On the fear of fur coats mark two.

OK, so you’ve had your third blog post published by the BBC World Service, this time about the difference between the way your son and daughter have acquired sounds. This is a sort of follow up to the post you wrote about your son many moons ago, but also arose out of you making an amusing but ultimately totally wrong assumption, which you totally got called on on everybody’s favourite website, h2g2, a conversation which ended up being an interesting discussion of first words in general.

My daughter started making consonants sounds a while ago, which was, of course, very exciting. They were not very recognisable consonant sounds at first, and this was more exciting still as it meant I could play a second round of ‘guess what order my child will acquire sounds’.

My son’s first proper syllable went ‘Gagagagaga’ closely followed by ‘Dadadadada’. This was rather disappointing. We were using ‘Papa’ for the father-figure at this point, rather than the English ‘Dad’ or ‘Daddy’, but on the other hand I had been regularly chanting ‘Mamamamamama’ at him since birth.

In fact my son went on to produce ‘Babababa’ and ‘Papapapapa’ well before anything like an ‘Mmmmm’ crossed his lips, and I consoled myself by looking at the International Phonemic Alphabet, which I am sure is much more familiar to Russians struggling with the eccentricities of English spelling vs pronunciation than it is to British people. I noted that my son was working his way along the top row from right to left, and starting with voiced sounds.* I also couldn’t see that his potential bilingualism would have much to do with it, the top lines being much of a muchness for both English and Russian.

When my daughter’s first syllable turned out to be ‘Mamamamama’ I was, therefore, quite surprised and revisited the issue.

Of course, a friend of mine claims that first children tend to say ‘Dada/Papa’ before ‘Mama’ because mothers spend so much of their day talking about this exciting person who turns up just in time to read the kid a story at bedtime. The second child just hears the first child saying ‘Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!’ all day.

That said, it turns out there is research on the order of consonant acquisition out there. And low and behold, across a number of different languages the top two lines of the phonemic chart seem the easiest for children to make and are therefore the first said.

Both Russian and British parents will probably also recognise that it is the group of sounds in the middle of the chart that cause problems, the sounds such as ‘th’ or ‘sh/ш’ or ‘ch/ч’ or‘ц’. Interestingly, and this is the point my son is at now, both the English and the Russian ‘r’ gives the most trouble, despite the fact that they are rather different. I am told that mastery of the rolled ‘r’ may not come until my son is closer to five than four, although he also has problems with ‘l’. Is the inability to say, for example, ‘la’ and say ‘ya’ instead also common for purely Russian speaking children too?

I ask because I am fascinated by the idea that their bilingualism could show itself at the most basic levels of their language. Because although the most definite results for the order of consonant acquisition are for groups of consonants rather than precisely which consonant will come in which order, most English speaking children at least tend to go from right to left, from the ‘Mamamamama’ to the ‘Gagagagagagaga’. So totally opposite to the way your son did it.

I find this interesting as the reason given is that ‘m’ and ‘b’ and are made at the front of the mouth whereas ‘d’ and ‘g’ towards the back. And I often think that Russian is a very back of the mouth language compared to English. In fact, the musical director for a British choir I used to sing with once suggested that when we had to sing in Russian, we should imagine that we were also trying to swallow a watermelon, and laugh all you want, my husband was actually quite impressed by our efforts to sound Slavic when he came to the eventual concert.

Of course, this does rather open the question of why my daughter seems to be following the classic monolingual English speaker route.

Perhaps my son was simply showing his innate perversity rather than his deep Russian soul. But then since my daughter is always with me, my son talks to me in English and my son talks A LOT, perhaps, this is just a version of the first child influencing the second child’s first sounds after all.

*Put your hand on your throat and say ‘vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv.’ Feel the vibration? That’s a voiced sound. Now try ‘ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff.’ That’s not.

On a blaze of light.

The Comet is now over eight months old, which hardly seems possible. Where has the time gone?

She has certainly not been wasting it. She went from rolling to sliding abut on her tummy to pulling herself into a standing position to cruising the furniture to occasionally letting go and falling with an audible thunk of her head on the floor in no time at all. And now she has started to crawl properly and sit up on her own too!*

In fact, you think she is going though a developmental spurt. She looks round when anyone says ‘Cometuchka, smotrii’,** Babushka has this week taught her to clap her hands, in response to a particular song no less, and you and she have just started to have head shaking conversations in the middle of the night. You shake your head, she shakes hers. You shake your head back, she shakes hers. This does not get old.

Her waking up three times a night every night, however, already has.

Quite exciting also is the Comet’s graduation to actual consonants. ‘Gabamadaba,’ she says as she potters about the house, the actual sound being rather indistinct as yet. This is somewhat later than the Star managed, but she has been making excellent communicative use of growls, raspberries and, when Grandad is about, snuffles, so you are looking at it as a quirk.

After all, she looks set to walk well in advance of his record of well over one.

However, the thing that is going to win her the CUTEST BABY IN THE WORLD award is that she has started to play along with peekaboo, or cookoo as the Russians inexplicably call it.

Not only will she giggle as you hide your face behind your hands and then pull the big reveal. Not only will she look quite worried if you fail to reappear quite as quickly as she expects.*** Not only will she do this, but she will also burry her head in the cushion to hide from you, or, and this is really going for the viral youtube moment, she will manhandle a book in front of her face and duck her head down behind it, before popping up, shyly but delightedly smiling, to make sure you noticed.

*Is she supposed to be walking before she can crawl? If not, you do seem to breed pig headed children. The Star is currently going though a phase of refusing to eat anything but chicken soup. Much wailing and knashing of teeth. Yours. He is not bovered. WhatEVAH, Mama.

**’Look’ in Russian. But everybody had guessed that, right?

***The ears, which are still very big, makes this extremely funny. She looks like a concerned goblin now, albeit a concerned goblin with what looks like permanently very large blue melting eyes.

On being unutterably chuffed to absolute bits.

So there you are this morning spooning a breakfast of special, homemade muesli into the Star and listening to the radio.

The Chris Moyles show on Radio One.

Well, you refuse to listen to Radio Two, despite the fact that the actually play music you like. Music which you were a teenager with. Music that was too hip to be played on Radio One the first time round, at least until Tony Blair got elected and Brit Pop took over the world. Which you missed, having fled abroad a few years previously. It’s Radio Two. Radio Two. You may drink hot chocolate, wear fluffy slippers and go to bed at 10pm, but you don’t listen to Radio Two.

You also refuse to listen to Radio Three. Any more. You were starting to recognise the composers before the announcers announced it, and that was just too weird. And their idea of breakfast music is to play something particularly long and soothing and not you are rudely catapulted into the waking world by the Star bouncing up and down in his cot and beaming, you need something more cheerful to get you going. And coffee. 

So Radio Four at breakfast time was right out as soon as it became impossible for them to talk about anything except how truly madly deeply we are into recession, how we got there, who is to blame, how many people have lost their jobs today, how that compares to yesterday and tommorrow, why we should just kill ourselves now to put ourselves out of our pauper misery, and the weather.

Mind you, it’s probably been more upbeat since they have had a Proper Political Scandal to get their teeth into.

Of course, you do miss the shipping forecast and Farming Today, which immediately preceded it. And if you woke up early enough (before 5am), you got World News, which was a nostalgic trip to a time when you didn’t live in a parochial self obsessed backwater which manages to squeeze Forn News into two and a half seconds, and that only if something really really big has blown up (and a Brit broke a fingernail in the process). Although I hear that Iran has just accused the UK of being first among the venom dripping monsters circling the country ready to tear it apart, which you can’t help thinking must please the foreign office in the same sort of way that anyone languishing at the very bottom of the Eurovision results table has got to be particularly excited when they get any points, especially top marks.

Until it turns out that there was some horrible error and everybody in Turkey thought they were voting for Greece instead.

Anyway, the Chris Moyles show lives to be cheerfully, mindlessly, superficially, entertainingly not stuffy, not tasteful, nor depressing. You started listening to it ever since you saw John Humphrys trashing it on some late night game show and you haven’t looked back. They even have a jolly theme tune to help you make it through until the caffeine starts working.

It does help that motherhood has built walls of steel around your psyche so that you are capable of remaining largely impervious to annoying dittys repeated over and over and over again, although if they had played That Song About How Crap Her Boyfriend Is In Bed by Lily Allen one more time, B’s prised technics may not be in the pristine condition they are today. Luckily she seems to have been bumped off the playlist for now, hopefully forever.


Today they were having a competition. They ask a question. Listeners text in. The presenter with the most number of tests wins.

Well, I did say it was superficial.

One of the questions was ‘What is your Mum’s name?’

‘Your Mum’s name is Mummy, isn’t it Star?’ you chatter happily. ‘Mum. Mum. Mummymummymummymummymummy. Mama. Mama. Maaammmaaa. Mamamamamamamama. MAMA!’

And the Star said, ‘Mama.’

He did. He really did.

You texted the show, but they didn’t read it out.