Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Speaking in Tongues

I loved the story of the Tower of Babble as a kid. For some reason, in my head the tower looked like Pisa (only burnt by the fires of God's heavenly wrath, rather than merely leaning). It's a neat little "just so" story to explain language differences, although I'm rather embarrassed about swallowing this story whole as a real explanation.

When I was 9 and she was 11, the year we moved to Iowa and were so utterly friendless and miserable, my sister created her own language. It started as a complicated substitution system (like Pig Latin on steroids) but quickly evolved as she forced me to learn it (and practice - with a marker board). Over time as we talked to each other, new words had to be created, and new inside jokes and unique cultural concepts had to be expressed. When my grandmother found out about it that summer when we came to visit her, she was furious. Apparently creating your own Pig Latin is a sin, because God giving us lots of languages and making it hard to communicate was a curse for man's ambition. Great moral of the story, huh? This is also her xenophobic justification for why all immigrants (especially Latinos) need to speak only in English.

My three year old son is really starting to talk now, after a late beginning. I've realized though, that I've learned yet another language. A little while ago he walked up to me and said, "Buh-mmm. Wocket! Raitzch. Bidget!" And I understood exactly what that meant. I guess this is the weirdest part about having a child in the early stages of language - only parents (and siblings) can understand. I serve as his translator for the world. Translation of the above?
  1. Literal - "Button. Rocket! Race. Big Jet!"
  2. Final - "Mom, please use this remote to turn on the episode of Little Einsteins where Rocket and Big Jet race. You know the one."

No Tower of Babble necessary for a whole new tongue to emerge :)
Oh, and as a side note, my sister and I still sometimes speak to each other in our own made-up language. It was especially fun on double dates, before she had to up and marry a decent guy.


  1. Angie - oljok ahkef a'weou we'y sidfes lol
    Your son is lucky to have you help him start out right. Did Grandma give you some soap to chew on? :)

  2. Sometimes you need a translator, usually in the form of a slightly older sibling!