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Growing up, my mom cringed any time my brother and I used slang. Certain words were outlawed, and I’m not talking about swear words.
She constantly stressed the importance of proper enunciation, to the point that I would say “I know, Mom, I need to speak clearly and with confidence.”
She never used simple language just because I was a child. There were many times I didn’t know the meaning of a word she used, but instead of using a simpler word she would patiently define the word when she saw the confusion in my face.
She often corrected my improper use of words, and I can remember wishing she would just let me say what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it.
But now I am extremely grateful that she worked so hard to teach me to speak properly because language is so incredibly powerful. I was reminded of its power recently when I read a column about baby talk.
The writer despised baby talk. Just to be clear, when talking about baby talk, the writer was referring to shorter phrases, simpler grammar, different versions of words, repetitions, slower speech, higher pitch, etc.
You know whom he is talking about: the moms in the grocery store who are perfectly adorable and talk to their children like stuffed animals, or the precious couple sitting in the row behind you at the movie theater feeding each other popcorn and talking to each other like stuffed animals.
I just can’t handle baby talking among couples. It doesn’t make any sense, and I can’t imagine that Barbie will talk to Ken like that when the washing machine is broken and Krissy pushes Skipper out of the tree in the backyard. For me, baby talk among couples is like nails on a chalkboard or walking through a cloud of cigarette smoke.
Anyway, back to baby talk with actual babies.
According to the article I read in The Week Magazine, some societies not only refrain from using baby talk but also refuse to speak to children when they use it. When Samoan children are learning language, if they say something unclear, the parents don’t guess what they are trying to say or help them along. They just tell the child it can’t be understood.
I’m certainly not a proponent of silence over baby talk. How about a compromise that involves talking to children the way we talk to adults. They are much smarter than we think.
I can’t lie, though, I am a bit of a baby-talk offender.
I have two of the world’s most adorable nephews, and I admit that some of their attempts at difficult words are so cute that I end up repeating them.
For instance, my nephew, Emmett, calls me “Boo.” Nobody is entirely sure where this name came from, but I can’t help but love that something I did made such an impact that he has attached a new name to me. This is one I will struggle with changing.
When our family is all together, we use the names that our nephews use to help them learn faster. So, instead of calling my dad, “Dad,” I call him “Papaw,” because he is “Papaw” to Emmett. And when I’m with my brother, I call him “Daddy” instead of Zane because he is “Daddy” to Emmett.
My dad, however, refuses to call me Boo. He always refers to me as Paige or Aunt Paige.
Emmett is almost 5 now, and he knows my name is Paige, but he still has never called me anything but Boo. I know someday I will be Paige, but for now it’s nice. I guess I really am a softie.
The most important thing for me is that when I speak to my nephews, and someday to my children, that my language, verbal or otherwise, expresses my unwavering love and support.
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