Friday Hoyden: Baby Jargoner

Via Neatorama, this unnamed baby is my Hoyden of the week. Because she has something to SAY, and she’s not going to let anything so trivial as not having developed expressive vocabulary stop from her saying it.

[If you click through, avoid the Youtube comments, as always. Blah blah shrieking harridan blah blah don’t envy her future husband blah.]

Description: A transcript is difficult, but this is a baby in a carseat, presumptively a girl because of all the pink. She is accompanied by a man (in frame) and a woman (out of frame). The baby is fluently jargoning in a forceful way and at length. The man tries to distract her with a “Hot Potato” song and hand game several times.

The ‘jargon’ phase of spoken language development typically happens after vocal babbling, when a child knows just a few single words. They learn the emotionally expressive prosody (pitch, rhythm, intonation contour, and stress) of their first language(s) before they develop larger vocabulary or syntax, and they practise this by doing what you see here – fluent expressive polysyllabic jargon. It usually peaks somewhere in the early to middle part of the second year, after variegated babbling, but language development is quite variable. Some babies don’t experience quite such a pronounced jargon phase as this one.

Manual babbling has been reported in babies of signing adults. This post to the Linguist-List says that signing babies also go through a manual jargon phase. Read more about signed language development in this book: Language, Cognition, and the Brain by Karen Emmorey, starting at page 170.

I’ve also noticed that outlines of language development phases often ignore the jargon phase completely, perhaps because it coincides with first-word acquisition and the holophrastic use of words. People talking about child development (and perhaps this is a reflection of societal focus?) have typically concentrated on concrete vocabulary and words they can readily record and count, rather than on the prosodic development that reflects emotional expression and perhaps learning about the interpersonal pragmatics of speech. Thoughts?

Categories: gender & feminism, language, Science

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14 replies

  1. Well my first thought is that that is one awesome kid!
    My second is that my son never went through anything remotely like it. Mini FP has autism that was diagnosed at around three, and one of the aspects of diagnosis is linguistic development. Kids on the autistic spectrum will commonly have a different/delayed development of speech. The stage noted above is often missing altogether for kids on the spectrum, who will often seem to take on some language quite early then have a sudden and unexpected backslide (or thus goes the information I have been given, happy for this to be contested).
    I had been a bit thrown as he and a friend’s child were of the same age, and she did that wonderful gurgly babble talking but my son didn’t. For him it was nothing. Then some random mono-syllabic noises. Then words. Then a halting, a seeming backwards progression where the words disappeared (at the time I blamed Telly Tubbies). Then language again.
    I guess if you think about it it makes some sense – that kids on the spectrum can be quite good at rote learning, but less adept at keying into emotional cues etc. Obviously it’s not all black and white and kids on the spectrum aren’t automotons – they’re all different.
    I still maintain that Telly Tubbies was drummed up by speechies out to get more business by teaching kids to mimic ‘eh-ho’ instead of hello, but that’s my cynical chip on my cynical shoulder – I’ve got nothing to back that up with.
    However, yes it was interesting I guess in the process of diagnosis for something I’d not really thought anything of (as I hadn’t been taught to expect this babbling and had no child rearing experience to contrast it with and I thought the friend’s child was doing something different) until I was reading elsewhere about this phase and it often being absent in kids on the spectrum. Anyhoo. That’s my two cents worth. I just wish I was not at work but at home so I could watch that video again and ponder what stories she was telling.

  2. Sometime in the early or mid-70’s Ann Peters had a paper in Language which was essentially a case-study of a child whose prosodic development far out-stripped hir lexical and syntactic element. Instead of progressing through the stereoptical phases of syllable-word-phrase-sentence (roughly), this kid essentially had sentence prosody with no recognizeable words. Gradually, though the jargon would be punctuated by actual words, much as the child in this video seems at one point to use the word banana. Peters’ larger point was that we shouldn’t expect to see one single developmental pathway to full language competence. Here’s a link to a Google books excerpt describing Peters’ research.

  3. Apparently when I was little, I would have entire conversations with a family friend, just like this, sitting beside him on the couch. Apparently I’d caught the question-and-answer thing: I’d pause, he would prompt me with “Oh, come now, are you sure that’s really true? I would have thought the opposite,” and I’d carry on at great length and in great depth again. My parents found it hilarious. And I have to say, that baby above is awesomeness personified. I especially like that she keeps talking over the top of the man, whenever he begins to speak. That feels especially Hoydenish.
    I think it’s interesting, actually, Lauredhel, your suggestion that this indicates a development of styles of interpersonal engagement that then develops into overt, word-based communication. That would seem to me to be a reasonable assumption, and works, like FP says, with the contrasting tendencies of those with autism (especially the not picking up on emotional and tonal cues etc). I also find it intriguing the extent to which we take adult priorities as shaping how we think of development: so numbers of words etc become priorities rather than learning intonations and interpersonal engagement.

  4. Yeah I love the look on her face when he does the ‘hot potato thing’ the first time. It’s like ‘WTF is with you…anyway! As I was *saying…’

  5. Thanks for posting that video. My son went through a jargoning phase but unfortunately we didn’t have a video camera at the time so never got a record of it. I did read about it at the time but never came across other babies who did it. He jargoned from about 16-19 months, when he already had several single words and some tw0-word combos, so he would talk to us as well, but also do a lot of this kind of ‘false talking’. It so clearly was a way for him to practise conversation before he had the vocabulary. In fact his intonation and pauses were much more like real speech then this baby’s but what he was saying was sheer gobbledygook. He moved from jargon to complex speech very quickly – he was a fluent talker by 21 months.

  6. Oh, and yes, it was extremely amusing and I so wish I had it on record.
    By the way, he hardly babbled at all – he was silent till 10 months, when he said one clear word. Then a little bit of babbling for a couple of months, then started saying quite a lot of words and two-words at 13 months. I can remember the pressure of those checklists – by 18mths he was supposed (according to some list) to have 50 separate words and didn’t – but he was jargoning away like crazy, which I intuitively realised was a sign that he was going to be a very fluent and emotionally expressive child – which he is.

  7. Btw, didn’t mean to imply this baby isn’t doing ‘real speech’, it’s just that her first section is particularly babbly to my ears.

  8. I think she’s complaining about all the pink 😉
    And both my kids did this, but not nearly so spectacularly

  9. Our elder daughter didn’t jargon like this, but she had fully formed sentences by her second birthday, and neither did one of our twins, but the other did. She would sit in her high chair and peeper away at us, clearly saying something and participating in a conversation. We often used to wonder what she was saying. Our twins are monozygotic (one egg, or identical).
    I would complain about all the pink too.

  10. That child can scat!

  11. Instead of progressing through the stereoptical phases of syllable-word-phrase-sentence (roughly), this kid essentially had sentence prosody with no recognizeable words. Gradually, though the jargon would be punctuated by actual words, much as the child in this video seems at one point to use the word banana.

    Was that considered particularly odd in the 1970s? My kid did this, my nieces and nephews have mostly done it, with perhaps one or two exceptions (one went on to have a significant speech delay needing interventino). One niece had a particularly prominent jargon phase, a bit like this baby – she would come up, grab your ears, get in your face, and tell you what’s what, brooking no interruption until she was finished, then listening carefully to your reply (though, I am sure, wondering at your non sequiturs).
    If this was new to them, I am wondering how many actual children the linguists had observed for long periods at the time, as I’m thinking that some babies in uncomfortable or new ‘test’ type situations may well suppress their jargoning.

  12. Both my kids did this. I remember them getting very annoyed if you didn’t pay attention too. My daughter would grab my face and turn it to face her while she babbled. She knew we were having a conversation even if I didn’t.
    I challenge you all to watch this and not crack a smile at the very least:

  13. I challenge you all to watch this and not crack a smile at the very least:

    The laughing quadruplets? I find them hilarious for the first few seconds, and then more than a little terrifying. It’s the spectre of them all bursting into screaming tears at the same time, I think.

  14. “I’m thinking that some babies in uncomfortable or new ‘test’ type situations may well suppress their jargoning”
    Lots of kids under two or even three barely talk when other people are around – I’ve often been told by parents that a child who I’ve never heard say a word is in fact a big talker at home.
    When my son was a jargoner, he didn’t need to be ‘talking’ directly to someone else. He’d jargon to himself as he was playing or just walking around. I wonder if that’s a difference between boys and girls…

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