Friday, January 27, 2012

Made-up Language

I am constantly teaching language to my child.  It's an amazing process.  In the beginning, I just talked to him a lot.  Whatever I happened to be doing, I described.  I explained the task, I identified the things I handled, and I repeated words over and over.  And it appeared he would listen.  As his focus improved, he watched.  Eventually, he would look at the items I named, and then later he could point to them.  "Where are the flowers?"  "Where is the light?"  Lights amazed him and he pointed to them wherever we went.  "Do you see a fan?"  Fans also captivated him, and he made up a gesture that he used to point out every ceiling fan we walked beneath.  He was clearly so excited to be able to recognize some of the things in the world around him, and I think he was inspired to connect language with those things, even if it was a made up gesture of his own.  Language had an origin, and seeing my son's effort to communicate makes me imagine how people long ago also concocted ways to share their thoughts. 

Around the same time that I became aware of every ceiling fan in Southern California, I started to show my little one some words in sign language.  I had read that it could take two months before he even imitated any, and even longer before he would connect meanings, and then desires, to the signs.   But I persevered in using a few signs for common words, unsure whether any of them were being absorbed.  Then, one day, my son signed to me that he wanted "more" of something he was eating.  It was an amazing moment for me.  My 10-month old child was communicating to me what he wanted. 

Over the following months his comprehension snowballed.  He could point to dozens of objects when they were named, and he could sign when he wanted to eat, drink, nurse, and sleep.  What further amazed me, was how his use of the language he thus far possessed evolved with his shifting needs.  He began to use "more" to indicate when he wanted to play more of some game, and then to play more with some toy, and then to let us know he simply wanted to play with something or see how it worked.  "More" became the all-purpose action button, the "A" button, if you will. 

He has adapted other signs in logical ways--using "ball" to ask for an orange, for example.  And as he has started speaking a few simple words, he has used "hot" to label things that could hurt him.  His learning has also become much faster.  He learned the sign for "potty" on the first day I showed it to him, and a day later let me know he wanted to use it.  How amazing what communication tools can accomplish!  There have been amusing misunderstandings, too.  He conflated the words "coffee" and "coughing".  To point out the coffee on the table (yup, he's been asking for sips of coffee, a real chip off the old block), he would fake cough twice, "ugh-ugh".  This evolved to "ah-ah", which is now his word for coffee. 

I am constantly fascinated by the rolling developments, and grateful for my blind, early efforts to give him tools to start with.

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