I was babysitting recently and suddenly realized: I think baby/toddler talk is nearly as efficient as adult talk!


A toddler saw me fall off the bed.  He didn't see the cause of my fall, so he said:

"Jack push you?"

Now, the reason he didn't say "Did Jack push you" is because his language skills aren't strong enough yet, of course.

But when you think about it, why would anyone need to include the word "did"?  It doesn't add much to understanding the comment.

I suppose that use of the word "did" would imply that he is asking whether Jack has already pushed me.  I suppose "Jack push you?" could also be interpreted as asking whether Jack is going to push me. I concede that the word "did" has some benefit in this context.  But my point is that the word doesn't add as much value as you might think:  after all, the context is important, and I didn't need to hear the word "did" in order to figure out that I was being asked whether Jack did push me, rather than being asked whether Jack was going to push me.

Another example:

A toddler was leaving the house, looks at me and says:

"Coming?" instead of "Are you coming?"

Again, the word "coming" by itself is all that's needed, because based on the context of him leaving the house, I could figure out that he's likely asking whether I'm coming now, not later.

Another example:

The toddler does something silly and looks at me and says "Funny?" instead of "Is that funny?"

Now I feel like using baby talk during a conversation just to see the reaction I get!
10/22/2010 09:09:17 am

the reason why they use this language is because they are only learning to put words together. so by the toddler saying jakc push you he/she is asking you did jack push you(he/she saw you fall off the bed). by him/hwer saying coming he/she is asking you are you coming . it is easy for toddlers to use one word sentences and smaller sentences. as they get older they learn more like jack push you becomes did jack push you or is jack going to push you.

10/24/2010 07:58:16 am

Sounds like a good advocation for New-speak.

10/24/2010 08:15:15 am

are you serious? that is your IQ test. You seem pretty confident for a man (guess) who only qualification is a facebook app. Now if this had been the MCAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT or a any number of other real intelligence tests you might be able to brag, it would still be tacky, but you could do it. This is just sad.

I scored a 172 on the LSAT ( thats 99th percentile) just to be a dick about it.

10/24/2010 08:46:31 am


Did I say my only qualification was a facebook app? No.

But it's more impressive to say that I placed 74th in the world than to say I scored in the 99th percentile on a mainstream test, which would tell readers much less. Since they don't break down the percentiles, 99th percentile could mean someone as rare as 1 in 100 or 1 in 100,000,000!

Do you still think it's sad for someone to show that they've beaten about 499,926 people out of 500,000 people instead of showing they beat 495,000 out of 500,000 people?

Also, there is a huge flaw with mainstream tests. Although many of their testing is excellent, their subjective testing is worthless for some individuals (see my posting on that).

10/24/2010 09:45:57 am

apparently that 172 doesn't keep you from getting trolled, hard.

10/25/2010 06:33:52 am

what are your other qualifications?

also, getting 74 definitely doesnt mean that you are the in the top 100 smartest people in the world. based on your IQ results, the sample of people who are on that application arent particularly the smartest people, which you assume represents the entire population of the world. This IQ claim of yours just seems too phony

10/25/2010 07:56:59 am


I never said I was the 74th smartest person in the world. I said I ranked 74th in the world on a test taken by an estimated 500,000+ people.

And actually, those who take the test are likely to be smarter than average, because those who take tests want a challenge and often know they are smart-less smart people tend to get more discouraged when they see their results.

Alice O. Nunez
10/26/2010 12:08:17 am

It's called ellipsis, and it is well-studied.

10/26/2010 04:15:27 am

Who cares? Even if you're as smart as you think you are, you lack the basic social skill of realizing it's retarded to make a website to pay homage to your intelligence. Given how smart you are, couldn't you at least make a little better use of it by not sitting in front of your computer everyday telling everyone how smart you are?? Get a life!

10/26/2010 04:28:39 am


what makes you think I created the site to pay homage to my intelligence? None of my blogs mention my intelligence at all.

10/26/2010 12:26:14 pm

There are quite a few reasons why the simplistic language of young children matures into the more complex language of adults.

A link on the topic: http://www.stanford.edu/class/symsys100/Chomsky.pdf

Language shapes thought. The language of children cannot explain complex scientific theories, or follow the strains of deep philosophical conversation. It's hard to get a mental handle on things we have no name for; as adults, we will often name a new thing or concept as soon as we are exposed to it, even if that means giving it a "placeholder" name.

Complex language is often more specific and more precise than simpler language. As a writer, I make an effort to use simpler words because they're known to more of the population, but it often means giving the reader less information. Consider the difference between "luck" and "serendipity".

But, honestly, I believe the best argument is this: toddlers get frustrated with the limits of their communication and actively seek the complexity used by adults *because it allows them to be clearer and better understood*. If you've ever been a parent, you've seen a child try and communicate an idea, fail because they lack the complexity of language to do so, and devolve into tears. I've seen it many times with each of my three children. They seek complexity. They crave it. Why? Because it allows fuller communication of ideas, and at the same time, it opens new mental pathways, and the doorway to more complex thought processes.

10/26/2010 01:15:57 pm


thanks for your info.

My post was mainly pointing out that the more simplistic language used by babies is often enough, in combination with the context, to figure out their intended communication. This suggests that depending on the context, the extra language is not useful.

Now, there are times the extra language probably IS useful, so it's interesting that language evolved so that words like "did" (which are sometimes useful, sometimes less useful) occur in every applicable context, and not just the non-toddler conversations.

The use of the word "did", in the examples I provided, is useful.

Even though the context is often enough for one to understand the communication that doesn't use the word "did", a minority of times there will be simultaneous contexts that confuse the intention of the speaker, and in that sense using "did" would be helpful.

10/26/2010 10:59:02 pm

It is true that words like "did" are sometimes not needed in a conversation. I'm going over a novel right now with my editor. The first thing she asked me to do was go through and remove every possible instance of commonly over-used words; many were conjunctions.

"And", "but", "just", "then"...these are sometimes called "placeholder" words. We use them more than necessary. At times, they're absolutely vital to understanding a sentence, but often, we use them because of the rhythm or flow they give to a sentence.

However, just because we sometimes use placeholder words doesn't invalidate the complexity of adult speech.

Some of us *like* that rhythm--value it, even. To those who care nothing for the rhythms of speech (no poets, obviously), I would still like to point this out: placeholder words take nothing from our meaning, and generally don't interfere with the clarity of our message.

So what's so bad about them that you would sacrifice all our language's beautiful complexity to avoid them?

And going back to the language of children... for about a year, my son lacked the ability to explain the difference between things that happened by accident and things that happened on purpose. He would swing his arms during play, and if one hit another child, the child would often say, "He hit me!" My son, an honest boy, would admit that he did, but have no words to explain that he didn't intend to hurt the other child.

He got in a lot of trouble for this sort of thing at school and at friend's houses until I was finally able to explain the words "on accident" and "on purpose". Problem was, he often got the two confused, leaving him screaming, "I hit him, but it was on purpose!"

I had to explain, each and every time, until he learned the correct words and fully understood the concepts behind them.

10/27/2010 12:00:38 am


you ask:

"So what's so bad about them that you would sacrifice all our language's beautiful complexity to avoid them?"

There's nothing particularly bad about the extra complexity.

What I was thinking was this: when something as complex as language develops, you'd think it would develop (evolutionarily) to the minimum level of complexity needed to get the point across, especially since language is complex enough otherwise.

I simply found it interesting that language evolved so that adults would say things like "Are you coming, Jack" instead of "Coming, Jack?" My guess is that it evolved as such to cover the small % of cases where it wasn't obvious as to what "Coming, Jack?" referred to.

10/27/2010 12:25:33 am

You asked, "Is baby speech better than adult speech?"

Given your responses, I think the answer is pretty clear.

The answer is no, it is not.

10/27/2010 12:51:48 am

I agree that baby speech is not better than adult speech overall.

My point, however, is that baby speech is as good as adult speak in many respects, in most contexts, such as in the examples I provided.

When a baby says "Coming, Jack?",that's as good as saying "Are you going to come now, Jack?" in almost all contexts that I can think of...an adult could say "coming, jack" instead of "are you going to come now jack", and it would be a more efficient use of words.

If an adult said "coming, jack?", it couldn't refer to the past because otherwise the word used would be "came". It can't refer to the future, because otherwise the statement would be "coming tomorrow, jack?"

it could only refer to today. With that one example, i can't think of any manner in which adult speak would be better than baby speak.

10/27/2010 04:34:24 am

There are plenty of examples where adult speak is preferable, and we've already agreed that adult speak is preferable overall...so what was your original point, again?

Simply that childish language is adequate in some cases?

I don't think you'll find any argument on that point, but neither is it an original or groundbreaking thought. It's like saying, "News Flash! The running methods used by children actually get them places faster, and in fact, are adequate for their tag-playing needs! So what's better: running like a child, or running like an adult?"

1/16/2011 05:14:15 pm

It can't refer to the future,

2/12/2011 08:59:26 pm

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