Toddler Linguistic Development: Sentences!

The kid has been building up his vocabulary in both English and Japanese, of course, and at some point started stringing words together. At first, if I recall, it was a couple of stock phrases like “all done,” then rudimentary noun-verb combinations like “Papa sit” or “Mama eat.” For several weeks, he’s been doing three-word sentences like “Woodchuck 草 eat.” (草 is kusa, ‘grass.’) Note the personal-pidgin mix of English and Japanese with in a sentence, and the SOV word order taken from Japanese. He’s also produced sentences with complex nouns, like “豚ビデオ見る” (Buta bideo miru, ‘[I want to] watch [a] pig video’).

This evening he produced what, to my knowledge, was his first four-word sentence… with three different parts of speech! First, a little background.

Our apartment is close to some wooded areas, so we see a decent amount of insect life in the area: butterflies and moths, grasshoppers and katydids, assassin bugs, scorpionflies, cicadas, and a couple different species of praying mantises. Recently I managed to hand-catch a bunch and bring them back to our apartment (to mixed reviews from my wife): a grasshopper, a cicada, and one each of large and small mantises.

The kid really enjoyed having them around. He kept on having me get them out and make them “sit” – i.e. put them on the floor. He warmed up a lot from his initial encounter with one of the mantises (it jumped on his leg suddenly while we were transporting him in the stroller; he freaked out a bit) to the point where he would carefully offer his hand for them to walk onto. He talked about them a lot, and I tried to use the mantises to stress the difference between large (大きい, ookii) and small (小っちゃい, chicchai, in a sort of informal/childish lisp).

I took them to his daycare and spent an hour and a half showing and explaining them to all the kids in three classrooms. The cicada pretty much died during the process, unfortunately: while none of them sustained actual damage, it got less and less responsive and was kaput by the evening. Perhaps it was just old. The rest survived long enough to be returned to nature this afternoon, and while I’m not sure all of them will make it, I did assuage the kid’s upset at saying goodbye by telling him that the mantises were going to go eat and maybe we’d see them again later.

Not too long after that, we saw another smallish mantis and he wanted to take it home, but this one had other ideas. It ran away rather energetically and eventually flew out of reach upwards.

At bedtime, the kid suddenly told his mother, “小っちゃいカマキリ虫eat!” (Chicchai kamakiri mushi eat, ‘The small mantis [went to] eat insects!’) We were impressed! He’s picked up a few colors words, but here was a functional sentence with an adjective, subject, object, and verb!

We were happy, of course. And now I’m looking forward to hearing what he thinks about as he gets more and more of a handle on describing the world around him!

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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