04 May 2015

Two and a Half Times Two-hundred

The older Sebastian grows, the more brilliant he proves to be. When Sebastian first started walking at eleven months, my dad would comment how incredible his balance and leg control were. Most people watch a walking toddler and see an expected milestone; he saw a miracle. That's sort of how I view speech and language. Sebastian, at two and a half years, is able to communicate nearly anything he wants. If he doesn't know the word, it usually takes just one time of hearing it to be able to use it correctly.

In the past six months, Sebastian has dramatically increased his vocabulary and phonemic inventory. Linguists estimate that toddlers know roughly five-hundred words. Since that's more than I'm able to document here, I'll just write up a few of my favorite Sebastian speech examples.

As I mentioned, it rarely takes Sebastian more than one time of hearing a word to get it. For example, as we were driving through the Oregon countryside, we saw many large, industrial wind turbines. (I would have called them windmills, but Curtis promptly nipped that improper term in the bud.) Sebastian, having never seen these before, called them "airplanes." First of all, what an incredible association. Second, after Curtis said, "Those do look like airplane propellers, Sebastian! But those are actually called wind turbines. They look similar, but they generate power instead of fly in the sky." Then we hear Sebastian say turbine over and over and over . . .

One interesting thing that Sebastian is obsessed with is the cold. In fact, he won't tolerate anything else. I'm not exactly sure when it started or what prompted his aversion, but within the last few months, Sebastian has requested that we freeze his food. Follow me, now . . . I'll prepare a hot meal, because hey, we enjoy hot meals in our house. So we'll place a plate of steaming food in front of Sebastian, and he usually exclaims, "Make it cold first!" So we have to put it in the freezer. If we try to just blow in it, he'll remind us, "No! Freezer!" So there we have it. Cold water to wash hands, cold water to drink, cold food to eat. Naturally he loves ice cream. Sometimes I won't bother reheating leftovers, and the way to entice him to eat lunch is to remind him that it's cold.

I Basin
The other day, a woman asked Sebastian how old he was. We haven't really practiced this question yet, but I guess we need to because apparently it's all people know how to ask a toddler. She asked him, "How old are you, cutie? Are you three?"
Sebastian shook his head, "No."
"Are you two?"
Sebastian looked at her like, silly lady, "No, I Basin!" while patting his chest.
Of course.

We were hastily walking to a doctor's appointment, when a man who lives in our apartment complex walked past us to take out his trash. He seemed like a nice man, but was wearing an eye patch. Sebastian took one look at him and started to yell, "Pirate! Pirate! Pirate!" I'm thinking, I don't even know how he knows what a pirate is! Honestly, he's never seen one other than a cheap plastic finger puppet that he got at a grocery store treasure hunt. We designated that thing as a bath toy. But, yep, I have called that a pirate before. But man, how quickly he made the association of a simple eye patch to that pirate. Very clever, indeed. Embarrassing, but clever.

. . . is
One interesting grammatical construction that Sebastian uses is placing the verb is at the end of sentences. For example, he will say, "Where Tigey is?" or "Sky blue is," or "Dad at work is." I will repeat his sentence using the correct word order, and he will again repeat it correctly; however, when he creates his own novel sentences, he places the is at the end. Interesting! I believe this comes from how we frequently place is (or any verb) at the end noun clauses. For example, Sebastian reads a book called Skipper's Bone. In it, a puppy named Skipper asks different animals if they have seen his bone. He asks, "Do you know where my bone is?" (Where my bone is is the noun clause.) While questions place the verb directly after the wh- question word and before the subject, noun clauses with wh- question words place the verb after the subject, just like a normal sentence.

The Best Moon
Another favorite quote shows, again, how Sebastian thinks and what is in the world he knows. We started playing a "You're the best" game. It's simple: I would tell Sebastian, "You're the best!" And he would respond, "No, you're the best!" It was cute. Then I shook it up: "Well, you're the best Sebastian!"
"You're the best Mom!"
"Well, you're the best son!"
"You're the best moon!"
Ha! I thought. He definitely understands relationships: Sebastian and Mom, boy and Mom—so, of course, son and moon.

"It's too tasty" is a common phrase at the dinner table. Although it sounds like a good thing, Sebastian says this when he doesn't like something. We're not sure where it came from, but we suspect that he understands the word "too" as a negative and limiting word. We do, afterall, say, "That's too fast," when fast is usually a good thing, too fast is not and usually leads to us saying, "Stop!" Sebastian also uses this construction when saying things like, "It too hurts."

After a few versions of her name, Sebastian has settled on "Wia" for Livia. He says it so often that Livia said her own name for her first word. One of my favorite phrases is "I want to sing songs with Wia." Of course it's when he's supposed to be in bed himself, but how can I resist?

But I'm Happy
When Sebastian can tell that I'm getting upset, he'll turn the tables, pat his chest, and yell, "But I'm happy!" I think this phrase shows two things: First, Sebastian's disposition is, in fact, generally happy. He rarely wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, and if he is feeling cranky, usually a tender touch and expression of understanding turns him around. Not always, but generally. Second, I think this shows how Sebastian is definitely entering the opposition-in-all-things phase. He's not afraid to try doing what I don't want him to do. And that's a really healthy part of testing toddler boundaries. In this case though, I'm happy to let him win.

Sebastian's pronunciation is clearly much more clear than it used to be. Research shows that two-year-olds are generally between 50% and 75% intelligible. While I understand nearly everything he says, the phonological processes sometimes still get in the way to unfamiliar audiences.

One phonological process that stands out in Sebastian's speech is assimilation, when one sound in a word influences another sound in a word. Sebastian says "biaper" and "gog," but he can certainly say /d/ in words like "Dad" and "dancing."

Sebastian also reduces many of his consonant clusters. He says /tɑp/ for "stop," but /pu pes/ for "toothpaste."

Another process is weak syllable deletion, which is obvious in the way he says his name. He also says /bi ko/ for "bicycle," deleting the middle syllable.

Stopping, replacing fricatives into stops, is less common for Sebastian: he says /dɪs/ for "this," but he can say "sad" and "fish."

When we were at the aquarium with my mom, a poster near the shark exhibit warned about the damaging effects of illegal shark hunting. A small picture showed shark fins that had been cut off. Sebastian looked at that picture and amazingly understood exactly what it was: "broken sharks." My heart! We have seen broken cars and broken trees (from strong wind a few weeks ago!), but we've never really seen hurt or dead animals. That he could tell that that picture (which I didn't even see) showed shark fins—and that those fins were from sharks—amazed and touched me. He continued to show this sensitivity toward animals when he saw his first broken snail on the sidewalk. He said, "Oh, sad! Broken snail!" (/bwoˈ kn̩ s̪eɪw/) He screams at his friend when he tries to crush snails, "Ne taka!!!" Now, if he sees a snail crossing the sidewalk, he picks it up by its shell and places it in the bushes.

Our neighbor, who has a son Sebastian's age, is from Bulgaria, so they speak Bulgarian around Sebastian a lot. Sebastian now speaks a few Bulgarian words to his friend, including ne taka (don't do that [which Sebastian usually yells]), baika (the bike), e-la tuk (come here), zdravey (hello), dovizhdane (goodbye [which Sebastian says vine]), and kakvo (what).

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