Baby talk

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It's certainly true that "the rhythm and intonation of his vocalizations mirror those to which he is exposed daily" (though the tiktok original suggests that the infant is female); but I'm skeptical of the idea that "Other than 'no' he doesn’t speak a single conventional word".

In his 1969 Journal of Linguistics paper "Syllables", Erik Fudge details the ways in which his infant son remapped adult words in non-obvious but systematic ways as his phonological system developed. Any parent who pays attention will have similar stories about their own children. Similar things happen when words are adapted from one language to another — thus the Brother company in Japanese is ブラザー = Burazā, and "Ibrahim" is borrowed into one of the Manding languages as "Bulama".

The kid in the featured video is doubtless doing some babbling, but I'm betting that there are plenty of re-mapped words in there as well.

Update — Picked up by the BBC, as Linda notes in the comments. Jenny Coleman, "TikTok babbling Scouse baby's mum 'never noticed her accent'", BBC 6/25/2024.

The mother of a baby whose Liverpudlian babbling made her a social media star has said she "never picked up on her Scouse accent before because we are all Scouse".

A minute-long clip of 19-month-old Orla's baby talk has been viewed more than 15 million times after being posted on Tik Tok.
Her mother Rhiannon said she had been inundated with messages since the clip, which saw Orla fully conversing despite being unable to speak any proper words, was posted online.

She said it was "lovely" to hear how the video had "made people's day".
The exchange was captured by Rhiannon's friend Olayka, who was looking after Orla at the time.



  1. C Baker said,

    June 24, 2024 @ 5:33 pm

    If I remember the baby days correctly, babbling is when a baby repeats a syllable over and over again. I haven't watched the video, but if people are talking about the baby's accent then it seems more likely that she's jargoning (to use the, uh, correct child development jargon), which sounds more like language even if it doesn't make any sense.

  2. Rick Rubenstein said,

    June 24, 2024 @ 5:41 pm

    Unfortunately the embedded tweet only shows the video, not the text (actually the text is briefly visible on load, but then gets replaced with the video). So you have to actually go to X to read what Mark is referring to.

  3. John J Chew said,

    June 24, 2024 @ 8:17 pm

    My father, who passed away this month at the age of 100, wrote a paper in 1969 entitled "The Structure of Japanese Baby Talk". The "sample family" mentioned on the last page is of course ours; I am the first child and my brother the second.

  4. Linda said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 7:08 am

    The BBC seems to have picked up the story as well .

  5. Jim said,

    June 25, 2024 @ 7:07 pm

    Gotta love an accent:

    "I've got your butthole, I've got your teddy." (Okay, "bottle", but that's not how my ear hears it!)

  6. Julian said,

    June 27, 2024 @ 5:31 am

    Toddler, pointing to a snail: "Nail!"
    Parent, imitating the remapped word as a joke: "Yes, it's a nail "
    Toddler, very indignant: "Not nail! Nail!"

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