Sunday, November 19, 2006

Kid's Talk

I was out with my extended family today, and I noticed certain linguistic features of my youngest cousin, Samantha. Sammi is very young, just learning how to string words together to form sentences, I can't remember how old she is, but she's about up to my thigh, and is very cute.

Have you ever notice when speaking to kids, there's a tendency to repeat the nouns and verbs? Like "eat" is "eat eat", "play" is "play play", "ball" is "ball ball". While eating the Peking Duck, I asked Sammi what she was eating, she answered "duck duck skin". Isn't it shorter and simpler just to say "duck skin"? So why was there a need to repeat the main noun in it? Also, why is the noun "duck" repeated instead of "skin"?

My only possible thought was that ot sounds cuter. Kids are cute, so they talk cute. hehehe... If you check out those act cute girls, they tend to repeat the nouns and verbs too. Instead of going "shopping", they'd say "go shop shop". I know, because I've some act cute tendencies in me too. Or perhaps, it's because we know that kids talk that way and kids are cute that's why we emulate their manner of speech unconciously by repeating our nouns and verbs. Or perhaps, it's the way parents talk to kids that make kids grow up talking like that. If we as parents think that it's cuter to talk to kids by repeating the nouns and verbs, we do that while talking to them, the kids follow the way we talk, and end up talking like that. It sounds pretty much like a vicious cycle.

Speak Good English Campaign seems to be in the trashcan for the parents, kids, and the act cutes.

The interesting thing I noticed from my cousin is that she doesn't know how to use pronouns. Instead of using "I" and "you", she uses the names of people instead. So she'd talk like "Mummy want this?" and "Sammi want this." instead of "Do you want this?" and "I want this." This reminds me of the cute Japanese girls. Like Sammi, they talk in third person's point of view too. (I learnt this somewhere, I think it's Wikipedia.) But for the Japanese girls, it might be because whilst the boys can call themselves "ore" or "boku", they use the more formal "watashi" instead, so perhaps by calling themselves by their names it might sound less formal.

When Sammi was named by her mother, the whole family was told only to use the name "Samantha" and not "Sam" or "Sammi" or any other kind of short forms. Even throughout her infancy, her mother made sure only to call her Samantha and frown upon anyone who called her something else. If "Samantha" was too tough to call, the simpler "Baby" was used instead.

But as Sammi started talking, and started having to call herself, my parents started teaching her to say "Sammi" instead. I mean, how can like a baby call herself "Samantha"? She'd probably bite her tongue trying to call herself that. And as she mastered the name "Sammi", that's what she became, and that's what everyone calls her now. I think this also has to do with the idea that "kid=cute" thingie and that all cute things ends with "-ie" or "-y".

I know quite a number of my friends with English names are called by their nicknames in the family, and these nicknames usually end with "-ie" or "-y". But for me, as far as my memory served me, I was always called "Joan" by people. Maybe sometimes "Joan Joan" when I was really young, or "Joooooooooaaaaaaaaaaan" in a highly accented stress on the vowels, but never "Joanie". Maybe that's also the reason why I always cringe when someone attempts to call me that. It just sounds so wrong to me.

Ah, but I was still talking about Sammi just now right?

She made a really funny comment over dinner just now. I was standing beside her and wanted to talk to my mother who's a few places on our right. So I called out "Mummie mummie mummie..." trying to catch her attention, but she was talking to some other person and didn't hear my calls. As my calls grew louder, I think the mild eardrums of Sammi just couldn't stand me that she called out "Mummy is here!" and pointed to her own mother. That caught the attention of my mother. diaoz...

Kids are cute.

I think to her little world, she thinks that "mummy" is a name rather than a relative to her. She's probably use "mummy" instead of "my mummy". Okay, granted, since she still doesn't know what is pronouns, I don't think she can grasp the idea of using possessive pronouns yet.

I really wonder how does a kid's brain function, and how do they absorb knowledge. She's still young to talk in longer sentences, but her grammar's all wrong and everything, how's she going to start school in the near future. Maybe if we want to bring up kids that speak proficient English, we might really need to educate from top down. Parents not to use "cutesy kid-speak" to children and everything.

hai... But then again, if restricting a child's manner of speech is also too restrictive for the child to grow up in a creative environment. A bit sad sia...

On a side note, Sammi was playing with a couple of kids she'd met at the open area of the shopping centre before dinner. They happened to be these two Malay children. To kids, there's no sense of racial identity between them, and it was just a game for everything. Then just as they parted, and we had to leave for our dinner, it was the usual slew of "bye bye"s and "high five"s, and the Malay boy, I think, very naturally, wanted to kiss his young friend goodbye. I think that act stunned his mother. Was that out of racial or religious considerations? I don't know if Muslims kids aren't allowed to kiss, but to me, it seemed as if that even though kids are racially and religiously blind, the adults definitely aren't.

I wish I was a kid all over again. It just seem much freer and less constraints, less considerations, and just do everything from the heart rather than having to heed advices from the mind. My sister was just telling me that the way I talk over the phone sounds very fake, my aunt said how I talked over the phone was the proper way, tone-wise and attitude and the way I talked. I thought, perhaps, it's because I'm matured already? Or maybe I should just admit that I'm old.

Those were the days, my friend...

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