Sarah Grace Says ...
Some Notes on Learning to Talk
(or, as she would say, "Talking")
February 2002

"Uh-oh. Feet."

--  Observation by Sarah Grace during a Bath

    Sarah Grace is learning to talk so rapidly we thought we'd record a little snapshot of where she is as of February 2002, at 22 months; she has learned so many words just since Christmas that if we don't record this soon it'll be lost.

    When Sarah joined us in July of 2001, the orphanage told us she could say "Mama" in Chinese (which is "Mama"), but we didn't hear it or any other Chinese words from her then. As she settled in, she began with the usual words-- "Mama", "Daddy", and very early on "Cookie". "No" was also an early favorite.

    While an American-born child would probably have acquired language faster, we are very pleased with her progress, given the fact that she had not even heard English spoken before she was nearly 15 months old, and that therefore she had a late start from the blocks. If she'd heard English for her first 15 months she'd no doubt be saying more, but she's awfully close to what the books say is normal, or even beyond it, despite her very late start with the language.

    By Christmas 2001, when we'd had her almost six months, we made a list of words we'd heard her use and came up with 61. By now (February 2002), the number is in the hundreds; at 22 months we're actually able to have little conversations since she can ask for what she wants by name, even if she can't put much grammar around it.  She understands questions we ask her pretty well, too, though she usually answers "no!" quite emphatically, regardless of the question. (Do you want to come with Mama or stay here with Daddy?  "No!") This "just say no" phase sometimes comes out as "no no no no no no no".

    She isn't really using sentences yet, except for one-word imperatives (Sit! Open! Come! Push! Coming! [meaning come!]), but does use some multiple word expressions (All right!  being one she throws in at some interesting moments, along with "oh, no" and "oh well" and a few others which may just be mimicking us). "Up!" and "Down!" are favorite commands for being picked up or put down, let out of the booster seat, etc.

    Having addressed Tam and Michael as Mama and Daddy for months now, she is extrapolating and using the words to mean adult women and men generally. So she'll point to a woman and Say "Mama" or to a man and say "Daddy". The latter, needless to say, raises some eyebrows when directed at a total stranger in the grocery store.

    Sometimes she transposes sounds; at the Frontier Farm Museum in Staunton, VA the other day she became fascinated with the chickens and then wandered through the houses saying "Chicken?" or sometimes something like "keechin?" Since, however, she is getting "chicken" more correct.. Rabbits, which she loves, are "boppy", which may be a cross between bunny and rabbit, or something. A butterfly is usually just a "fy".  Spaghetti became something like "Sghepi".  "Tree", which was very popular at Christmas, comes out as "Gee" with a hard "g", presumably because she can't get the "tr" sound right.

    Her vocabulary is growing in a lot of directions. She knows lots of animal names, and while as noted a rabbit is a "boppy" she pronounces many other names (turtle, fish, cow, owl) quite correctly. She will sometimes say "cow" and then "moo" or "kitty" and then "Meow". "Doggie" was one of her first words, and she likes two of the neighborhood dogs well, and also says "bow-wow".  Ducks are usually ducky. And bugs on the window are "buggy".

    Foods are big of course. "Cookie" is perhaps her most frequently used word (other than "Mama" and "No"). Applesauce is "apple"; a banana is usually just "nana", and peppers are "peppoo". In fact, the terminal "-er" gives her problems, so in addition to peppoo we also have diapoo for diaper, etc. And diapoo is sometimes exactly right. One of the few meats she really enjoys is ham, and she pronounces it with a heavily aspirated "h" and a drawn out "m" which makes it sound particularly delicious: "Hhhammmm..." She also knows "piggy", but has not associated cute little piggies with ham yet. Or the "chickens" at the farm with the nuggets we feed her sometimes, or the chicken pot pie, which she just calls "pot pie", or sometimes something like "popeye".

    She does pretty well with body parts. "Eye", "nose", "mouth" and "teeth" are all used pretty correctly and sometimes "ear"; one day riding home in the car seat she just kept pointing to her nose and saying "Nose" all the way home. And it was, too. Her immortal bathtime comment on feet is preserved at the top of this page.

    Ditto clothing. She knows "hat", "jacket", "shirt" (not to be confused with "Chewshirt", her combination teething/security blanket, which is an old shirt), "shoes", "sock", etc.

    She can say "Moon", "sky", and with a little cue, "sun"; she knows "star" as the shape but I'm not sure she's associated the word with the things in the sky yet.  She has learned "heart" for Valentine's Day.

    Words are still new enough that she still likes to point to things and name them, pointing to us and saying "Daddy" or "Mama" as if she has just successfully identified us. For a while she said "car" everytime she saw a car and "truck" (which usually comes out somewhere between "tuck" and "duck"). One day Michael had her in downtown DC and she was saying "car, car, car, car, truck, car, car" until perhaps even she got a little tired of it.

    Verbs, as already mentioned, started out mostly as imperatives (Sit!), but now she is also using gerunds and participles (-ing) words, though not conjugating them. "Airplane, flying." "Coming," to mean "Come." "Helping," to mean both "I need some help" (thus "helping" when taking off shoes and having trouble), but also "I am helping" put things away for Mama.

    Another common command is "Hold" or just "hol" when she wants you to hold something (we hear this a lot, now, especially for chewshirt and toys.)

    On February 12 when we dropped her off at Adela’s day care, she said, “Morning” in response to Adela’s “Good Morning!” First time for that.

    She is grabbing our fingers or our pants to lead us to where she wants us: usually the top of the stairs so we can all go down as a family: this is a big deal to her and has become a little ritual when Mom comes home from work. We must all go down the stairs together. Sometimes she says "coming", to mean come, other times just "me"; this seems to be either "come with me" or perhaps the military command "with me".

    She is now saying, “Done” for when she wants us to take her bowl or plate of food when finished; sometimes even "all done"; also "all gone".  She accepts "all gone" as an explanation when she asks for "more" of something (except, of course, for cookies, which must always be available).

    In addition to "more" for food, which can be combined with the name of the food (not always in the right order: "Apple. More", she also is saying "gin" for again, especially after going down a slide, or climbing the stairs, or some other fun thing. (See below for "fun".)

    She can combine "up" and "down" occasionally. When she dropped her "chewshirt", she said "chewshirt down".

    She has said "good" occasionally. "Dake-ooh" is thank you. When we push the issue with her, “Please” is “Pea” or “Peas”Recently at Rabieng for dinner she ate all of my broccoli, which she calls “brocci”.  “Ni” is “nice”.

    On the topic of “No”, it seems to be a one-way street for Sarah: she can use “no” anytime and for any or no reason at all, and most emphatically. However, when Mom and Dad say “No,” it is met with either utter indifference or an outbreak of sobs and tears: her world has just been shattered! Or else she has simply forgotten what the word means and ignores it.

    We mentioned that "cookie" was one of her first words, originally meaning Arrowroot teething biscuits. But she has branched out to  other kinds, and interestingly fig newtons have just become "kind", apparently because we asked if she wanted "this kind" instead of the other.

    Lately, too, we have come to the word "fun". At Frying Pan Farm, we had told her we were going to have fun, and she kept walking around saying, "Fun?", "Fun?" as if looking for it. Finally she saw a kid's playground and started saying "Fun!" and heading that way.

    We're trying to convince her that there is fun in places other than just playgrounds. She has recently started to say "slide" and "swing" when at playgrounds, or "fun".

    Inflection is another thing, and we haven't seen much in the literature of early speech to tell us whether she's picking it up ahead of schedule or not. She can certainly inflect for questions and exclamations. When Michael picks her up at Day Care, she asks "Chewshirt?" (rising inflection clearly indicating question); when Michael hands chewshirt to her, she says with a gleeful expression "Chewshirt!" (with exclamation point just where you'd put it if you said it like she did). Where she learned this, we have no idea.

    As for "chewshirt", well, we started the term, to define her combination teething/security blanket shirt, and she started using it before we knew she could talk so well. Now it is forever "chewshirt", and if we lose it, we're in trouble.

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