Friday, September 6, 2013

When a cow isn't a cow.

My Finnish-American grandson is a charmer. At eighteen months, he's doing everything he should be doing: exhausting his parents, pestering his older sister, learning something new every day, running, trying to feed himself, and playing with new sounds. One of his favorite words is "cow."

Now, even though he says "cow," and says it with great relish, he isn't really talking about a cow. In the Finnish language, that combination of sounds doesn't mean anything at all, and we know that when he started experimenting with it, he hadn't been exposed to the English word, or the animal, for that matter.

No, it's just a combination of sounds he discovered, and he must enjoy how it feels when he says it, and how it sounds. Of course he gets a reaction: confusion from the Finns and laughter from the Americans.

Lucas is a unique little guy. He hears Finnish from his mother and just about everyone else in his little in world in Finland except for his father, who, though he's very conversant in Finnish, speaks English to his children. Our grandson will be fluent in both languages. Finnish will be his first language, as it's his mother's native tongue, but English will be a close second.

That will give him many advantages in life. Right now, though, he can delight us all with frequent exclamations of "Cow!" which really doesn't mean anything to him at all. Sooner or later, it will. 

And you ought to hear "Old Macdonald Had a Farm" in Finnish. It defies description. Suffice it to say that there are many more syllables in the Finnish version than in the English version.

This is what Google Translate does to the English version:

Old MacDonald oli maatila, EE-I-EE-I-O,

Ja että tilalla hän [eläimen nimi], EE-I-EE-IO,
Kanssa [eläimen ääntä kahdesti] täällä [eläimen ääntä kahdesti] siellä
Täällä [eläimen ääntä] ei [eläimen ääntä], kaikkialla [eläimen ääntä kahdesti]
Old MacDonald oli maatila, EE-I-EE-I-O.
Esimerkiksi jae käyttämällä lehmä eläin-ja "moo", kuten lehmän ääni:

Ongelmat kuuntelee tätä tiedostoa? Katso median apua.

Old MacDonald oli maatila, EE-I-EE-I-O.
Ja että tilalla hän oli lehmä, EE-I-EE-I-O.
Kanssa moo moo täällä ja moo moo siellä
Täällä moo, siellä moo, kaikkialla moo moo
Old MacDonald oli maatila, EE-I-EE-I-O.

(However, in Finnish, "EE-I-EE-I--O" sounds more like "HEE-AL-LA-HEE-AL-A-LA-HEY!" You can see what I mean by more syllables. It's what the Finns do. Don't ask me why.)

Think of all the sounds and words and grammar rules he'll have to master. In both languages. And he will. As a speech-language pathologist, I've always thought that normal language development is a miracle. For a little guy to learn two languages, it's a double miracle.

Right now, however, he toddles around, grinning, very proud of saying "cow."

And we're proud of him, too.

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