Vivi’s Speech Analyzed

One of the perks of having highly educated, highly skilled friends is that they can offer interesting insights that, like the TV says, you just can’t get anywhere else. Here, a friend who was a linguistics major at Mac and is now a professional wordsmith explains, more or less scientifically, how Vivi gets ma out of spoon:

  1. Drop the final n first: spoo
  2. Mess up the vowel: spa
  3. The sp is a consonant blend – big time tough. Many languages don’t even have them. Look at Hawai’ian, just single consonants with lots of a‘s and o‘s in between. So she drops the s and gets puh
  4. Finally, p and m are both bilabials, made with the lips together. The m allows air to flow through the nose while the p stops the airflow entirely, which means the m is easier. This is why “Mama” is a common first word, and why puh becomes ma.

I believe that this is technically called QED.

5 thoughts on “Vivi’s Speech Analyzed”

  1. My husband is impressive, to be sure! I would have answered the same way, but in technical speech terms. She used the following phonological processes (aligned with 1-4 above and for all of those reasons):

    1) final consonant deletion
    2) simplification to a mid-vowel
    3) cluster reduction
    4) consonant manner substitution (while retaining place)

    This is why I often recognize words where many parents just hear babble. They’re often surprised when I count “ma” as a word for “spoon” (as long as it’s used consistently).

    What’s always fascinating to me in these normal processes is that the child probably can make the “p” and the “oo” sounds in other linguistic contexts, but avoids them in a word like this because the combination of sounds is just too complex.

  2. B: She is literally quite thick, in that adorable two-year-old way. She’s got a mean streak as wide as her tummy, though, so steer clear, Mr. Mayor.

    J: Thanks for the terminology but please, watch out – you could crush someone’s toes dropping science like that. (If there’s one thing Vivi likes to do right now, though, it’s avoiding complexity, whether verbal or interpersonal.)

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