Beware the Doo-mious Mama-snatch…

Forget the experts for a moment – the truly wonderful thing about baby talk is that my baby loves it! No, he doesn’t seem to know it’s silly. And in fact I’m not sure it is. Like everything Johnny and I do together, it’s quite serious. Not glum, dull, drudgish, or somber. Serious as in meaningful.

I recently read an article from a University extension newlestter suggesting that some babytalk is necessary, natural, and useful. Calling a dog a doggie would help to emphasize the ‘g’ sound to an as-yet undiscriminating ear. Calling a baby a silly name doesn’t help them learn anything.

Utilitarian thinking strikes once again; aparently those who reduce human beings to a science cannot fathom the purpose of anything beyond the most basic mechanical helps. Where, I ask, will tomorrow’s fantasy writers be if everyone’s Mommy goes around saying, “he ate, he is eating, he will eat” and no one’s Mommy ever turns with a flourish from the stove holding a steaming plate of eggs and crows, “Mum gots Yumadoos for Johnny! Johnny gobble em!”

As a matter of fact the words of babytalk are merely the most external phenomena of a whole living room culture – mine and Johnny’s. It has its folk songs, its conventions, its rituals, its unspoken understandings and values…and yes, its language. Not merely words, but language, with linguistic rules.

One of our favorites rules is the “doo rule.” In this rule, any adjective can be turned into a noun and applied to a significant object by adding “doo” onto the end of that adjective. It’s also an intensifier.

According to this, Johnny, Daddy, and Mum might at different times wear the coveted title “Lovadoo”.

When Johnny gets his nose tickled by a ripe dandelion head, he hears about the “fluffadoo.” (Later on, when Johnny is in bed, he misses the scene where his Mum’s light mess of hair gets puffed on by his Dad and the word ‘fluffadoo’ comes out again, amid many slaps and scoldings.)

Of course there are yuckadoos and (according to a special extensions of the doo rule) yuckapoos, which should be carefully distinguished. My hope is that this will come in handy when potty training begins.

Once the poo-extension had been introduced, other extensions appeared. In this version, a verb can be tagged on to the end of a noun. Why? Well, to describe that noun according to its characteristic action, of course. What could be more natural?

According to this rule, the Mamasnatch appeared. I earned this name because of my propensity to pounce on poor Johnny out of nowhere, scoop him up in the air, swing him around, kiss him five or six times, and then plop him back down amongst his toys before he had time to pull his diplomatic “putting” crap on me. This  snatching skill also comes in useful when Johnny is running away from various necessitious operations such as a diaper-change or a nose-blow or a face-wipe. In fact it’s quite expressively indicative of that whole helpful-yet-interfering character of Mamas everywhere.

Another practice is to use primarily the most basic present tense form of verbs. It’s almost as if the verb gets turned into a noun in order to make it more pliable when its first being learned. So if Johnny throws his ball, threw it, or is being told to throw it, he hears the same basic form of expression: “Johnny throw ball.” Afterwards I usually clarify, “Johnny threw that ball” (I can never bring myself to sound quite so Dick-and-Jane as to actually say “the ball”; needless to say, “that” is one of Johnny’s favorite pointing words.)

What about pronouns? At an earlier stage Johnny’s Daddy and I commonly addressed Johnny as “him.” That is, we used to describe Johnny’s actions to him in third person: “Oooo, Johnny eat him yumadoos!” or, “Johnny break him toy. Naughty!” I’m sure this arose out of a desire to make Johnny more aware of his actions…besides, it was cute.

Of course, he soon reached a level of self-consciousness at which that form of address was ridiculous. So what did the Mamasnatch do? She invented a new form, of course! 

Introducing “Yoom”, the pronoun that is both objective and second-person. In contractions it gets shortened to “oom.” Like so, “Johnny eat-oom eggs?” or “Yoom socks (are) falling off!” Tell me that m-sound on the end of a pronoun of address isn’t comforting to a child who is first facing the dreadful reality of personal accountability. It softens it. Too many kids hear the word “you” in such a harsh, or accusatory, or dissatisfied, or exasperated tone of voice most of the time. In my opinion people have forgotten that the reason we have our children is to grant them the discipline and uinderstanding to be the people they have the potential to be.

Did I mentione the rituals, songs, conventions, and values?

In our living-room culture, duckies hold a place of special honor. When Johnny gets out of bed in the morning he has three ritual actions with which he begins his day. First, he kisses the cross that hangs on his bedroom wall. Then he pounces on his Daddy, sleeping or awake (so much more to his Mum’s delight if sleeping.) Then he snatches up the nearest duckie in a manner reminiscent of his Mum and begins to sing, “AAAHHHH…duttie. AAAHHHH…duttie.”

He’s referring, of course, to the duckie verse of the Johnny song.

Little Baby Johnny,

In the Bubbly Stream.

All the yellow duckies

See him getting clean.

Little Baby Johnny

There’s no need to scream.

All is warm and pleasant

In the bubbly stream.

All the yellow duckies

All the yellow duckies

All the yellow duckies

All the yellow duckies,

All the yellow duckies

See him getting clean,

On his scrubbing team

In the Bubbly Stream.

How do I know that Johnny won’t end up behind in language skills? Well, theoretically I know it because the living room language evolves and grows up with Johnny. Where once I said, “Johnny drop him ball” I now say, “Did you drop yoom ball? ooooo…” When it’s clear Johnny understands what I’m saying, I straighten an expression out, gradually filling in be-verbs and pronouns. I don’t have to be afraid he’s going to miss the point in the midst of all those extra words because he already knows the high points, the basic structure of the sentence.

But I also know from experience. In this case I’m doing much as my Mom did.  And I have to say, that from my naturally inarticulate beast of a brother, to my calculated sister, to the ever-verbose Me, no family I know uses language as colorfully and to such effect as we do. It’s a pleasure to go home for the holidays.

Remind me to post my brother’s “Dave” story some time…

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