Monday, October 01, 2007

Child language - linguistic puzzle

For as much as the words that come out of a child's mouth are incomprehensible gibberish, what they do is usually rather regular. Actually one of the mistakes children often make is making things too regular -- the way a language should be instead of how it is, such as "goed" as the past tense of "go" or making up words like "cooker" and "cutter". They also mispronounce things in relatively regular ways. And so here is a puzzle for all of you, if you wish. Can you figure out what is the connection between all the words that B pronounces in an unusual way, compared to the ones he gets right?

On the left in the slashes is the word he is saying as we would know it. On the right in the bracket is what he says. I'm just going to use spelling.

/guitar/ ---- [gtar]
/asparagus/ ---- [paragus]
/korean/ ---- [krean]
/japan/ ---- [jpan]

but also

/japanese/ ---- [japanese]
/cooking/ ---- [cooking]
/spider/ ---- [spider]
/china/ ---- [china] (i.e., he gets all of these just right)

Here is the most interesting pair, because they are very close to what's called a minimal pair in linguistics.

/desert/ ---- [desert], as in Grandpa G lives in the desert.
/dessert/ ---- [sewert], as in ice cream is a yummy sewert, and the first e is the schwa.

What's he doing? It's worth saying that he hears differently than he speaks, like all children. To get [sewert], I said, "say dessert". "sewert".


Robin S. said...

Hi paca,

I think I'm too sleepy to nail down the reasoning behind this - (or maybe I simply won't be able to, even when wide awake!)

My older daughter, when she was very small, mispronounced words that came to mind as I read your list:

spaghetti became: asketti

bikini became: vkini

And yet she'd say things at the age of three, like "I'm perplexed" just fine (maybe because her mom is a closet geek and a readaholic who considers vocabulary an amazing game).

Is this the same type of thing you're describing?

pacatrue said...

Hi, robin s. Yes all your examples like vkini and sketti are good ones with the ones I have here. So they question now is... what's the connection between all these words? Perplexed is kind of an odd one, actually, but I can't say how without giving away what's going on. Either way, robin, you've seen the pattern, now we are just looking for an "explanation".

Robin S. said...

Does it have something to do with
a short or vs.long vowel sound, combined somehow with what syllable is beng emphasized?

I'm looking at your desert and dessert example - so I guess the opening vowel sound isn't all that's going on. It looks like B. took the "s" of "say", dropped the "d", in the beginning of the word - but the "des" of both sound the same, EXCEPT the syllable emphasis is different.

Coooking, spider and china all habe long first vowels and first syllable emphasis - and they are not a problem. (If I'm on to something, I can see where my example of 'perplexed' seems odd, as it has a second syllable emphasis and an almost indistinguishable sound for the first vowel.

Am I close?

I'll keep thinking.

Ello said...

I think a very usual one for little kids is also vanilla becomes vallila and spaghetti becomes pasghetti. watermelon is waterlemon.

My middle child called my oldest whose name is Summer - nunner.

My youngest child called my middle child whose name is Skye - kye

My older two call my youngest child whose name is Gracie - a pain. ;o)

I love how kids make up new words or mix things up. It is really cute.

Church Lady said...

Mine would also say 'pets' instead of 'steps.' I guess in part because of the 's' blend.

I know some letter sounds come developmentally later than others, but I forgot which ones.


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