Tweety Bird and Toddlerspeak

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter.

S3: And, you know, we’re going to do something a little different this week or at least a little different for me. We’re going to do a show about how kids learn language. A lot of you have asked me for this over the past few years, and I haven’t done it because, frankly, I always thought I didn’t care about the topic. No offense to anybody whose topic this is, but I always kind of thought that it just wasn’t my thing. And it was kind of like the show for me is about sharing my toys. And I always thought of first language acquisition, as linguists call it. That’s kind of when you’re sharing one of your toys that you don’t really like that much. Like if somebody gives you G.I. Jim. Remember that sort of bad G.I. Joe’s or if, like, some kind person gives you a set of dominos, but you notice adopt this ever really much fun, you don’t want to share that. But, you know, over the years, actually, I’ve been finding that I do like first language acquisition. There’s so many interesting things about it. It’s really just a matter how you come at it. You have to pull the camera back a little bit. But there are plenty of things to talk about. It is a shareable toy. So let’s do this. So much has been learned about this topic. So let’s start with the womb and just beyond it. How does it really begin? Well, as we know, a baby typically spends about nine months inside of its mother. And what’s interesting first is that soon as they’re out, babies have a preference for the language that they’ve been hearing their mother speak. They pay more attention to that language. Whoever is speaking it, then to some other language. Now, of course, they don’t know what’s being said, but they’ve already internalized the intonational patterns, the rhythm. They already know the musical feel of that language. So they’re already primed. And so it seems clear that genetically, while there’s a lot of controversy as to whether or not we’re programmed with an endowment that allows us to learn language programmed with grammar of a certain kind already in our heads, that can fit any language. And our job is just to learn how our language handles that universal grammar specifically. It’s clear that there are aspects of being human that certainly favor learning a language. That one is surrounded by as long as there is such a language. And when babies start out and you’re listening to all the random sounds that they make, they can make any sound that there is in any language. And so it isn’t that they’re blank slates and they learn exactly the sounds of, for example, English or Japanese. They start with all of the sounds. And then growing up means gradually losing the capacity to make sounds that you don’t need. So it’s kind of a sad thing. A baby is born able to take in any language and just think about even the click languages. All these fine distinctions and consonants that some languages make over others. And let’s not even talk about the vowels. A baby can handle all of that. And then maturation means your ability narrowing. So that’s an interesting thing. It’s the sorts of things that give you a challenge when you learn a language a little bit later. So, for example, one person who I’m pretty sure is listening to this is named Wan Chee in an American accent. It’s Wanchai high Wannsee, by the way. But I’m not saying you’re right, because her name is one T. One key. It is different from China in Mandarin, completely different sounds to somebody who speaks those languages. They are not the same thing at all. Now, in English, we can’t help but say Wow Wan Chee. But it’s one key. Imagine how we probably sound to her. So what this means is that little junior or little junior at can make any old sound in this shows you how silly it is that in this country in particular, we tend to only start having people really learn foreign languages when they’re already sweaty. Adolescence, long past the phase when most people, unless they’re particularly interested, are going to be able to get very far, especially in the United States, where, let’s face it, you almost never need to know another language anyway. So for any of us who want our kids to learn other languages and to learn them, well, the idea is to as much as possible get your kids started early because learning a language involves making sounds that become harder and harder to make as you get older. So, for example, one way that you might introduce your little ones to other languages is with Peppa Pig. Peppa Pig. Is this charmingly simple cartoon series for those of you who haven’t experienced it, although you’ve probably seen Peppa Pig without knowing it, a rather oddly constructed pig, and of course they’re dolls, etc.. And she’s British and she’s got parents and she’s got her little brother, George. And that’s the wrong. British accent But the point is, Peppa Pig is online all over the place in practically every language in the world. Of course, not that many, but quite a few languages. And the thing is, because nothing interesting ever happens on Peppa Pig. And people tend to talk relatively slowly because it’s aimed at very young people. It means that it can be pretty handy for learning your way around other languages. And so, for example, you can get your Peppa Pig in Mandarin. So one episode of Peppa Pig is called Mr Dinosaur is Lost to the Mr Dinosaur is a doll. Listen to Pepa announcing the title of that in the original here.

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S4: GoodGuide is Ceisler.

S5: That cute estuary accent. Now, here it is in Mandarin. Didn’t much budget compensation.

S6: Isn’t that cute how? I mean, I know this is their job. They got just the right actress to be Peppa in Mandarin. If Peppa Pig were Chinese, then. That is exactly. Anyway, I just think things like that are cute. But you have to break down what’s going on there. It’s this simple story. And she’s saying, well, Mr. Dinosaur is lost. And she says, call launching Shambu Janela. So listen to her again.

S7: It’s not just right there.

S6: If you want junior junior s to learn Mandarin. Well, they have to learn things like, for example, Qinsheng, Henshall, that means. Listen to the real girl doing Chincha. It’s not Shen Xiang. It’s hidden. Shown better to get something like that early or is lost. And so in English you say is lost in Mandarin but canula. But genda I’m not saying gendler. I’m saying gendler. Gendler. Or at least I’m trying my hardest. So you have to have that difference between this and the shirt. The. And the gin. I’m sitting here, you know, straining to make the effort because I’m elderly. You want to expose your kids early and Peppa Pig would be a very handy way of doing it. I cannot tell you how much Mandarin Peppa Pig I’ve watched because it starts you out in childhood. And one day I wouldn’t mind having, like, a Mandarin porky pig. I don’t think they did it. These are the sorts of things that you have to think about. And it’s not as if were so poverty stricken in English. Imagine if you don’t know this language. And listening to me say something like he lied about how much rye whiskey he had last night or I’m going to say effortlessly because I speak at least one language. I had a really good relationship with lovely Laura, that simple sentence. I had a really good relationship with lovely Laura. I can do it. I could do that in my sleep. But l and are tough sounds to distinguish if your language doesn’t happen to do it. And a great many don’t. So kids start out. Able to do anything. Low road. Jeje. And then it contracts. And that really does say something about when you want to start teaching people other languages. In any case, you get some of the oddest facts. And so, for example, there’s a babbling phase that kids do where they have these nonsense syllables that they’re just kind of burbling along with. And, you know, frankly, who cares? I don’t find that very interesting. I remember the very first time I heard anybody lecture on first language acquisition is a brilliant person. But the way that she started it was. Well, when children first start speaking, they babble. And I thought, oh, goodness, how fascinating. But there’s something more counterintuitive than that before. Kids are babbling and instead they’re just kind of making unstructured noises. Their little throats are opening. So it’s kind of nasco that phase when they’re doing that.

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S3: For some reason, the male Homo sapiens does that more than the female Homo sapiens. Isn’t that odd? Of course, this is a statistical tendency, but still it’s a recent finding. And I would credit it. But to be perfectly honest, I cannot find where I read that a couple weeks ago. So if anybody is out there and they feel like I’m stealing their stuff, please let me know who discovered this, because I wrote it down somewhere and then threw away the piece of paper. But this is a really interesting finding in the pre babbling stage. Boys, for some reason are somewhat more vocal than girls. Evolution is the funniest thing.

S6: What would the purpose of that have been if there was any purpose, but somehow that it’s apparently programmed into human DNA? In any case, on the topic of womb, nobody knows where the word womb came from. It’s only in the dramatic languages. And I have a book that you might want to read, you know, after you read the Nichole Boys, after you read Thinking Fast and Slow, after you read all those books. Then you’ve got to get to the Carthaginian North Semitic influence on her speech. Dramatic by Theo Vanaman and Robert Meile Hammer. And actually, I mean it because it’s a rather readable book. And if you’re interested, as a lot of you seem to be, in what I’m kind of calling the real history of English and the history of Germanic. This book makes a case for Germanic Proteau Germanic having been influenced by speakers of some kind of Semitic language up in northern Europe. It’s a fragile case. I’m not sure if it’ll ever be airtight. I have given it a certain amount of aring, however, because I find it fascinating. You will find it summed up nowhere better than in the catch, oddly titled The Carthaginian North Semitic Influence on Early Germanic. Ask your friendly bookseller for that one today. Yeah, it’s time for some music and it’s not going to sound like my usual. I’m playing this not because the artist is named John. His name is Dr. John, but because this song, which is called Such a Night, is just glorious. I’m not sure what I like. So much about this one. But this just drives me wild. This is Dr. John singing such a night back in the 70s. They can be.

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S8: This match game with my best friend Jan. He did steal you away.

S9: Oh, wait. Do they have? Now, as kids actually start talking, well, they sound cute and there are a lot of reasons that they sound cute. And one of the main ones is that they don’t have all the sounds yet. And so they tend to substitute easier sounds to make for some of the ones that are harder to wrap your tongue around. So what do I mean by that? Well, you know, we have to use the Looney Tunes for this. And so, for example, this is Tweedie Little Tweety Bird, and he is singing a song version of his catchphrase. I taught at All Putih tat there was a commercial version of the song which was released. I don’t like that one. I want this different version of the song, which is from the cartoon, a gruesome twosome, and it’s got all the surrounding noise. But all that is fun to listen to Carl Stallings way of rendering music. Listen to Tregg Brown sounds. All this is just wonderful. But listen to how Tweedy talks.

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S10: I got to do.

S11: Now what we’ll do.

S12: Kim. You are.

S9: It’s really interesting because it’s not based on nothing, what Tweedie is doing is what any acquisition ISTE would recognize as sound substitution and specifically what he’s doing is substituting what we call stops sounds where you stop the airflow like push to curb. Instead of using fricatives, the hits, he sounds like the SES and the fuzz. So instead of I thought it’s I hot. And so fur is between the teeth. But that’s a fricative. Those can be harder to learn close to where that’s pronounced. But a stop to the sort of thing that kids learn really quickly is tough. So I taught I saw a pussycat or saw tall. You put your tongue in more or less the same place. Sir, is the Hisey version. Ter is when you stop it. Well, the stopping is what you learn earlier when you’re doing things like saying Tatau, dad, dad, those very early words. So Soor is something you’ll get to. Your first rendition might be tall. It makes perfect sense. And Pussycat buddhi and then pat why tak ka is back in the mouth. Ter is further upfront and substitution often involves what’s called fronting kids like the front of their mouth. Remember how we’ve talked about how Mama comes very early and then tarta all that’s up in the front. What comes very early is not going to be something like OK, but that’s not what any kid does unless they’re very creative, probably brilliant and may be bored. But really it starts with more. And to what this means is that you get this substitution often involving fronting and that makes I taught I tore Puddy tat quite predictable. Or let’s listen to Elmer FUD.

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S11: That was really awfully good. Leg of lamb.

S6: That’s from a very early Bugs Bunny called Elmers Pet Rabbit. And it’s Wag of Wham! And of course, Elmer FUD is a comedy character, but what he’s doing when he is using WS instead of ALS and ARDS is again perfectly natural. It’s something that kids often do. And the reason is, well, that’s not so bad. It’s right there upfront. But Alan, are are what we call marked sounds. And that doesn’t mean that there’s like some sort of splotch on them, but they are sounds that even in your native language, you often learn later. So you’re gonna get your more your birth year. That’s fine. Then you’re going to start getting your Sirrs and even your third’s. But often an English learning kid doesn’t get L until they’re about five and a half can even go as late as seven. And then R is a really tough one that sometimes doesn’t come until eight hours hard. You have to wrinkle the front of your tongue and the back of your tongue at the same time, but in different ways. And then you also have to round your lips. So if you’re an English speaker, it’s the last thing you’re thinking about. But R is not the easiest thing. And so if for some reason an adult has not learned the full sound system, one thing that might happen is that they might not say and are and they will substitute them for the similar sounding. And that’s where you get it. Actually, I am noticing that right now. One of my children, the younger one, is five and a half. She doesn’t have R yet. You can tell she will. She produces it now and then. It’s not Beyonder, but she is still at the Elmer FUD phase. She was trying to wake Daliah Dolly up the other day and I happened to tiptoe in and I was noticing her saying, Dolly. Dolly or we were watching our Looney Tunes. You know, she wants to see the woad wonder. Dolly doesn’t like the Road Runner. Vanesa does, so that it’s because she hasn’t mastered the full sound system. You know what’s interesting? Here’s a little aside. During the lockdown, Vanessa’s language skills have exploded. I want to record that here. One thing that’s happened is that playing constantly with her sister. She has gotten into brand new areas of the language that she was barely inhabiting even as recently as early March. It’s been an interesting thing to see. But still, that, ah, is a tough one. Dowi that’s just the way it’s going to be for a while. I know what you want to know because you’re always asking. And I would ask, too, if I had had a different life. What about learning more than one language at a time? And it’s not a marginal question at all because there’s an argument that more people are bilingual in the world than monolingual, and it’s hard to know where to draw that line. But bilingualism is not weird. It can just seem that way if you happen to live in certain massive, heavily monolingual countries such as Japan, Brazil or certainly the United States. So what about more than one language? Well, the truth is, if a child is growing up with two languages, then their language acquisition tends to be a little slower. Bilingual kids tend to be a little late, not pathologically, but they are less likely to be ones who are sounding pretty darn good. Really early, and that’s because they are learning to systems, the brain handles it perfectly. But it’s just a little bit slower. But, you know, the neat thing, learning two languages at a time. Get ready for this, because this is I think this is just fascinating. Learning two languages at a time tends to make children a little more empathetic. And it’s because you are listening to people using not one, but two linguistic systems. You have to listen a little more closely. And it ends up expanding your mind. There is a fascinating experiment that was done by Katherine Kinzler, a psychologist and some others, where they were looking at kids who were from four to six years old. The kids can see three toy cars, a small one, a medium size one and a big one. Now, the way they’ve got screens set up, the adult is facing them, but the adult can only see the medium car. And the big car. Now, some of these kids are bilingual. Some of them are. When a Grown-Up says to one of these kids, give me the small car, the bilingual kids were more likely to give the adult the medium car because they immediately perceive that the adult can’t see the smallest car. The monolingual kids IEI would have been one. Give them what they see as the small car, which the adult couldn’t see. You would never know that. But that’s the way it comes out. Learning two languages makes you, frankly, in a way nicer. Also, it’s interesting how this sort of thing works in the brain, even if you learn another language as early as six. So let’s say you start out with English and then you start learning Korean at six or eight. That’s more likely the other way around. Let’s say that you’re Korean, American and you got here when you were six or seven and you started learning English. Now, that is a person who today speaks absolutely perfect American English. Absolutely idiomatic. No problems at all. But if you do a brain scan of a person like that and you play English and then Korean, you’ll find that the English makes their brain fire a little less hotly than the Korean. Even if it’s got to the point that their English is somewhat better than their Korean, the language that you learn first really gets in there and your neurons fire a lot. When you hear it, your neurons fire less. When you hear that second language, even if that second language has practically become your first one. The brain is a marvelous thing in terms of where we take in language and where we produce it. There are two major centers of that. And typically they are on the left side of the brain, not the right side of the brain in left handed people, sometimes over on the right side, but not always left side of the brain. And it’s these two areas that are above and below that sort of Princess Leia temporal lobe on the brain. That is where language typically is. Now, there’s controversy over how central those areas are to language. I have seen no evidence that I shouldn’t talk about Broca’s area and where his area at all. Now, a case that’s where language typically is. But I’m saying typically in terms of first language, in terms of the second language, examine the brain of somebody who speaks to and you find that the second language is generated from other places in the brain. Those neurons can do just about anything. First language in Broca’s and where Niki’s. But then if you learned Italian when you were seven or something like that, that is going to be in a different part of the brain, even if you’re speaking it with native competence. That’s how it goes. And I know what else you’re going to ask and answer is. Yes, the answer to that question is yes. And you know a question. It is I don’t even need to say what it is. No, of course I have to say what it is. I think I get this question more often than almost any other about language, especially from live audiences. And that is this. If in early childhood you spoke a language with your family. But then your circumstances were such that you learned another language and lost that first language. Typically, you know, immigrating or something like that, if you lost that first language, will you learn that language more easily if you try to pick it up as an adult? And the answer is yes. The strangest thing is that if you are a Chinese American person and you spoke nothing but Chinese till you were six and then you let it go and now you’re 30. Your brain is permanently more sensitized to things like the Judea difference than, for example, mine would ever be. That’s how this brain business works.

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S13: Another thing about bilingual acquisition is do kids who are learning to languages tend to mix? The language is up and the answer is yes. And one of the saddest things about human history, this is, you know, a lot of recent American history, but, you know, long before that is that often parents have the innocent misconception that they should hold their native language back from their children so that it won’t interfere with their learning, for example, English. If they’ve moved to the United States in the beginning. Kids do mix the languages a little bit. You would expect them to. But the thing is, they don’t mix the languages all that much and they get past it. It does not ever mean that a child grows up speaking some sort of hybrid. If somebody comes to the United States from, for example, Poland, there’s not going to be a child who by 13 or 14 years old, is speaking some sort of pole gless or something like that. There’s something about the human brain that makes people able to keep the languages separated, even beyond what we might into it was possible even in pre literate children. So it’s never problematic, but they do do it a little. And sometimes when they do mix, it can be in ways that, frankly, are hard not to approve of. And so, for example, there is in Japanese I’ve mentioned that there are levels of what are called honorifics, their levels of politeness.

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S1: And this is partly in vocabulary choices. Words have different forms, depending on how polite you want to be, who you’re talking to. So by way of quick review, you’re going to say something like, this is a book, the lowly way to say it would be noir Honda. That’s. This book is like that. Now, if you want to make a little higher drywall, hon, they get a little higher. What you learn in a book, what you learn first to say is sort of middle polite. And so, Courtois, home desert. That’s the middle. So dark. They are desolate. Those have meaning to the Japanese ear. DA is low-down. Your mouth is full. Desert is in the middle. But if you’re trying to kind of take it up a little bit. Cordwell Hon de Audy Mossel. And so that’s higher than the DSU. And then if you wanted to be way up high, you’re talking to Dr. John or something. Then it’s gonna be Correo Hall and it goes on massive. So all of these honorific levels, the language is shot through with that.

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S13: Chisato Don Joe did a really interesting study where she was looking at kids growing up speaking English and Japanese, and there was a six year old girl who wanted to play with her four year old brothers toys. The four year old brother was saying, no, Jeggo, you can’t do it. So she starts asking him to play with his toys in English, and then she switched into Japanese using all of the honorifics in Japanese because it was a way of softening what she was saying and a more overt way than you can do in English. And so in Japanese, it’s easier to very quickly start putting all sorts of padding and know sort of verbal pats on the head. Japanese served a purpose. So, yes, she was mixing English from Japanese. You might think, oh, God, what’s going to happen her when she gets older? And the answer is nothing. She’s going to speak both English and Japanese. And if she mixes the two, it’s because she’s using language in a creative or even pragmatic way. So that’s how these sorts of things can work. I want to ask your indulgence just this one time. This is some Steely Dan, you know, Steely Dan have not always been great on women. There some skivvy lyrics of theirs. And this is one of those. But I want to ask for a pass just this one time. I’ve wanted to play this ever since the show started, and I’ve always kind of held back. So I thought, well, it’s kind of tacky, but it’s also in many ways very good music and very special writing. And I’ve even heard about this song from a few of you who like it when I play Steely Dan. So this is from Two Against Nature, which is one of their very best albums. And this is the learing Cousin Dupri. I promise I won’t do too much of this, but I like this song. So here it is.

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S14: I ran a lot since high school, I worked a lot and went from keyboard and back and got big rigs back home and my next couple days when I see my little person. Well, it was. Ground zero. Well.

S13: Language is, of course, more than sounds. Language is, for example, endings. We tend to think about those sorts of things, perhaps more immediately than sounds. And it’s funny what kids go through in learning how to form, say, the plural, because at first you can often think that your kid’s doing pretty well. They’re doing the irregular plurals with no problem. They’re saying feet instead of Foote’s. And they’re saying men instead of man. And then often you’ll find sometimes this happens after about three that all of a sudden they start getting the stuff wrong. And instead of feet, you get FTS or instead of men, you get menz. So it’s not going to be that they start out with Foote’s. They listen to everybody and they say feet because nobody around them says Foote’s. But then after a while, they start saying FTS and Menz, and then eventually they get past that. And that’s because they go through a phase where first they’re just taking in what’s around them, they’re copying. And so feet nobody says Foote’s. So when there’s more than one foot they know to say feet, a little brain can take that in. Then they start realizing that language has rules, that it’s not just naming things, but it’s how you put them together and that they’re ways that you do that in ways that you don’t. Well, if all but a very few English nouns use the plural s. Well, then Ft. FTS is gonna start to feel natural to them. And so it becomes very easy. And what this means is that, frankly, German kids are cuter than English speaking kids because Germans plurals are a mess. And so with us, we’re just dealing with, you know, Phee, women, children and a few others like that. And how often do you talk about geese and mice and lice anyway? But in German, really learning how to do the plural is a lot harder. There’s more irregularity. It’s smacks you in the face. I remember when I was trying to teach myself German as a lonely preadolescent, I was using the jali but truly useless old Berlitz self teachers. I went through almost every actually all of those books. At one point there were about nine. And with the German one, you know, they’re saying as they didn’t all these books, it’s really a very easy language of just practice a little. Isn’t it easy? Isn’t it easy? And after about less than ten, I was thinking, well, how do you take the plural? And I’m waiting for there to be like a rule. And gradually I realized, wait, there’s not going to be anything remotely rule like in the sense that I was used to from English or the romance languages. A lot of the time you just have to kind of get a feel for it. And I thought, no, German, it’s not easy.

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S9: For example, day talk days, Targa Oak Field felt OK. Fields, Felda, no Felder, Felda K ear or what are ears or dummkopf is it. Or nine. It’s all on. So Tawergha Felder or and you just kind of have to known it goes on and on.

S13: And you know, Berlitz by the way, you guys have gotten much better. You have a Japanese book now that is absolutely excellent, but oh those self teachers from back in the day. Have you a book. The one teaching English to speakers had people actually asking you, have you a book? Anyway, other kids are cuter when they’re learning languages than English, often because the languages, frankly, are harder. It means that kids don’t learn languages as quickly and that really is true. There is a certain commitment in a lot of the linguistics literature to saying that all kids learn whatever language they’re exposed to equally rapidly, as you might intuit. That is not precisely true as languages go.

S6: English is nuts and bolts are relatively easy. And so depending on what you call fast, kids pretty much have it by you about six years old. That is not true of all languages. If the language is harder than even, an eight nine year old still might not be all the way there. And so, for example, there’s a language in Australia and it’s called Maurene Parta and Maureen Parta is interesting in many ways. And one of them is that it’s one of these almost willfully complicated languages. And I don’t want to take you too far into the weeds on this. But just to give you a sense, I’m going to not even attempt an accent to actually make this clearer.

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S15: So the verb for seeing to see car do like that. Now, how do you say he saw car do is just see to say he saw you say bomb car do bomb is both he and it gives you the past part. So car do see to make it into. He saw bomb car do. Okay. How about he pushed push his Terada. Okay so he pushed. Should be bomb Terada but new. It’s not. It’s Mom Terada. And the reason is because you say he differently if it’s about your eyes than if it’s about your hands. I kid you not. So Bob Carr, do he saw mom teared up. He pushed mom because it’s with your hands. Now in this language, kicking is rendered as pushing something with your feet. But if something’s done with the feet, you have this whole other way of saying heat. So push Terada. But it’s with your feet. And so that’s how they say kick. He kicked none. Gahn Terada none. Gahn is your he and the past. If it’s something with your feet and they’re 35, more of those little things that you put before each verb, depending on how you did it with what part of your body, with what manner, etc..

S16: And so you’ve got this massive number. And of course, these things vary according to the tents. So he saw bomb car do he will see bar car do. And all of this stuff just creates this whole array of things that you have to know. Might not surprise you to know that six year old speaking Maureen Patta are not there yet. At six, they’ve got the basics, but they’re still making lots of cute little mistakes. I’ve heard this anecdotally said about some Native American languages. And frankly, you know, Bill Marr has this thing about what he just knows his true. It simply must be true of a lot of those languages, as you saw when I talked about them two or three shows ago. You’re not gonna have it by 6:00. The idea that everybody is a perfect speaker by 7:00. It’s a little Western European linguistics he centric. That may be true of English and Dutch. That is not true of Maureen Patha. I hear it’s not true of CCRI. It could not possibly be true of Miwok. So these things vary. You don’t have this language until after 6:00. Here’s a transition after 6:00. Back in the old days, many servants got Thursday night off. And that’s the only way to remotely understand this. Rodgers and Hart song from the Broadway musical Higher and Higher, which nobody cares about. And it’s for a reason. But this is a song called Every Sunday Afternoon. It’s being sung by servants in a household of wealthy people. And the lyric used to make no sense to me at all. But I’ve always kind of like the song. This is Bobby Short, the cabaret singer. The singing style will not be for everybody, but this is the only recording of this song that I’m aware of. And it is dear to me for various reasons. This is every Sunday afternoon. You don’t learn morning pot until after 6:00. You get to make love after six if you are in a 19 39 failed musical.

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S17: Every Sunday afternoon and Thursday night, we’ll be free. Birds fly. On Sunday afternoon, did we ever find. We’ll make up on Thursday. Nah, leave the shoes to dry your hands. Change your way to the. Every Sunday afternoon, we’ll be all right. But we’ll make love on Thursday.

S16: The virus is hitting the media hard and Slate is part of the media. And so it’s gotten to the point that I need to make a special pitch for Slate plus Slate plus, as my listeners know, is a matter of you guys getting a tag after the show itself where I give you some more information, sometimes with more jolly musical and film clips, as will be the case with the Slate plus clip for this show. And when you get the Slate plus clip at the end, you also don’t have to listen to any ads. So you get a really different experience for just a nominal fee. And of course, it wouldn’t be just for my show. It would be for all of Slate’s podcasts. Slate is in no danger, but these are very lean times and the Slate plus fees would really help us out right now. Please go to Slate dot com slash lexicon plus. And the idea is that for a nominal fee and it really is pretty darn nominal, you get more stuff and without interruptions, no ads. Just imagine. Just go to Slate dot com slash lexicon plus. And I highly suspect that you’ll be glad you did. For example, this week, I’m not doing anything about sex or old musicals. You’re going to learn why Idiot is the same word itself. And that’s all I’m gonna say about it. If you wanna know the truth about that. You’ve got to get Slate.

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S13: Plus, one more thing about the bilingual issue is that if you hear more of one language than another. So, for example, if you grow up in the United States, you are raised with English outside of the home and sometimes even in it. And the language that your parents speak is one that you hear mostly at home or with relatives. But that’s pretty much it. Then what generally happens is that that language that you learned at home, you speak fine. You are using it. You can manage if you go back to the home country, you can talk to your grandparents, but you realize as you get older that your skills in that language aren’t quite what they are in the language that you’ve used more. And you can listen to people talking around this. I remember I had a friend who was Chinese American. I think she had come to the United States when she was two. She spoke Mandarin very much had been to China. But I remember her saying was the first time I ever heard anybody talking about this sort of thing that she couldn’t really talk about politics in Chinese, that some time she got a little bit lost. If the conversation got really complicated that when she went to China, people said she sounded a little American. There’s a name for that. That’s heritage language. And so my friend spoke Heritage Mandarin. And it’s an interesting thing. You look at bilingualism and there are some people who are perfect bilinguals. But the truth is that’s not the usual situation. Very often somebody speaks two languages and one of them, they speak very well. And that’s a marvel in itself. But it’s a little bit different. I remember I knew a German speaker once and for some reason I really don’t remember now. We walked into the past. It was it was a hot day and we wanted some ice cream. And we walked into this ice cream shop and all of a sudden it really was like 1938. That’s the way I remember it. It was this dusty linoleum floor in this dusty linoleum person behind the counter. It was the past. It smelled different. They only had like three flavors. It’s interesting, I’ve been to 19, 38, and it was that day for about five minutes. And for some reason, the person serving the ice cream was not only Dusty, not only was she making him, told him she was German for some reason. So we walked into Germany in 1938, which was rich. Somehow my friend and this lady figured out that they both spoke German. And I remember my friend saying to the woman, well, I studied German so that I could get a good job. And what she said was a cop Deutsche Studio. What a good positive Bruckmann. That’s what she said. So he Deutsche Duder. That’s I have German studied. I’m on a good deposes to Brooklyn, to a good job to get you a job at Deutsche Studio to want to go to positive McCommon. Now that’s me saying it like that. But that’s pretty much how she sounded. And I was in Germany with her some time later and I was noticing her German was fluent. She was working at a company, you know. This is I’m not knocking her German at all, but I noticed that I couldn’t understand a damn thing anybody was saying. But I could always understand what she was saying. And it was because of this, he copied Deutsche Studio. Well, Mallacoota pulses become in her English sound system, had affected the way she produced German because she had come to the United States from Germany when she was six.

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S6: There’s that age. So she definitely spoke German, but she spoke what would later start to be called Heritage German. And it was very interesting because the German was completely fluent. But the reason I can always understand her is because she had highly Americanized phonology, as we call it, met her brother once and his German was somewhat less than hers because he had spent. Less time in Germany. He was her younger brother. And I remember he was very interested in communicating. I mean, he was American himself, but he was interested in communicating that he didn’t like American beer because it gave him worse hangovers. And he kept on saying that in the morning I wake up and instinct, Miriam, cop instinct me and it stinks me in the head. It stinks in my head. Instinct. Mirriam Cop and I always remember him saying that. Then gradually I realize I don’t hear other Germans using it that way. The instinct here it stinks me is usually that something irritates you like instinct Myhre that I’m sitting here sweating in a closet. But that’s different from I wake up with just think in my head. I think that that was some heritage German. He could go to Germany and have a grand old time but extinct. Miriam Corp. is a little off in Germany. You can, you can correct me on this, but I will never forget him talking about distinct Miriam cough, especially because that’s really the only thing he seemed to want to talk about. It was kind of like the Carl Weathers character in Arrested Development, where everything keeps coming back to making a stew with this guy was always about the stinking in his head. After drinking Budweiser, you had to admire his passion for the topic. So, Oksana, as we know, it’s simplification and mixture at the upright Shinya system achieving you. I’ll bet those are the wrong terms, but I’m trying not to Mr. Pecht heritage. We need little Fats Waller. We’re gonna have these slightly naughty little songs about courtship. This is Fats Waller singing a cute little song that for some reason nobody cares about. But I like it. It’s called I’m on a Seesaw. And what he means is that he’s on a seesaw about lube.

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S3: So listen to I’m on a seesaw.

S18: I don’t know when I’ll be.

S2: You can reach us at Lexicon Valley at Slate dot com. That’s Lexicon Valley at Slate dot com. To listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out, go to Slate dot com slash Lexicon Valley. You know, it does stink if me here in this closet. I am doing this show for you. Not only heartless, but shirtless and dripping like a caged animal. Too much information. Mike Volo is, as always, the editor. And I am John McWhorter.

S6: All right, folks, let’s listen to Karl Malden speaking to Angela Lansbury and a slightly renowned but frankly rather mediocre movie with Warren Beatty and Brandon DeWilde and even Marie Saint called All Fall Down. This is from 1962. But listen to what Karl Malden says to his wife to keep her from talking.

S19: Then we’re going to put them the bed with a bottle of whiskey apiece. To keep morning in the morning, you’re going to get them some of this junk that you have under this Christmas tree here that be still.

S6: It’s something you mainly hear in older things nowadays. But notice that still used to mean even in more colloquial American English. Quiet. It’s interesting how that happened. Words for quiet can be interesting in English. Still started to mean quiet via metaphor. So still first meant that you’re not moving. That’s the core meaning of still. But if you’re still, then probably you’re not making any noise. And so next thing you know, you are quiet. And that means that B, still, as B, quiet is something that happens step by step by step. A nice thing about still is that that’s also why we say he’s still in there or still. We need to think about getting a new coffeemaker or something like that. Still is, as in everything being unmoving now that we have everything in place, everything stopping there. Well, here’s something that we can consider. If you think about it, that’s what still means. So words are always all over the place. Words are rarely just unitary things that mean one thing. They’re interesting little semantic splotches. Or when you’re talking about. Still, we need to talk about a new coffeemaker. It’s not semantics. It’s what linguists often call pragmatics. You’re talking about how you feel about things. So all of that can happen from a word that starts out meaning that you’re not moving. Now, then there’s deaf and dumb dumb started meaning quiet. We tend to think in American English that dumb means that you’re not very intelligent. But that word starts as the word for somebody not making any noise. But then via metaphore, the idea was that if you’re not making any noise, then you must be a dumdum. And so you end up having a word that starts as quiet and comes to mean dumb. You have a word that starts meaning to not move. And it comes to mean quiet words always floating around like that. Now, on the issue of somebody being unintelligent, an original word for that is idiot. And, you know, idiot has an interesting history, goes back to the Greek word Edo’s and Edo’s didn’t mean a dumdum. It meant a private person as an audio synchronic. Now, by private person, they meant not a public person, not some kind of star. So metaphorically, the private person, just the person selling carrots on the street while they’re this lowly kinda dumb. And so that’s how you get idiot, meaning a dummy when it starts out, meaning just a particular sort of person. And then it ends up getting this pejorative meaning. And the funny thing is that if you take Greeks, Edo’s back, the original word on the steps of Ukraine would have been swed yo. And then the Swor goes off and you end up having Ed Yo, which becomes idiot. But in many of the languages that came from that steps of the Ukraine, Proteau, Indo, European, the Swor or the Sir stayed. So in English we say self. And that goes back to swed. You so idiosyncratic and self have that same meaning because they both go back to a word that would have meant particular to people on the steps of Ukraine six to eight thousand years ago. And so that means that self and idiot are the same word, which has all sorts of implications for our self conception.