One bit of contemporary technological terminology that fails to garner in me that knee-jerk, double-click reaction is the term “viral video.” Add cute babies to the billing and I am still resolutely unimpressed and will likely read another droning email from a PR rep before I would commit myself to watch 2 minutes of some anonymous baby nodding off in the upright position. This is certainly not an indication that I am lacking any affection for babies (I loooove babies, and kittens, and dandelions too), I just don’t have the need to add to the visual static of my life with an unmitigated feed of poorly filmed adorable babies doing what they do best – being astonishingly, but not unsurprisingly cute. But despite what I think these sorts of videos are hugely popular – getting upwards of 2 or 3 million “hits” in the course of a few weeks. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”
So last week, when I was introduced (over and over again) to the latest “viral video” concerning cute babies, I was predictably nonplused. But then, after breaking down and actually watching the thing (it was a slow workday) I realized there was something of value in this “viral.” That thing was the evolution of baby language.
The aforementioned video (see above) is simple really, and is best experienced by watching it, rather than have me explain it. Basically it is a video of two diaper-clad twin toddler boys (I am guessing probably around 14-months old) engaging in a 2+ minute babble that is both animated and highly expressive. Once you get past the cuteness factor of this video, you will witness a shared and developing grasp of both language and conversation. Now in all likelihood the conversation is less about substance and far more about mimicry of body language as well as intonation and inflection. While the twin boys are pointing, stomping, lifting a leg, and periodically laughing at/with one another, they are also displaying a keen sense of imitation when they utilize specific speech patterns (speak, pause, respond) and employ a very specific rise and fall to their pitch with the end of each phrase. Unlike other baby babbling videos out there, this one is exceptional because it depicts two babies of the exact same age cultivating and practicing the form and structure of language (both verbal and physical) at the same developmental stage of their lives (it doesn’t hurt either that they are twins, and there is that innate mirror effect in their dealings with one another). Some researchers on the subject of twins believe that twins have the ability to generate their own intimate and detailed “twin language.” However in this case, the tête-à-tête seems to be less about meaning and more about practicing the structure and pantomime of language.
So while I refuse to indulge in this sort of thing on the merit of its cuteness quotient, I will distill the enduring lesson that needs to be taken from such a video. Babies are shockingly astute, savvy, and, dare I say, cute.
What is your feeling after watching this video? Do you think this is language in the larval stage or just adorable babble? Have you ever witnessed anything like it?