First Words?

I am resolutely not worried about Robin’s speech development. I am not worried about it even though the baby book engages in base scare tactics, warning us to “alert our pediatrician to possible signs of developmental delay” if our toddler is not speaking at least fifteen words by eighteen months. I am not worried about it because Robin is happily babbling away and I have talked to many other mothers of little boys who tell me that their boy, or another boy they know, wasn’t really talking until two years or even later. (It’s a boy thing. The girls are little chatterboxes, all of them.)

I am not worried about it even though Robin’s eighteen-month checkup is coming up, and the doc told us that if Robin wasn’t talking by this point he’d want to check his hearing. Robin’s hearing is fine. He turns his head when we call his name and he imitates sounds that we make. He is interactive and very conversational, it’s just that the sounds he makes to indicate how he’s feeling or whether he wants something aren’t English.

In fact, as I was fretting on a low level about that upcoming checkup, it occurred to me that I may be drawing an arbitrary distinction around what counts as a “word” and what doesn’t. We’ve been focusing on the English, trying to tell ourselves that when Robin points at a dog and says “da-gi!” he’s saying doggie, ignoring all the times he points at his juice cup and says da-gi, or points at a dog and says guh! or buh! We tell ourselves that when he runs to Sam calling da-da-da! he’s saying daddy, ignoring the long hours when Sam’s at work and Robin shouts da-da-da all day anyway.

But there are things that Robin only says in certain contexts, never randomly. He says “awwww” when he lays his head on my shoulder, or when he pets the cat. He says “mmmm!” when he sees food that he wants to eat. He doesn’t make these sounds at any other time. They are meaningful. He clearly understands that awwww is an expression of tenderness, while mmmm! is an expression of yummyness. Are these words? I think they must be something very close.

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