Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Acquisition of Proper English

This morning, while Luke described the trajectory of something he'd been reading about, he pronounced it with the emphasis on the first syllable so that it came out 'TRAjectory' instead of 'traJECtory,' as we would normally say it.

It made me pause and think: he mispronounced the word because he's only ever read it, and never heard it spoken. And I just found that so cool!

He's done this before, with the word 'motto' - I wrote about it here - pronouncing it 'mow-tow' and knowing of this word only from literature. Comics, actually, thus making the case that Calvin and Hobbes is truly high art.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how humans learn language, and the telling (not to mention cute!) mistakes we make along the way. Things like when Owen says "I'm pretty funny, amn't I?" He knows that it's a contraction, like isn't, but somewhere in the hard drive of his mind, he knows that isn't... well, isn't.

And then, there are the unpronounce-ables; when Luke was two or so, he used to call mustard 'shmenky,' because he just couldn't get his mouth around the word mustard. Naturally in our family we now always say 'pass the shmenky please.' He also used to say 'chip-chop cookies' instead of chocolate chip. When I was a girl, one younger brother called me 'Wee-wah' and the other called me 'Nenni' - I guess even 'Karen' can be tough for little ones!

I also love the substitutions, words that get put in place of the actual words; Owen calls Sprite 'Sprout' on the rare occasions he gets to have it. Again when I was a girl, one brother jokingly told my family that he was feeling sick to his stomach; he reported: "I'm nauseating!" We haven't heard a substitution from Luke for quite a while, and then a week or so ago he came out with this one while we were out on a walk, overlooking a fast-running stream: "Hey, look at those jimmies!" Ben and I exchanged glances, trying to figure out what a jimmy might be, and then it clicked - he meant eddies, those little whirlpools that you see in fast-running water.

Another word that he's read, but never heard, and another chance for me think: that is so cool!


jugglingpaynes said...

We hear a lot of that too! My favorites were when my son used to ask for a cup of apple spider and he always confused marshmallows and mushrooms. :o) At sixteen, my daughter still comes up with some interesting pronunciations!

Thanks for your comment! Your friends means a lot to me!

Peace and Laughter,

Anonymous said...

Uber has done this all his life! He reads words, gets the pronunciation in his head, and can then hardly be convinced that "his pronunciation" isn't the correct one. It's hilarious!!!

Sparklee said...

I love stories like these! We call them "family words." At our house, we never have noodles--we have "doodles," because that's what my son called them when he was a toddler. When we're done, we put the dishes in the "wash-disher," which is what my daughter called it for years. It was so cute, we never corrected her.

If you think about it, "amn't" makes more sense than "aren't," doesn't it?

Funny post!

The Stone Age Techie said...

Cristina - Marshmallows v. mushrooms, I love it!
Your friendship means a lot to me, too :-)

Topsy - It's funny when you can't talk them into the truth, isn't it? 5-year-old Owen hears 'Cobrunicus' for 'Copernicus' in one of our favorite They Might Be Giants songs, and he refuses to believe that he's wrong. Since he is not reading yet, we have no way of convincing him!

Sparklee - love the term 'family words' :-)
We used to call our dishwasher a wash-disher too, because one of the boys did that!

Rana said...

We have a lot of those floating around our house too. The twins have their own language. They say asponsibility instead of responsibility, Tosco instead of Costco, smash potatoes instead of mashed potatoes. I think it's cute! And yes you cannot correct them or a fight will ensue.

Jena said...

It's great that you're blogging, because you'll have all these wonderful memories recorded for the future. Peter was always mispronouncing uncommon words for the same reason--he read them before he heard them. Your kids are learning and applying their knowledge without a "teacher." That's awesome.