In the past couple of months, Greysen’s vocabulary has grown by leaps and bounds. We’ll often hear people remark with surprise, “Wow, she knows a lot of words,” or, “Your little girl is really smart!” I’ve actually discussed that last bit with Marisa on more than one occasion, and we’re in agreement that it’s not so much that Greysen is a genius (we’d love to think that she is, but bear with me for a few minutes), it’s that we have higher expectations of her than most people we know and know that she is capable of so much. So, while one person’s child might say “kitty,” which is usually met with, “Oh, how cute,” our daughter happens to say, “cat,” which people seem to think is somehow on a whole other level, receiving comments such as, “Wow! How old is she? I can’t believe she can say ‘cat!’”
Why is this small and seemingly insignificant difference in vocabulary often met with such reverence, especially by other parents? While I can’t be 100-percent positive since I haven’t polled everyone we’ve interacted with when these comments arise, I do have a theory or two, which I’ve developed while talking with Marisa about this very subject. As I said earlier, we really don’t believe that Greysen is smarter than other kids her age, but throughout the years we’ve seen what kids can do when they have a parent and/or teacher who responds to their cues and facilitates learning and interaction in a way that doesn’t dumb-down their experience for the sake of cuteness. And this, finally, brings me back to “kitty” versus “cat.”
I think we can all admit that the word “kitty” is, for all intents and purposes, cute, while “cat” is generally accepted as a standard, nondescript word for, well, a cat. Now, in my opinion, cats are cute no matter what, and I’m pretty sure Greysen would agree, so why would someone feel the need to describe a cat as a “kitty”? I’ll tell you why: for the sake of the parent (or grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc.), who for whatever reason feels the need to have their child say a cute word instead of an “adult” word. After all, doesn’t it sound so sweet when a small child says “kitty?” Of course it does, which is why people encourage kids to say “doggy,” “binky,” and “wa-wa” instead of “dog,” “pacifier,” and “water.” I have to tell you, “wa-wa” irks me to no end since Greysen has been learning “water” for a long time now, so every time someone says “wa-wa” to her it feels like a step in the wrong direction.
And for those people who will counter with, “Who cares? It’s just a word,” I must respectfully disagree with many a reason. However, I’ll narrow it down to a few for the sake of attempted brevity. People judge us on our language, spoken or written, every day. Just using the examples I’ve already discussed above regarding cats, you can see that people somehow think that Greysen is at a much more advanced level of language development because of how she speaks, even though it’s essentially just a choice of words. The truth is, people respond to Greysen’s language because it isn’t dumbed-down “baby talk,” and she tends to get the benefit of someone speaking to her a little bit longer and with more meaningful interaction instead of just dismissing her as just another “kid” who says a couple of cute words.
In the end, you get out what you put in, so if you speak to your child in short, “cute” gibberish, that’s exactly how you should expect your child to speak. In my opinion, avoiding “baby talk” respects the child and what they are capable of, which is so much more than most people can imagine, and promotes language development instead of stunting it by keeping it at “baby level.” So go ahead and let me hear it if you disagree, but you’d better have a convincing argument!