Isn't that a nice word? Stymied. It sounds so greek mythology, it could be the name of a lesser god, or or one of Zeus' involuntary girlfriends. I also found out that I mispronounced the word all my life, thought it meant something totally different than it really means, and that it comes from golfing language. Another linguistic favorite smothered. (Also a nice word.)
All this pointless babbling because I needed to express my feelings about my youngest son's language development. So I'll use an easy word - I'm baffled.
See, children are supposed to pick up language gradually, going from unintelligible babbling to clearly pronounced single words like "Mommy", "Daddy", "car" and "milk". They usually have hickups with pronunciation, like they can't pronounce "s" or "th" but on the whole, you can work out what they mean. They go from one syllable to two syllables, from one word sentences during the second year of life to two word sentences at age two and three word sentences at age three. Those are very fuzzy milestones, of course. Some kids are faster, some are slower. But the majority of kids does stick with the general sequence of easy-more challenging-really mind-boggling (big words from little kids' mouths are such fun!).
Alan and David were both late talkers. They grew up with three languages and while studies deny that multilingual children are speech-delayed, it seemed to be true for us. Alan didn't really talk until he was two and then he took off with a vengeance. He's very good at switching from English to German and vice versa, and both he and David have a very good grasp of grammar. They do build nice sentences, and complicated ones. They reflect the way Doug and I talk with each other and with them and we don't do baby talk much and we like big words.
Jacob, though, decided to do it all differently.
He started off normally enough with "Mommy", "Daddy", "Alan" and "Dada" (for David). He never liked the word "car", using the German "Auto" instead. Then one day he said "Feuerwehrauto". Those are five syllables. But, his enunciation is way below that of his age group - he talks all day long but it's hard to understand single words.
So I worked with him. I would say single words to him and try to get him to repeat. "Nose, that's your nose," I would say. And he looked at me like he wanted to say, "of course that's my nose, silly woman," and then said something long and unintelligible and it definitely didn't contain the word "nose". It drove me crazy, and worried me a bit - he would never repeat a word. He would always give me back a barrage of babbling, and it never sounded the least bit like the word I wanted him to say.
I finally found out why. He talks in sentences.
When you're just starting out with the whole language business, you gotta focus. For most kids, the focus lies on acquiring vocabulary and training enunciation. One milestone is "strangers understand the child". Jacob, on the other hand, thinks clear articulation is overrated, and talks in sentences instead. It took me quite a while to figure it out, because, well, his enunciation is so bad. It took me months to train myself to understand him, and then, last week, it all suddenly clicked into place.
I finally understood why he doesn't repeat words. He doesn't need to, in his mind, because he knows the word, and instead he comments on my efforts. So he probably did say, "I know this word, silly woman". I don't understand him perfectly, but I found out that he says things like "I like it!" and that he calls Scooby-Doo "Where are you?" because of the song. He said to me "Tut mir leid, Mama" yesterday. He wishes his brother "Have a nice day", and exclaims, "wash your hands!" before dinner.
Every day, I find new sentences that I never knew he was saying all along. Mind you, he does use single words like "ice cream", when he wants ice cream, "Milch!" when he wants milk, and so forth. It's not as if he talks like a grown-up. But those complete sentences are buried in that landslide of babble that comes forth from him all day long.
Don't get me wrong, I do not think this illustrates superior intelligence or anything. It's just a quirk and when he's four, nobody will even remember this.* It just amused me when I finally understood that all that babbling are actually sentences, mostly because I didn't expect it and it took me so long to figure it out.
*Of course, now they will, because I preserved this fact for eternity. Oh, well.