Sunday, 18 January 2009

Quiet days

A few quiet, uneventful days, at last. Our holiday in the States is now a distant (but very nice) memory, as we have long readjusted to our daily life in Denmark. The weather here is also back to its usual dullness that is characteristic of this time of year. We haven’t experienced any of those winter storms that from time to time hit the west coast with ferocious force, flooding low-lying areas and causing general havoc. So far this winter has just been wet, gray and windy. How we sometimes long for the deep snow of Wisconsin! At least the days are getting perceivably longer.

The greatest recent news is that Tristan has learned to walk! He took his first real steps in Madison. For some reason in the beginning he felt most sure walking barefoot, holding something in his hand But these restrictions don’t apply any more, and now he can even change direction and turn around without falling – most of the time.

Having mastered this advanced form of locomotion, he is now clearly getting ready to speak. In his babbling I can distinguish the distinct intonation patterns of his two languages. We really wonder what his first word will be. An interesting question in this respect is whether what we normally consider first words are really words or perhaps something else? Many linguists would say that these are in reality not words but mini-sentences or “holistic utterances”. This is because they seem to have a wide range of partially related meanings, only some of which are covered by the same word in the adult word. Thus the “word” apple may mean anything from ‘give me the apple’ to ‘I want to give the apple to daddy’ to ‘it looks like an apple’. (In the last sense, of course it can be applied to oranges, tennis balls and a myriad other things.) The other reason why we can’t really talk about words is that these utterances typically have the intonation patterns of short sentences. For example, apple, when applied in the sense ‘where is the apple?’, would have the rising-falling prosody of English questions.

Anyway, Tristan is not quite at this stage yet, although in some sense he already has a single “word”: mamama. It meets two of the three criteria typically applied to first words: it has a fairly clear and stable meaning: ‘give it to me NOW; 'I want it bad and I can’t wait' ('it' being mostly, but not exclusively food) and a very stable pronunciation. Only the third criterion is lacking: it doesn’t sound like anything with a similar meaning in Danish or Hungarian. But I’m sure he will soon be more explicit than that.

Anyway, what else is new since my last post? Tristan had his second haircut yesterday and it did not go quite as smoothly as the first time. I think the procedure of being installed in a high chair and having a comparative stranger fiddle around his ear reminded him too much of his recent traumatic visits to the ear specialist. But after some crying the result was excellent, and he looks quite cheeky with his new, trimmed looks.