Language is a weapon. It is as deadly a weapon in the game of survival as a spear or an arrow. Language helps preserve knowledge and helps communicate. It turns relatively squishy apes (compared to say… a Bear or a Mammoth) into a team. It’s one of the most important parts of human development.
And language develops in humans in an interesting way. Have you ever seen a baby from a different language group to yours “gurgle”? You see babies imitate their parents. They make noises similar to the accents of their parents. A Tamil Baby Sounds different to a Scottish Baby because they are exposed to the intonation of different languages. A scottish baby sounds “tiny, nonsensical and scottish”. This nonsense has a “role” in development. So much so that if you are looking at the health of a baby you actually inquire as to whether the child has been babbling and gurgling.
You see the child is imitating mum and dad to learn the language. It’s why your first language is so intuitive. It’s also why you have perceptions of other languages. The child is less interested in the meaning of language and more interested in the noise structure. You could be singing KRS 1′s Sound of Da Police and the child would be more interested in the noise rather than the oppression of minority races by the boots of the establishment.
One of the major evidences for it is how we interpret baby gurgling.
What were your first words?
Mama/Dada/Papa/Baba or some variant of it would be my guess. And for nearly the entire world I would be right (Mano Singham for example would have probably gone for Thatha since in Sri Lanka Thatha is the word for father while in Tamil it’s the word for Grandfather.)
Nearly every language on the planet bases the first words a child ever speaks on “baby talk”. These words are easy to babble (try saying it) and we ascribe meaning to the nonsense and create the child’s first words. The child then builds from this initial step which is reinforced by the parents getting really happy over these words. You play with your kid a bit more and this builds a positive reinforcement which entrenches your first words.
Now weirdly? Majority of the languages use Papa and Mama (or words that sound like them) for father and mother respectively. Georgian doesn’t and the words are reversed there. Mother is Papa and father is Mama. Tamil uses Apa and Ama but goes a step further in using Mamam to denote “food” and Papa to denote “baby”). So in Tamil? Many children’s first word is food (usually breast milk since breast feeding’s pretty big here! You still have nurse maids in many villages for mothers who cannot breastfeed) rather than mum or dad! Even in traditional Tamil (think Latin vs. Italian) the emphasis is on the burble Thai and Thanthai.
So Intonation + Burble = First words. Which is how I was able to guess why the majority of kids recognise mum and dad verbally so easily.
Now what’s weird is that parents also use a specific kind of speech that attracts the baby’s attention. It’s believed that this speech is “interesting” to babies because it’s so widely pronounced. That their usage of similar burbles makes children imitate them.
Current research indicates that babies are subjected to speech while inside the womb so come out knowing the sounds of language and that the influence MAY start at a much earlier part of development than previously believed.
It’s also why it’s important to spend time with your baby. It’s why I think that we should give new parents times to go spend with their baby. It’s good for the child’s development.
And this kind of development doesn’t stop until the 3rd or 4th year. So speak to your kids. Don’t relegate them to the TV (it can teach language but not visual cues) as a babysitter. Try to spend time with them when possible. This is why I think we need Creches where parents who have to work can leave their children. I do think that state subsidies for these (or sliding credit scales to parents who need them the most) will help because kids can learn the language from interaction with other kids too.
Also because I played a lot of Alpha Centauri…
Proper care and education for our children remains a cornerstone of our entire colonization effort. Children not only shape our future; they determine in many ways our present. Men and women work harder knowing their children are safe and close at hand, and never forget that, with children present, parents will defend their home to the death!
Col. Corazon Santiago, “Planet: A Survivalist’s Guide”