Thursday, November 17, 2011

Baby talk

Wow, has it been over a year since I last posted?! That was quick...

I am enjoying so much watching my daughter learn to speak. My husband, and pretty much everyone else she encounters, speaks to her in Hebrew. I speak to her in English.

Just now she is having a real explosion of talking, babbling, singing, mimicking sound and generally trying out her voice (she is 20 months old). She talks to herself, her toys and her books, almost constantly. Often when I manage to tune in to what she is saying (sometimes it seems all babble and I can't understand), I hear her making commentary on things as they happen. She uses almost all Hebrew words. For example, she might be pushing herself along on her three-wheeler, she sees her bike helmet:

"Ananananananannnnn (engine noises in Hebrew!)
"Me, bike, shoes"
"Me helmet, bike, mummy" (all of this, except "mummy' in Hebrew).

She is used to riding on the back of my bike with her little helmet on, and so she associates her helmet with me, and the bike. Almost all of the words, especially news words are used in association with something else. She likes to give commentary on who is associated with what. For example, "mummy shoes", "daddy shoes", "me nose", "teddy milk" (then she gives him some milk) etc.

Recently I realised we would soon be back in Australia and rather than trying to practice Hebrew with her, I should be speaking only English so she will feel good about communicating with my family when we arrive.

Her first words were English, and to begin with almost all her nouns were English, and all her verbs were Hebrew. Hebrew baby talk is very sweet, and it involves using the infinitive form of the verb (kind of as an imperative). The stress in Hebrew is on the second (usually last) syllable of the word. The first part of the infinitive verb is always 'la' or 'le' and the second part, the stressed part of the word is the "root" which occurs in the finite forms.

So what happens is that babies end up repeating the second syllable of the verb, and thus even though they hear mostly the infinitive, she are learning the root! Very tricky! And very easy (much easier than how they teach us in the intensive Hebrew class I am learning!). Although now she is able to articulate a little better she says the entire verb:

e.g. "to come down rain" להוריד גשם
'lehorid geshem' 'It's raining'

My Hebrew is really coming along after four months of classes. I found it much harder to learn than Spanish, I think mostly because the written language is so hard to decipher (usually there is no indication of the vowels in the word, only consonant like letters). I think I learn very visually, I like to know the spelling of a word to be able to remember it. Also, because I was a sleep starved new mother, it was a double whammy of new cultural experiences.

I am enjoying pushing past the point of knowing the grammatical rules of Hebrew and being able to speak fluently. It is so exciting when some further part of your brain takes over, even if for a moment, and you feel yourself speaking fluently and understanding what people are saying to you.

It has been interesting for me to experience having the less prestigious language in social situations. Although of course I value English, for while at least, I placed higher value on Hebrew. I felt like my daughter needed to hear it and know it to function well in the society we found ourselves in. All this time I have never understood how immigrants to a new country could speak a different language, other than their mother tongue, to their child. How could they just let go of their history and culture? Not to mention their own linguistic comfort zone. I can see now, when your own language feels less relevant it is much harder to give it priority.

It's nice to sit down and write again. I will try and do it again soon!


Blogger Catalin said...

Yay for blogging again! I was thinking of it myself, and saw that you had recently posted here.

I love hearing your thoughts on language, Shiloh's and your own language experience living in Israel.

I look forward to reading about your observations and experiences as you see Australia with new eyes!

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