Although I was there I’m unable to tell you the sounds I heard inside the womb.
Nor can I imagine the cacophony that greeted me at birth and which I supposedly contributed to.
But Noam Chomsky (linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, historian and activist) explains convincingly that a normal infant has the innate capacity to learn any language spoken on earth. In Universal Grammar he lays out his theory that the child gradually imitates the sounds and words and grammar of the near environment, effectively excluding the thousands of other systems of language.
I enjoy hearing the process of language learning at our house this week. Annie is two. For months she has uttered sounds (kee, representing “blankie” or “blanket”), now she is articulating entire words (stabry, representing “strawberry”). Meanwhile her older sister Lucy is learning a rapidly increasing vocabulary, picked up in family chatter, in books lying on every available shelf in the house, and in school. Culture is playing a big role: her parents preferred to shield her from princess fantasies but playmates have schooled her into princess-talk big time. I’m also interested in Lucy’s picking up our grammar, including our use of adverbs, especially the -ly words.
So it goes and goes and goes. Recently I consulted the dictionary and thesaurus to clarify the uses and misuses of the word “gratuitous,” a word that is parallel parked with chargeless, unearned, unwarranted, complimentary and free.” I’ve got a long way to go in mastering this language.