Learning Example: culdahVaeVae

V0587A /cul’/du/vae/vae’/:
major insight ascribed on basis of this incident. 9/1/79

Over the past several weeks, our house has suffered a greater than usual density and flux of Tintin cartoon books. As do the older kids, Peggy enjoys them. She brings a magazine, says /aen//aen/ and convinces one to hold her in his lap while she turns the pages and points to various figures with little squeals of delight. Her favorite character is “Snowy”, the little white dog and Tintin’s persistent companion. When she points to the dog, we tell her it’s “Snowy”, but Peggy has settled on her own term /cul/duh/ (variously /cai/duh/ and /cai/dae/ as her name for Snowy.

Now Peggy has in the past referred to our Scotty as [Scurry] (more or less) and most recently used /vae/vae/ to refer to Scurry or some distant barking dog. The point is that /vae/vae/ seems more related to barking than to “dogginess” as such. One might think of her use nominally as equivalent to “barker.” Therefore /cul/duh/ seemed merely a new and different name for Snowy… but we were fooled, for Peggy began to call Scurry /cul/duh/ and now does so regularly.

This evening, Peggy sat in my lap for a while. Scurry was waiting to be taken out for her evening walk and Gretchen took the dog on her lap to groom her a little. This is unusual and Peggy pointed at her /cul/duh/ (she said). Peggy got down, wandered off and behind my chair. The dog began to growl on hearing a distant bark. Peg pointed at her excitedly /vae/vae/, /vae/vae/. I responded in her tongue: /cul/duh/vae/vae/, at which Peggy’s face lit up with a broad beaming smile (so Gretchen notes and described it; I was looking the other way.)

Relevance: We both recognize this as an exciting moment of insight into verbal communication for Peggy. She wanted to very much to express her meaning “the dog barks”: but could not except by pointing and saying /vae/vae/ simultaneously. My expression exemplified how serial order expresses the subject-predicate relation in her vocabulary and context. I judged then, and still hold (9/9/79), that this incident marks the beginning of Peggy’s knowledge of generative syntax. That is, here, Peggy learned how to assemble subject and predicate to express a thought already formed, as distinct from expressing idiomatically a thought “associable” with the idiom. I take this to be one of the most important observations in this record.

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