. Surprising and surreal. It seems that my 18-month-old daughter's process of learning to speak has accelerated exponentially within the last couple of weeks.

Although it took about a year for the first barely-decipherable tones of "Mama" and "Dayee" (Daddy) to be painstakingly drawn from the well of her lips, we're now receiving the bubbling brook of new words and simple sentences every day. Earlier this week, Marci was surprised when Olivia noticed the sound of her brother's tricycle in the hallway and pointed while inquisitively-yet-articulately quipping, "Whatsat?" (What's that?)... The following day, she mastered execution of the word "cookies" (although the pronunciation still varies sometimes between "dookies" and "cookies") and "slide" (well, okay... so she says "schly" -- but it was still pretty astonishing for a kid that's been cooped up, away from playgrounds, all winter). She mimics almost everything she hears, and we're continually amazed to see how many words and phrases stick in her mind; for instance, I love it when Elliot hides and she cups her hands in front of her mouth, intoning "Ell-iyah," and then turns to me and shrugs her shoulders while asking, "Wheh-iye go?" (Where did he go?). Of course, she still makes honest mistakes -- calling a chicken a "duh" (duck) or exclaiming "brekfah" (breakfast) when we're in the process of serving lunch. But she's learning. And her mistakes can often be quite insightful -- like the way that she uses the word "door" for any kind of object that needs to be opened (for example, the "door" the screws on top of the peanut butter jar or the "door" that zips up her jacket).

I'm fascinated by the process of language acquisition. My own adventures in learning Dutch over the last three years have paralleled and precipitated my appreciation for Olivia's initial steps in "language acquisition." Like Olivia, I've also learned much and can occasionally surprise people with my Dutch capabilities. But I can also make amusing mistakes -- like the time that I told some friends that I would have to be leaving a party "binnenkort" (which implies "soon" as in within the coming couple of weeks), or the time I took offense at a joke about the fluidity" of some ice cream because I thought they were mocking the "fluency" of my Dutch... Furthermore, I enjoy unique insights into language through comparison of English and Dutch, like being amused by the way that the Dutch refer to gloves as "handschoenen" (hand shoes), or the multitude of uses for the word "lekker" (referring to anything pleasing to the senses -- such as a delicious meal or a warm coat or the fresh fragrance of a rose).

Well, my fascination with language acquisition came full-circle yesterday, when bundling up Olivia to go outside for a bicycle ride... Olivia always seems to be overjoyed at the idea of going outside, and -- like anything that excites her -- such an idea sets her to chattering and trying out her vocabulary. I say, "Do you want to go outside, Olivia?" and she says "'tsai!" (Outside!). So I respond by saying, "Let's go get ready," and she says, "Leh's go!" (Let's go!). I help her put on her jacket, but she gets impatient as I pause to zip up my jacket -- prompting a defiant shout of "Door!" as she fiddles with the zipper at the bottom of her yet-unzipped coat. I zip up her coat and afix her hat and scarf. But as I turn off the lights in the house, check for my keys, and get ready to head out the door, Olivia raises her arms above her heads and reminds me of the one thing which I've forgotten. Picking at the pink-and-blue mittens hanging from her coat sleeves, she says in a voice as clear as day: "Shoes!"

And as I shimmy the little "handschoenen" onto her excited fingers, I am reminded of the miracle language acquisition. Someway, somehow -- both Olivia and I are figuring things out.


At 7:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

cool. I enjoy your blogs. I guess I've been reading them off and on for 6 months or so. Oh - I am a friend of Will and Jenni's :0) Anyway - fun blog about words and kids and all. Take care of the Lafferty's for me. Feed them ice cream :0) If they even have ice cream over there. I am figuring they have something like it since I doubt Will would have gone over there without it. :0) -michele

At 10:15 PM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

Thanks, Michele, for letting us enjoy Will and Jenni's company in Amsterdam. I know it's certainly not without it's costs -- both to them and to the web of people that are connected to them.

The least we can do is try to make sure that they have good access to ice cream. Honestly, the Dutch-produced stuff is not quite as good as American (one of the few dairy products, actually, in which they underperform their counterparts in the USA). But Ben & Jerry's is available here... and Häagen Dazs. And there's a franchise called "Australian" that's pretty good too.

We'll definitely take care of them. Thanks for checking out the blog.


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