Wheelbarrels and rollycoasters

wheelbarrowI’ve never been a fan of baby talk, even when babies do it. It’s bad enough that parents (and grandparents) encourage it by laughing at the adorable tot’s consonant substitutions, but when they do it themselves, it sets a confusing example.

Surely a child’s language development is seriously delayed every time he hears an adult say, “Aw, wook at him cute widdle toes …How old are you? Fwee?”

I’ve observed the same phenomenon when native English speakers, in trying to communicate with native Spanish speakers, speak English with (their idea of) a Spanish accent. It sounds ridiculous and is both confusing and condescending to the Spanish speaker. Maybe adults think speaking in baby talk makes them somehow more understandable to the child. I always imagine babies thinking, “What the <bleep> is wrong with you?”

Despite years of hearing baby talk, many children grow up to speak correctly. Gradually they listen to adults on television, teachers in their schools, speech therapists (surprise!) … and they figure out most of it. But some words have a harder time than others in making the transition from playpen to board room.

A shocking number of adults never completely graduated from baby talk, even if they don’t realize it. Here are three words that, when mispronounced, suggest the speaker needs a nap:

  • Wheelbarrow (not wheelbarrel or wheelborrow). It contains neither the word barrel nor the word borrow. The barrow part rhymes with narrow.
  • Roller coaster (not rolly coaster). The fact that it is, indeed, rolly does not excuse putting that word in its name.
  • Kindergarten (not kindygarden or kinnygarden). It’s from German, where kinder means children. But that doesn’t give us a pass to mangle kinder and half-translate the rest to garden—even though that’s literally what it means.

The cuteness associated with baby talk decreases rapidly after about the age of two, and is completely gone by the time you start elementary school. So if you’re still saying words like this, don’t be surprised if your co-workers (instead of gathering for cake in the break room) chip in and buy you a dictionary for your birfday.

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