Monday, May 12, 2008

Infant Communication 101

He's about three weeks old now, and Sonny is making ever-stranger sounds. There are the scattered coos as his limbs flail gracelessly, queer low grunts and an ululating seemingly linked to a need for attention.

It's been claimed that, if one knows one's baby well enough, one can match each behaviour pattern to a specific demand or need (Soiled diaper! More food!). So we've been analysing Sonny like heartless anthropologists, letting him yell that bit longer to extend the correlation-spotting.

Even with zero success so far, we have come to reject a commonly-heard sentiment: That the very young are, first, particularly hard to make out - and, second, to be pitied for their lack of communication tools. Babies may not be able to express, in so many words, what they are on about. But then, they are hardly able to conceive of any want or desire as a want or desire: It's mostly instinctive reachings-out and callings-forth. And since there are only so many primal requirements, right now, likely to prompt Sonny to wail 'n' flail, our hoped-for 'A means X' handbook is more amusement that need. A feed, or else a change, or else a little coddling, will in all likelihood confirm what Sonny has been trying to transmit.

Just why do older folks need such linguistic arsenals to communicate? The comforting answer (and true, as far as it goes) is that we have so many more things to say. But let us remember that babies also don't fib. We adults cannot seem to stop doing it, whether we're tossing off the odd white lie or spinning whole webs of deceit. Yet to even formulate to ourselves a desire to mislead is to have the ability to think complex thoughts. A language, in short, is needed - and Sonny will be acquiring one (or three) soon enough.

Meanwhile, may he stay innocent just a little longer.


Unknown said...

14 months on and the whole communication thing is still pretty flaky, if you ask me :-)

fraemone said...

considering how long we live, innocence lasts for only an amazingly short while... ryan started lying at 2 ;P enjoy those gurgles while you can!!

Cloudsters said...

Sigh, Wei Lee: It's over three weeks since this piece was written and the 'communication thing' is indeed still mysterious... the gurgling is indeed cute, Fraemone, but some clarity to go along with it would be nice.