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As ardent a behaviorist as I am, watching Owl’s speech develop has really demonstrated to me the limitations of B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. I am not a Noam Chomsky fan, but I have to say that his idea of an innate language mechanism has some real evidence behind it.

I learned this stuff in Psycholinguistics, but it’s fascinating watching it develop in a human right in front of me.

For one thing, it’s clear that Owl’s language is not simply imitative. Personal preference is a major factor.

For example, Perfect Husband and I always call trains “trains” and Owl uses the word correctly. However, he prefers to call his own toy trains “choo-choos”, a term he picked up at daycare and clearly has a personal preference for.

PH and I have never rewarded his use of the term, and he knows that his “choo-choos” are trains. He just likes saying “choo-choos”.


Owl has several words like that;Words that he has latched on to and chooses to use even though they aren’t terms that PH and I use.

Like, we always call his daycare “school” but he refers to it exclusively with a made-up name which is a combination of his Daycare Lady’s name and his favourite Helper’s name.

And his language structure is clearly not imitative.

He understands our sentences but his own constructs are unique and don’t follow English grammar rules.

The most obvious example is also the most common: the way he says that he likes things. He likes to tell us what he likes, often announcing it happily quite out of the blue.

He always says “my like it,” and then names the thing he likes.

“My like it! Milk.”

“My like it! Food.”

“My like it! Music.”

Perfect Husband and I have never said a sentence that way, and I am sure that the ladies at his daycare don’t phrase things that way either. It’s just HIS way.

Speaking of odd phrasings, his use of pronouns is interesting to observe, too.

He understands “me” vs “you”.

If I refer to “you” he knows that I mean him, but he doesn’t use “you” productively in speech yet, except in canned expressions like “thank you.” Nor does he use “he” or “she”. He still uses name labels.

“Dat Mommy’s water”

“Dat boy’s car.”

But he does use “me” and “mine” correctly.

“Daddy, help me, please!”

“Dat mine!”

Instead of “I”, though, he also uses “my”.

“My do it myself.”

“My no like it, dat one.”

I don’t know if he has simply made a port manteau of “me” and “I” or if he mishears us when we say “I”.

In the meantime it’s really darn cute.

My like it!