Ever since I studied language acquisition as an anthropology major in college, I've been fascinated by it. For instance, did you know that someone once proposed an experiment in which parents would bring their toddlers to an island to live for a number of years and only speak a form of pidgin to them so that they could observe how a creole language developed. Brilliant idea in theory, but highly unethical in practice. Anyways, now I've got my own little experiment in language development running around the house. I've been taking lots of notes. Here are a few observations:
Silas still mostly signs rather than vocalizes. He is beginning to say a few words, and I'll get to that later. Sticking with signing, it's been great to see how it helps reveal the inner workings of his mind. For instance, let's take the word "bird." Silas signs when he sees birds or pictures of birds. But he also signs "bird" when he hears them. One warm evening, we were preparing for bedtime and the window next to the bed was open. Silas lay there and we heard birds chirping and so he signed "bird." Just a few days ago, we were outside and a small plane flew over us, rather low. Silas was really intrigued and his gaze followed it till it was out of sight. I told him it was an airplane, but he doesn't have a word for that, so after thinking for a while, he signed "bird." Well, it was flying after all, so it was a logical conclusion.
Similarly, Silas doesn't know all of the signs for every animal. Often, when a creature looks like it might be a kitty (like a bunny or a squirrel), he'll sign "kitty" and when it's a bigger unknown creature, he'll sign "puppy." I took him to the PAWS walk last Sunday, which is a dog festival of sorts, and its goal is to raise money for our local animal rescue organization. He was in seventh heaven seeing all of the dogs, and he signed "puppy" over and over again, until, that is, he saw a corgi. He looked really close at that little dog, which didn't quite look like the other dogs, and finally decided it was a kitty. Too funny.
One of the things that has surprised me, is Silas' capacity to understand that a representative image of something is the same as what it's meant to represent. Sticking with "puppy" again: One day, I saw him open a book to a picture of a dog. This was a cartoon image, rather than a realistic painting or a photo, but he still signed "puppy" when he saw it. Likewise, he knows that the stuffed dog I made him for his birthday is a puppy (though an adult at his party thought it was an aardvark). Like the example I gave with "bird," if Silas hears a dog bark, he'll sign "puppy." He doesn't have to see the dog--the bark is all that it takes.
One of my favorite signing examples is music. Silas LOVES music, so this was an important one for him to learn. He signs it when a song he likes comes on. He signs almost always first thing in the morning to indicate that he wants us to turn music on. He also has figured out how to turn the radio on. It's set to the classical station, so he will often push the "on" button, sign "music," and then sit there and rock to the beat. Because we often play music through our laptop, he now equates laptops with music. One day, we were next door and he kept signing "music, music." There was no music playing, so I wasn't sure what he was referring to, until I saw him pointing to Shannon's laptop.
We have a definite morning routine now, and we usually all eat breakfast together before I leave for work. As soon as I get up from the table and start to gather my things, Silas signs good-bye. I love this, as it's entirely unprompted (though in a way it brakes my heart).
One of Silas' most common signs is "book." He used to use this sign to show that there was a book in front of him, but now he will also sign "book" when he wants us to read to him. If we read a book and then put it down, and he wants us to read it again, he will give us back the book and sign "book" very insistently.
It's hard to say for sure, but it seems like every now or then, Silas has been putting two signs together. the reason this is difficult to determine for sure is that he often says two or three signs in a row because he gets confused and doesn't say the sign he really wants to say the first time. But still, there have been several occasions (and Drew could probably relate more) when it seems intentional. One day, for instance, Silas pulled out a book with a picture of a bird on it. He signed "bird" then looked at it and signed "bird book." Occasionally, it seems like he's saying "more something" like "more milk" or "more music." One glorious day, I came home from work and he signed "hello mom." That. was. awesome. But it might have been completely accidental. Either way, I'll take it.
And that segways into the next topic--the spoken word. Si's vocal words are limited, but recently, he's had a breakthrough on the parroting front. He has indeed tried to imitate "duck dog" several more times since I reported the first occurance of it on Sunday. He's also been saying "daddy" for the last few days, and it's sounding startlingly clear. He tries to repeat "mommy" when I say it, and sometimes he gets it, but it often sounds like "ba-bee" instead. I don't know why. He most definitely knows how to say "mama" and for several months has seemed to be directing "mamamamama" towards me when he wants me or wants something from me (see the happy baby picture of Silas in the orange jacket for an idea of how he usually looks when he says "mamamamama.") It's only been recently, however, that he makes efforts to say words like "mommy" or "daddy" in imitation of us. Other words he'll attempt to parrot include read, bird, baby, pee, and butt. That's our boy!
Naturally, it is very exciting to hear him repeat words, or even just sounds, back to us, but what I'm most amazed by is knowing that without signing, we'd still have almost no ability to communicate with Silas. How frustrating that would be for him and for us as well! We obviously are still working with a limited vocabulary, but what signs he does know seem to go a long way. I think about how many times he was able to tell me he wanted milk, or the time when he signed "bird" to me and pointed out a bird that I myself hadn't even seen, or the first time I finished singing him a lullaby and he signed "music" to indicate that he wanted me to keep singing. I am just so grateful to have this way to communicate with him while he's still learning (and still largely unable) to physically speak.
6 years ago