Posted by: dave | November 1, 2011

The case of the missing key

Anya’s language learning is proceeding rapidly but in a deeply haphazard fashion. An example: although she talks about “nummets” and “nummy” all the time (meaning “food” and “tasty”–and yes, we’re both independently convinced that the former is a noun and the latter, an adjective), she still has no word for “milk”. Despite the variety of her food and drink and the importance of eating to our perceptual lives, everything that goes down her throat is thrown together under the label of “nummets”.

What makes this vagueness weirder is how specific she can be in other contexts. About a week ago, she started using what is still her only full-blown three-syllable word*, and it’s not “strawberry” or “pineapple” or “broccoli”. No: it’s “crocodile”.

This was initially baffling because we’d not made great efforts to introduce her to the notion of the crocodile. It’s just not something that had occurred to us much, and there was perhaps a latent sense that we didn’t want to establish the crocodile as one of her cuddly friends, given the existence of real unfriendly specimens in the wild not too many hundred kilometres to the north.

Still, there’s long been a little crocodile transfer on the tiles beside the bath; and one of her favourite toys has for months been a Fisher-Price xylophone in the shape of a plastic croc, with the bars laid along its back and a mallet clutched in a hinged and goofy mouth.

Her affection for this critter was brought home to me today when Kate found my keys, which have been missing for the best part of a week after we spotted her playing delightedly with them. We overturned our desk, looked under sofas, went through bags in our fruitless hunt. Last night, we even took the extreme measure of tidying our bedroom, but still nothing. Kate found where Anya had hid them today: shoved down the crocodile’s throat, like Captain Hook’s clock.

*Thinking about it, “mummia” and “daddia” and “nummia” all have three syllables, but only just.

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