The borders of language

I realize I haven’t blogged much about El Guapo since he was born. He’s really a delightful baby—he loves his family, he’s a great eater and sleeper (well, most of the time he’s a good sleeper), he is just happy and smiley much of the time, and it takes quite a lot to make him outright cry. We love having him around.

One thing he does has really gotten me thinking about language acquisition. I find the whole process of children learning their first language fascinating, almost magical. There must be a point at which a baby realizes, “Wait, these sounds must mean something.” And another point where the baby thinks, “I keep hearing the same sound over and over when they give me food/when they smile at me.” And then, “I wonder what sounds I can make,” and finally, “I can make sounds like the big people’s and get what I want!”

El Guapo has kind of taken a different route. From about six weeks of age, he’s made a “Mmmuh!” sound when he cries, and since he mostly only cries when he’s hungry, I would feed him. Gradually, he’s begun making that sound more intentionally to signify hunger. I swear I’m not crazy, but for the last month or so, I have not heard him say “muh” except when he was hungry and very glad to eat afterward. In fact, sometimes when he’s hungry, he tries saying “muh” before he begins to cry. Keep in mind that El Guapo is six months old. I would guess that he doesn’t understand the word “milk” and is not trying to mimic it the way an older, actually talking baby would do. He’s just learned by positive reinforcement that when he says “muh,” he gets food. It’s probably a lot like a dog learning a trick, if that’s not too offensive of an analogy.

It makes me wonder whether I’ll notice if and when he stops saying “muh” because he gets food when he does and starts saying it because it sounds like “milk.” Because both Lego and Duplo said “muh” for “milk” as their first word, both at around 12 months of age.

The point of this post is not to point at my child and say, “Look! He’s a genius!” It’s more to say, “Look, my child is developing in a strange way, and it makes me wonder what’s going on in babies’ strange, crazy, brilliant little brains.”

What weird things have your babies done, developmentally speaking?