Big Bang Spanish
With all the earnestness of a loving and proud father, I took my boy for a walk around the lake so we could take some fresh air, get some exercise, and spend some quality “boy time.”
In a particularly tranquil moment when we were both taking in the bluish expanse of the water, I kissed my boy’s forehead and told him: “Te amo.” To which he briskly responded:”I wouh you!” (“Te amo,” in gosh-darn English).
Three simple words from a very tiny person encapsulate the excitingly frustrating universe-in-development that is the process of multiple-language acquisition.
If my Creationist friends out there will excuse me the metaphor, I imagine my boy’s little brain undergoing a micro-Big Bang, where words and phrases in multiple languages spin, collide, fuse, and arrange themselves, all striving towards an ordered system. But in the process of arriving at such order, Papá will continue to be perplexed by his boy telling him that he “wouhs him” in the “wrong” language.
I have been exceedingly impressed by what I’ve perceived to be my boy’s precocious understanding of the difference between Spanish and English, particularly as it relates to choosing the people he speaks each language to.
For example, for a good number of weeks now, he knows to use “please” with his mother and “por favor” with Papá, for the same purposes. But that precociousness seems to have given way in the last couple of days to unexpected bouts of regression/confusion and just plain linguistic surrealism. Or maybe the boy’s just getting cocky and creative. So we get exchanges like the following:
- Q: “Nené, cuántos zapatos tienes?” (how many shoes do you have?)
- A: “Twohs” (amalgamation of the words “Two” and “Dos”)
In addition, the boy has taken to filling the blanks for anything he doesn’t yet know how to say with the expression “dah-dah.” Oh, the humanity!
I hope it’s clear that I’m mostly joking and that I’m not at all worried but rather increasingly fascinated and puzzled by this process.
A sensible human being in my circumstances might take some time out of his day to pick up a book and see what the explanation for this phenomenon is, but alas, we’re talking about me here so instead what I do is blog about it and continue to let the chips fall where they may, but not without blowing on them a little bit to nudge them in the direction of my choice.
Originally from Manizales, Colombia, Rubén González is a husband and father of two boys, living in Minneapolis. Ruben currently works as a technology and web guru at a marketing communications agency and exposes his neurosis, insecurities, and love for his family on his blog, Love, Translated, where this essay was originally published March, 2009.