petite anglaise

February 16, 2005

building blocks

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 5:06 pm

“Labouche”, says Tadpole, pointing at her mouth.

“Yes sweetie, it’s your mouth”, I say, in my best educational voice, showing that she is correct but that mummy has a different word for this.

“Mouth”, she repeats.

“Well done darling!” I say, thinking how similar child-rearing techniques are to those used by Barbara Woodhouse on dogs. All that is missing is a little dog treat to hand out as a reward when I say “well done!”, and possibly a firm, congratulatory pat to her rump.

It occurs to me that if I were able to train Tadpole to obey dog-training commands like “sit” and “stay” then I might be able to prolong my life expectancy by several years. At the moment, I get to see her life flash before my eyes several times a day. Every time she manages to work loose her hand and dart towards a car/bicycle/the gap between the metro and the platform my heart does a little somersault. Which can’t be healthy.

I don’t discourage her from bringing me my slippers when I get home either.

Dog tangent aside, what I have noticed about the way Tadpole acquires French language is that for her “labouche” is one entity. As are “lesoreilles” and “lenez” or “lafourchette”. Aha! So that’s how French people instinctively know what gender something is. They learn the gender and the noun as one indivisible unit of language from the beginning. And separate it all out later on. None of that puzzling over whether a table leg ought to be feminine or masculine, or trying to get their head around the illogical concept of a breast being masculine (le sein). I imagine it won’t be long before Tadpole starts correcting my gender bending tendencies. In fact, soon I will have my very own walking, talking dictionary.

Similarly, in English at the moment there are a few words that she never uses in isolation. “Hat” is either part of the phrase “haton” or “hatoff”. “Light” is “lighton”. Her lasting fascination for lights is actually getting quite tedious: almost every single shop in France has a neon sign outside the front of it, and Tadpole feels the need to point at each and every one of them to show me that the light is indeed on.

It occurs to me that I should probably curb my language a little going forward to ensure that she doesn’t pick up any of the following phrases and decide that they are indivisible language blocks:



  1. //They learn the gender and the noun as one indivisible unit of language from the beginning. And separate it all out later on.//

    They do get confused sometimes, though, and end up saying things like “le l’avion” (having presumed that an aeroplane is “la vion”, I suppose). Hang in there – it all works itself out in the end!

    Comment by Iain — February 16, 2005 @ 5:38 pm

  2. what if there was a child whistle, at a pitch only your youngster could hear, and you could blow it at any moment and she would stop and turn to you to see what it was?

    With the oldest nephew (now four), it was a fascination for lights but “latondeuse”, which would sit in the back of David’s parents’ garden when not in use. He would constantly want to go see it up close, but was also extremely afraid of it. So he would take your hand and start to walk back toward it until reaching some sort of imaginary line, then turning around and walking back to where he started.

    Except then, he wasn’t close enough for it to be scary anymore, and you’d have to do it again. Multiple times.

    Thankfully , the next summer he had grown out of it.

    Comment by kim — February 16, 2005 @ 5:40 pm

  3. quel bonheur de lire ce texte, moi qui suis presque plus touchée par un chiot que par un nouveau-né.. pas mes enfants, quand même.. quoique..

    Comment by sans moi, mère indigne — February 16, 2005 @ 5:57 pm

  4. why can’t we all speak esperanto? i’m kidding.

    Comment by vitriolica — February 16, 2005 @ 7:51 pm

  5. One of our daughters used to stride around the house, swaggering really, when she was around 2-3 years old and say “sonabench.” It was all one word said with a great deal of force but we had no idea what she was saying.

    Turns out that a John Wayne movie, The Cowboys, was on at my evilinlaws and one of the boys called John Wayne a sonofabitch.

    Does she walk around saying mommy, love you, daddy, or anything remotely endearing? Nope, we were all sonabenches in her eyes. :roll:

    Comment by Bob — February 16, 2005 @ 10:02 pm

  6. PA, you have discovered the secret of – something. “Labouche” indeed! Perhaps that’s how student dictionaries ought to be arranged.

    If it were up to me, all the words would be feminine. I really like the extra ‘e’s, not to mention the sounded-out finals. (Twould be a veritable end to honking.)

    But, seriously, “labouche” reminds me of something French – it might be universal-outside-America, for all I know – the habit of always adding “monsieur” or “madame” or a proper name to everyday greetings. Bonjour tout court? Cela ne se dit pas.

    Comment by R J Keefe — February 17, 2005 @ 1:57 am

  7. My prof at Paris III wrote an interesting book about his grand-daughter learning to speak. The book is “Caroline grammairienne en herbe” by Henri Adamczewski.

    Comment by Ria — February 17, 2005 @ 5:09 pm

  8. “They learn the gender and the noun as one indivisible unit of language from the beginning.”

    That is a very interesting observation. However, I’ve noticed my little one (and her daycare companions) using French nouns without articles, and initially this surprised me. However, it may go a long way toward explaining the dismissal of articles in Quebecois (I’m in Montreal) and why so many people get them wrong — somewhere along the line historically (perhaps by analogy with the overwhelming anglo language/culture) they decided noun and article were separate units.

    Comment by Isabella — February 17, 2005 @ 5:22 pm

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