Famous first words

A Zippy on Little Zippy’s cognitive development, including his first words:

Stories of “baby’s first words” abound, many of them obviously tall tales, in which a baby speaks not at all for several years, then comes out with some complex, and perfectly well-formed, utterance, explaining that they hadn’t said anything before because they didn’t have anything important to say, or because they wanted to wait until they could get it right. Nice stories, but utterly implausible, since perfecting a linguistic system requires not only practice (which they might have managed in secret), but in fact practice with other people.

I think I’ve said this several times in various places on the net, but there is such a tale in my first family-in-law, which I heard from Keene Daingerfield, my first father-in-law. It’s about his daughter, Ann Daingerfield Zwicky (who died, alas, 25 years ago in January; she surely would have told it better than I’m about to). The story bears every mark of sheer invention on Keene’s part; the Daingerfields were given to embroidering on family stories to make them better in the telling, and were not above just making things up.

Ann’s “first words” (at roughly age 2) were reported to be:

I hear a train but I do not see it. Pa tells me it is far, far away.

Students of language acquisition, feel free to discuss.

[People are going to ask me about the name Keene Daingerfield, so here goes…

Keene’s paternal grandfather Foxhall Daingerfield (ok, both Foxhall and Daingerfield are originally Anglicized Norman French names — Vauxhall and D’Angerville) trained race horses for James R. Keene (this is a story from the Virginia/Kentucky horse country), and the two became best friends, to the point of each naming his first son for the other. So in time Foxhall Daingerfield Keene and James Keene Daingerfield came into the world. Ann’s father was James Keene Daingerfield, Jr., and went by J. Keene Daingerfield, Keene for short, so as to distinguish himself from his father.]

One Response to “Famous first words”

  1. maxvasilatos Says:

    Hesitant to intrude on your family history, but I at least have a reference to a known writer. Lois Lowry featured in a YA series spinoff of the _Anastasia_ series, a child, Sam, who did exactly what you describe. He did not speak for so long that his family worried about a delay, but suddenly around age 3 he burst forth with fully formed sentences and a prodigious vocabulary. Implication: genius.

    Strangely, Lois Lowry then acquired, among four total grandchildren, two who exhibited this same delay and late eloquence. It was taken in the family that they were destined for greatness.

    The fallout for them and their relationships with the family continues to play out.

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