It is very interesting how we humans acquire language as babies. Just by listening and observing, we acquire language and meaning, build vocabulary and grammar.
It was interesting to see how Salma, my baby daughter, did this.
This is not a full fledged study, but rather a collection of observations.
Example 1: English or Arabic?
Early on, just after she turned one year, Salma started saying syllables. What we noticed is that she understood both English and Arabic words (which is to be expected, her not knowing the difference). What was amazing is that when we presented her with two terms for the same thing, one Arabic and one English, she picked the easier one to pronounce, although she knew the meaning of both words being the same.
An example is : Up and فوق (Foo2). Since Up is a shorted syllable, it was always picked. English wins here.
Another example is : Down, تحت (Ta7t). Since تحت was shortened to تح (Ta7), it was picked. Arabic wins here.
Example 2: The Cow:
When she was around 26 months, Salma knew how to say Cow, which we see driving out of the city, in the nearby farms..
She started by saying Ba22ah بأّة. In Arabic this is بقرة. Notice that the Q is pronounced as a hamza in colloquial Egyptian. The R sound is not there at all.
After a few weeks, this morphed into Ba2alah بألة, with the R being pronounced as an L.
In early October, it was correctly pronounced as Ba'arah بأرة with the R appearing.
Example 3: Names:
Example 4: The Fish:
Children often do strange substitution of consonants. One such example for Salma is the modern Arabic word for Fish Samaka سمكة. This is pronounced as Fakaka فككة. The S is substiuted by F, and the M as a K.
I should note here that Suhaila, her eldest sister, now in High School, used to do some strange substitution as well. Artichoke خرشوف Kharshoof was Fafafoof فافافوف, and Chicken فرخة became Farfa فرفة. All Fs instead of the Kh, R, Sh sounds!
- How Children Acquire Language from the Linguistic Society of America.
- Various theories are discussed in this Language Acquisition article on Wikipedia.
- Language Acquisition by Steven Pinker.
- How Children Acquire Language: The Motor Theory Account.