Many times while hiking, particularly while descending a mountain, I’ve noticed a trickle of spring water that crosses the trail now and then, enough to catch my eye but still small enough to step over.  Then my thoughts wander and I pass a few more of them, but eventually I realize that the trickles have joined into a stream which grows each time I cross it, and that it has become a new feature in the landscape.  So it has been with Everett and words.  He started with just a couple here and there, and even then he didn’t really use them consistently.  One of his first was no (“Noo! Noo! Noo!” to be exact), soon followed by dog and cat, then duck.  For a while after this almost everything of affection fell somewhere on the duck-cat spectrum.  Ultimately he realized that the universe has more dimensions than can be captured on a line between cats and ducks and has now shown us his solution to the binding problem.  In particular, what is it about duck-ness or dog-ness that makes paintings, photos, lawn ornaments, plastic likenesses and the real thing all representations of the same animal, and how do you decide whether a new animal like a seagull or wolf falls into an existing category or requires a new word?  At this point he usually chooses the latter and is adding a couple new words a day that encompass parents, parts of the body, animals (with appropriate sounds), foods, clothing and exclamations such as “woah!” or “hooyeah!” (which he uses when we are launching rockets in the backyard).  This process is fascinating to watch.  Of course, by the time his spoken vocabulary started to grow we suspected that we had underestimated him, in particular how much he understands.  We have heard many times that children’s receptive language skills come long before their expressive skills.  For example, some friends of ours have a boy who, by the time he started to talk, thought the cat’s name was “Damn It Clyde”.  In our case we realized that we really had no idea how much language he knew so we started quizzing him on the location of body parts, household items, animals, whether things were hot and cold, etc.  Encouraged by some good success we next started giving him commands like “bring me my wallet”, “close the gate” or “put your toothbrush in your other hand”, and we were proud but surprised when he complied.  We have now accepted the fact that we really have no way of knowing how much he understands and will have to rely on clues that he provides, like today when our friend Amanda said the word “cow” in the course of conversation and Everett interjected “moo!” without being prompted.  Other clues are not so subtle, such as his reaction to bubbles, which he has grown quite fond of since discovering them earlier this summer.  Actually that is a bit of an understatement – he is crazy for them as you can see here:

Everett was born into a family that takes delight in words.  For example, we were originally going to call this website “sesquipedalia”, which is loosely defined as using a $10 word when a 10 cent word would have worked just fine, although this was ultimately rejected because it seemed too difficult to spell.  We also keep two dictionaries at the dining room table and use them daily.  So we are glad to see that Everett is similarly enthusiastic about words.  What remains to be seen is whether his stream of words will turn into a gently flowing river or a series of fast-moving rapids, or how far this analogy can be taken when comparing him to his parents.

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