50 Words

1 year, 7 months, 13 days old

So here’s the thing: I have a 19 month old daughter called Arwen, and she’s hilarious. Every day she does something new that makes us laugh out loud, and I’ve often thought about writing a blog about her, but needed an angle and couldn’t come up with one. Then inspiration struck (and by that, I mean my mum had an idea) – why not write about her language?

As a former English teacher, I’ve been fascinated by child language acquisition for a long time. By the time children start school, they know thousands of words (studies have shown that a typical five year old knows around 5000 words), tons of grammatical rules (that’s the actual figure – look it up!) and how precisely to use language to get across their meaning in the most accurate way possible. And the most incredible thing about it is that they do all of it without being formally taught. Yes, we point things out to them and say what they are, but when we point to a picture of a dog and say “dog”, then the child points to an actual dog and says “dog”, they’re making that leap from picture to reality all by themselves. And that’s amazing.

I’ve started writing this blog now because Arwen recently hit her 50 words milestone. I’ve been keeping a record, because I’m just that interesting. This is the point at which her vocabulary will start to expand rapidly, as after 50 words, many children have what some linguists refer to as a “word spurt” (bleurgh!) She’s also just left the holophrastic stage of language acquisition (when a child learns their first, simple words) and entered the two word stage. The self explanatory stage, if you will.

So what were Arwen’s first words? Well, her first word was “bye” when she was 10 months, 25 days old (told you I kept a record.) She said “bye” in three different, appropriate contexts over the course of a week, and I got really excited. Then she stopped bothering with it, and gave up on words altogether, until she discovered “no” a couple of months later. And then the fun started. And by “fun”, I mean the realisation that she could refuse anything offered to her and express her disdain for everything. Ever. This also coincided with her decision to never allow a spoon near her face again and only eat food she could hold in her hands. It was great. Though at least it meant she learnt her third word – “nana” – and she’s never been low on potassium since.

I’m not going to list all 50 words (though I could – I’ve not only written them in a book, I’ve also typed them up with an explanation of the contexts in which she said them and a record of exactly how she pronounced them, transcribed in the International Phonetic Alphabet, because that’s how fun former English teachers are) but I thought I’d go through some of her favourites.

I’d love to say her favourite words are “please”, “thank you” and “just non-fat, steamed broccoli for me, Mummy”, but in reality, they’re “no”, “poo” and “bum”. And “poo” is always accompanied by a grab of her crotch, which made a young couple (who definitely didn’t have kids and just don’t know!) snigger to themselves in the beautiful surroundings of Ordsall Hall this afternoon. She’s also a fan of “back”, which she says when putting her toys and books away. I thought this was great and told loads of people about it, only to be repeatedly told that children who like to tidy up when they’re little without fail grow up to become subjects of Britain’s Biggest Hoarders.

I love the facts that she loves books (“book” is word no. 15 on her list, fact fans!) and my heart melted a little when she said “Mog” (word no. 34!) while picking up her copy of Mog the Forgetful Cat, as that was always a favourite of mine. But the books she inevitably wants to read whenever we have visitors are I Need a Wee, which she’ll bring over to a potential reader, shouting “WEEEEE!!!!” until it gets read, and Noisy Bottoms, a sound effects book with various animal fart noise buttons that she likes to press while making a face like Kenneth Williams hearing Barbara Windsor make a reference to jugs.

But I digress. As she continues her word spurt (bleurgh!) I’ll continue to note her words and phrases down, adding the context where necessary. It might seem odd that she knew the word “teeth” at 17 months for instance, but put in the context of the fact that after breakfast I always tell her that we’re going upstairs to brush teeth, do poops and get dressed (there’s a song of my own composition that goes with it. And actions.) it’s not really surprising that every morning she goes upstairs muttering “tee, poo” to herself.

And as for her entering the two word stage, you may be wondering what her first two word utterance was: “No Mummy”. Brilliant.

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