When the stresses and strains of university department administration get me down, when I need a break and I really want to giggle till I'm helpless, I simply close my office door, bring a box of Kleenex over to near the computer so I can wipe off the tears running down my cheeks, and watch, once again, the Facebook ranting toddler video. Victor Mair first brought it to our attention here at One Language Log Plaza, and we have been watching it occasionally ever since. The extraordinary intensity of this little girl's concentration on the nonsense she is babbling, together with the strange fantasy of the wandering themes in the subtitles, yields an experience the like of which I have never seen anywhere.
I'm assuming the performance is a result of a truly unusual degree of energy being put by this little girl into the babbling phase of language acquisition. All young children go through a stage of trying out vowels and consonants and syllables without any connection to meaning. It is usually quite early: babies in cradles can be heard trying stuff out phonetically before they go to sleep, at a point where they have absolutely no clue (so far as we can tell) about how to put together a proposition or express an idea. But I have never before seen such a commanding performance of meaningless rhetorical nothing as this. I wish I could tell you some more interesting stuff about the babbling phase of language acquisition, and make this post nominally educational, but I can't (as the great Jim McCawley would sometimes say to a class after a digression, "I've already told you more than I know about this"). It's not my area. I'm not a serious and responsible child language specialist; I'm just an admiring audience member. This little girl is a star, and I want to join her fan club.
Occasional Language Log contributor Steven Bird reports that when he showed the video to his computational linguistics class someone asked whether the subtitles were being done automatically by computer. I still don't know whether to believe him. But if it's true, fantasy and reality and the inanities of machine pseudo-translation and transcription are combining (in at least some students' addled brains) in a mix of truly surrealist strangeness; nobody knows what to believe any more.
Except that you can believe that the Facebook ranting toddler video will lift your heart and lower your stress level. Visit the bathroom before you watch it (it is forbidden to urinate in office chairs belonging to your employer), and keep the helpless giggling down so as not to disturb co-workers.