Language Acquisition

One fascinating experience in parenthood is witnessing language acquisition. My daughter is just over twenty-one months old, and recently hit an asymptote in language development. One of my favorite phenomena probably has a name, although I don’t know what it is. When she wants to be carried, she says, “carry you?” If she wants me to sit next to her while she falls asleep, she says, “sit next to you?” Likewise, “pick you up?” And so on. On the one hand, she’s really getting it. On the other, there still seems to be a missing parsing module.

Although I minored in linguistics, we almost never studied anything having to do with “real” language. The department was virtually 100% Chomskyan, and we spent much of our time trying to figure out what the heck the Minimalist Program was.

As it turns out, the Minimalist Program did nothing to prepare me for the experience of watching my daughter acquire language.


  1. Zachary Weinberg Jan 28

    I believe this phase is usually called the “doesn’t understand pronouns” phase. HTH. :)

  2. Jamie Jan 28

    Sounds like she’s mirroring something that you (or Rachele) might say. Like, “(Do you want me to) carry you?” or “(Can I) sit next to you?”

    I’ve always found it cute/interesting when kids go through the phase of saying “mine” instead of “my.” I like responding to such statements with “thine.”

  3. Adam Rosi-Kessel Jan 28

    Right, that’s exactly it. Since we always say, “do you want me to carry you,” she thinks that is the way you ask to be carried. I’d love to see her little generative grammar neurons actually formulating the deep structure.

    Another baby friend of ours has a habit of crouching down when he talks to you. Apparently since everyone crouches to talk to him, he thinks that’s just how you talk to people.

  4. Matt Jan 28

    I’m getting to this a bit late, sorry.

    My mom, a speech language pathologist, says this is a common linguistic phenomenon. The technical name is “deixis”, which is basically a label for Jamie’s observation: it’s all about the context in which you learn the language. Apparently this passes as more of those neurons Adam mentions develop…

  1. More adventures in language acquistion | The Substantially Similar Weblog

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