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Language Explosion!

Sentences, abstractions, and other unexpected changes

When I , the girls were 19 months old and had vocabularies of about 60 words. Eight months later, boy, have things changed! Both girls have expanded their vocabularies significantly, and they have figured out how to string the words they have into sentences of varying complexity.

As Michael mentioned in we implemented some strategies to help Muffin cope with her fear of the noise from the clanking heater in their room. About a week after the column was published, Muffin turned to me one evening and said "Fred the Bear keeps Muffin protected safe from the heater." That was a much more complex idea than I thought Muffin was able to express, so I was thrilled to hear her put the sentence together.

Squeaker, meanwhile, has learned most of her color words. "Blue eyes," she says to me. "Squeaker has blue eyes. Muffin has brown eyes."

Related to this, I had been concerned until recently that both Muffin and Squeaker called every color either pink or purple. Then I read an article in Scientific American that reassured me that Muffin and Squeaker are not the only toddlers who have problems learning colors and even provided a reason why. It seems that, since English traditionally puts color words in front of the object being described (the blue ball) rather than after as do many languages, children don't realize that the color is a descriptor and not part of the "name" of the object. One piece of advice given by the article is to describe objects with the color after the object ("The ball is blue") to help children differentiate the color names.

Until they turned two, the girls were reticent to speak in public. They would talk a lot at home, but they got very shy when we were with other people. Now it still takes them a bit of time to warm up to people, but after a relatively short period of time they are talking to people other than Michael and me.

The still exists. But now instead of "Muffin do it!" or "Squeaker do it!" they have expanded their statements to "Squeaker want pink monkey jammies!" and "Muffin want blue bowl now!" We are working on teaching them to say "please" and "thank you" with relative success, but teaching them to say "you're welcome" or "sorry" is more of a challenge sometimes. "You're welcome" is something I don't mind them learning when they're somewhat older, but we have regular battles over "sorry." Even when the offense is accidental —such as Muffin kicking Squeaker as she wriggles off a chair or Squeaker catching Muffin's hair in her hand when reaching for another object — we make sure the offender apologizes. Recently, the pattern seems to be that the offense is committed and then the "sorry" comes only after a request from a parent. Squeaker sometimes responds "no sorry" to Muffin after Muffin has said sorry, and I have not yet figured out if this is a statement that Muffin has nothing to be sorry for or if she feels that Muffin's apology is unacceptable.

The other apology-related quirk the girls have adopted is saying sorry when they are the victim rather than the offender. For example, if Muffin hits Squeaker with a book (this is usually though not always accidental) we will say, "Tell Squeaker you're sorry, Muffin." Frequently, Squeaker will say "Sorry, Muffin," before or at the same time as Muffin says "Sorry, Squeaker."

Now that they have stronger language skills, the girls are beginning to make jokes on a simplistic level. Sometimes I'll say to Squeaker, "Are you a bird?" If she doesn't answer, I'll ask, "Do you have a beak?" She often replies "No!" (though sometimes she points to her nose and giggles). I then ask, "Do you have feathers?" "No!" My last question is, "Do you have a tail?" And she almost always answers "Pony tail!" and points to her hair, whether or not we have pulled it back into the aforementioned ponytail.

I continue to be amazed by the verbal leaps that both Muffin and Squeaker make, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next. Since I grew up in a family that makes lots of puns and both Michael and I enjoy word play, I hope that the girls pick up on that flexibility of language and join in.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

Adrienne Kerman October 28, 2011 at 03:26 PM
It sounds like they are going to be wordsmiths like their parents! I remember, with my twin boys, they spoke in twinspeak exclusively until they age three. We were so worried they would never speak English, and then literally overnight, they started talking in full, complete sentences. Do Muffin and Squeaker use any distinct "twin language"?
Michael & Nomi Burstein October 28, 2011 at 06:52 PM
They do seem to have some "twin language." They are clearly using words in conversation between themselves that they understand but that are completely incomprehensible to us. But they also use a lot of standard English, even when they're talking to each other.

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