Learning to talk

Interrupting my slog through the oeuvre of Ôshima Nagisa, something with no relevance to Japanese culture:


When I was three years old, my mother wrote an account of my language acquisition (English; alas, I was not raised bilingual!). I don’t think the process was unusual, but think the specifics are of some interest, though perhaps more “Kids say the darndest things” than ethnographic observation.


Stephen started saying a few words at a year of age, and at 16 months was saying enough to make me understand what he wanted.
At about 20 months, Colleen Domes had been over to take care of him [babysit]. She said he wouldn’t go to sleep. The next day he told me she “rock, rocked him and read him “blew and blew” book. I talked to her and she confirmed his story.


Shortly after that, he became ill with an ear infection and we called Dr. Drexler. He had just fallen asleep for his afternoon nap and we had to awaken him. When I woke him and came to get him from his nap, he started to say “Man, pin, ouch, night, night.” The next day he told Jane Enger about it.

Afternoons when it was nice, we would go for a walk, One day in January—when he was 20 months od—we walked to school and visited Leona [who would be my first grade teacher, the person who taught me to read; my mother had been a 4th grade teacher in the same grade school before I came along]. She had an aquarium with some goldfish. They wouldn’t move, so she put her hand in the water to prod them to move. Steve didn’t say anything, but on the way home he jabbered all the way about “One, pish, water, hand.

He never seems to forget a place or thing and talks about it long after we’ve forgotten all about it.

When Steve was two years old he put his first “and” in a sentence. Every day there was something new. He would say, “right there” in pointing things out. In a day or so, he was telling everyone that he was “too old.” It seemed he started saying everything plainly as soon as he became two. He would say “way down high” to mean “low,” in contrast to “way up high. Anything that was hard to pull, or difficult in any way, was “Heavy!” “Many” was his universal word for any number or quantity greater than one.

At first, his counting went 1,3,4,5,6.
At the fairgrounds, his response to seeing building being put behind the barn was “houses in the garage. Every day he would want to “eat” (meet) Daddy.

After upchucking, he would say “Don’t do ‘at.” After upchucking he would say, “I [s]pilled over.” Hiccups were “hicksups.”He would play in his “sand shovel” (sand pile).

One day when Jane was over here, Steve wanted do know where Billy [her son] was. Jane said that he might be coming later. After we started drinking coffee, Steve insisted, “There’s Billy,” until we got up to look” and he ran off laughing. He was about 15 months at the time.

At 2 ½ Steve was very interested in songs, and knew the words to “Jesus Loves Me,” “Silent Night,” and a few others. He kept asking me to sing “Jesus Flow.” I finally started singing the Doxology [“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” twice enumerating “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” without the word “Jesus”], and that was what he wanted to hear.

At the same age, he could repeat nearly all the nursery rhymes. He had about 75 little books and he could tell us the names of all of them, as well as those of most of his records.

His speech was very plain, though he used complete sentences with excellent [grammatical] constructions. He, however, had a few cute baby words, such as “divenport” for davenport and “jedda for Jello. “KK “ for “OK,” “beeaksas” for “breakfast,” “winkle” for “sprinkle,” “ice cubit” for “ice cube.” He pluralized everything with “-es” including words that already ended with an “s”: shoeses, hatses, coatses, etc. A scale was pounds, music was “musicat,”and “my garden” was “my goosen.” “Swipe” was “wipe, crackers were “crackennutter.”

When he had been corrected and knew he was wrong, he would cry enormous tears, and then would come and say “Wipe those big tears away. Don’t do ‘at again.”

Long before he was three, he could tell most of the colors, even the shades such as pink and orchid. [“Orchid” is a color? It was only when I was a high school senior that it was established that I was partially red-green colorblind.]

One day. Mrs. Hanson [next-door neighbor] was outside working [gardening or hanging clothes on her clothesline] and Steve was over talking to her. She asked him if he knew “How Much is the Doggie in the Window. He said: “No, but sing it for me. So she did. When she finished, he commented “We don’t sing that at our church.”

One day we were at the grocery store. Steve was riding in the grocery cart. Suddenly, he pulled up a head of lettuce on which he’d been sitting and said, “Look, Mommy, I was sitting on the salad!”

When he was barely three, Leona was having coffee here one afternoon. He couldn’t get the door open, so he called in, “Open up the door, my dead child.”

When polishing his shoes he made a mess and over, so was duly scolded. “It so hard to be a big brother all the time after all. I’m pretty good.” (A baby sister appeared after my third birthday.)

He would sometimes become very wild, and I would say, “You’re so wild, you don’t know which end you’re standing on.” In attempting to repeat this another day in which he was acting up, he said, “I’m so wild. I don’t know which end I’m turning on.”

When 3 ½, he knew The Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. At Christmas, he was singing all the Christmas carol and carrying a tune passably well



Though I remember the other people mentioned, I remember none of this, but I frequently heard about my reaction to seeing a raccoon at the screen door of a cabin where we were staying at Lake Itasca: “Big dark glasses, big dark glasses!” I think that I remember this, but it could just be that my parents recounted it to me several times later.

I notice recurrent mention of church-related/Christian stuff. One’s church was a major identifying feature in small-town Minnesota of the 1950s. I was surprised seeing on my report card (from Leona Peterson) that there was a line for “religion” (in which I got C+ and B-, the lowest grades I got in anything other than junior high shop class.) I remember “release time” in later years and going to our church, which was just across the street from the high school, which was part of the complex through which I moved west to east from kindergarten through high school.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray (my mother, the original author being 13 years dead; I’m grateful for her recording her observations)

I’m on the right in the photo above. It looks like I am learning to eat raw fish, though this seems very unlikely. (My older cousin Jane says it has to be a piece of cake that looks like a fish, but I think I’d have been using utensils, like my tablemate…)I have no idea who the other two boys in the photo are. I think it was taken some time around my fourth birthday. The photo below shows me with the cake for my third birthday. On top of it  is a corral with some mounted cowboys. Rustlers seem to be sneaking up from beyond the far edge of the cake.

SM3rd birthday (1).jpg




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