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Monday, November 10, 2014


No, Kidspeak is not a new cable channel or tv program aimed at children. It's just a description I came up with to describe the fun ways kids express themselves as they are learning our wonderful and sometimes confusing language. My cousin Carole had a couple of good examples of kidspeak. Even though she spoke very clearly and expressed herself well from an early age, she had a couple of words that tripped her up when she was quite young. In her kidspeak, waffles and tunnels became awfuls and tungels. To this day, she claims that she did not pronounce the word waffles incorrectly, she was just telling everyone how she felt about them. I'll allow it, with a smile on my face.

I think kidspeak happens for several reasons. When children are learning to speak, they aren't able to pronounce complicated words until they've had a lot more experience. We can't really expect a child who has just gotten through the mama-dada phase to be able to pronounce something like Salisbury steak, can we? Add to that the fact that all of us sometimes hear things a little differently than what's said, and you have more potential for words getting tangled up a bit. 

A coworker of mine from days of yore had a hysterical experience with this type of kidspeak. She had two daughters who were in the early years of elementary school, and received a telephone call requesting a teacher's meeting regarding the younger one. She was a bit surprised, but made arrangements to meet with the teacher. Sandy took it in stride when the teacher told her that her daughter and a boy in her class had been, shall we say, comparing what sort of equipment they had while they were on the playground after lunch. After dinner that evening, she calmly asked her daughter about what had happened at school that day. Her daughter told her about her classes and lunch, and nothing else. Sandy gently prodded, asking about what happened during recess. Her daughter answered, "You mean when I showed Danny my wenis?"

Well, when Sandy heard her say wenis, she started laughing hysterically, which of course made her little girl cry. She thought mommy was making fun of her, but that wasn't the case. It was just too cute and funny for her to contain herself. Sandy managed to calm both herself and her daughter down, and explained that boys have something that sounds like wenis, and girls have something that doesn't. She briefly told her the correct words and let her know that this was a private part of her body. It proved to be a great opportunity to educate and protect her daughter, and all went well. There were no more calls from the teacher. I wonder, though, if she had a moment like the boy in Kindergarten Cop, informing the other kids that boys and girls have different parts, and what they were called.

I think another thing that contributes to kidspeak is that some words or phrases just don't seem to follow logical rules. I learned this from an argument a conversation I had with my niece Becky when she was a very little girl. She had hit the chatterbox stage, and was telling me about something that had happened the previous day. The conversation began with Becky saying, "Last day, we went to the store." I replied with something like, "Don't you mean yesterday?" We went back and forth for a few minutes with me trying to help her understand that the right way to say it was yesterday, and her being visibly disgusted that I was so stupid that I didn't understand that it happened last day.

We finally dropped it, but after giving it some thought I realized the simple and beautiful logic of why she had said last day. If the previous evening was called last night, it only made sense that the previous day should be called last day. Clear and sensible, and unfortunately just not the way it goes. We never talked about yesterday or last day again because I couldn't argue with the train of thought that had brought her to that destination. Just like her beloved bloneycheese sandwiches, they were a brief and charming part of her childhood. Becky might occasionally say bloneycheese just for fun, but last day is gone, just like the tungles and awfuls and wenises. Unless, of course, somebody needs a fun story that starts with, "Well, back when you were a kid..."