The baby boy’s speech has exploded. But what exactly is he saying?

Séamas O’Reilly

After 10 months of patient silence, this week saw an explosion in my son’s vocabulary, as his wayward mash of vowels and consonants gave way to a torrent of altogether more defined syllables. This will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his earlier work. Few who heard his first releases, babababababa or plpplpplpplpplpplp could doubt he was one to watch, and his dadadada earned golden opinions from those who heard within it the freshness of German new wave troubadours Trio, only with the arch and knowing delivery of a young Alan Bennett.

Since he was slow to crawl, and still has no teeth, we’ve taken the fact that he’s babbling a little earlier than his playmates as a sign that he is destined for a life of the mind. ‘What use is a full head of teeth anyway?’ we ask ourselves. Let lesser children pursue a career in competitive eating, a life of Crunchie bars. By the time he’s six our son may still be toothless, but he’ll also be doing speaking tours for his second biography of Lord Liverpool, and presenting one of those moderately dumbed down history programmes on BBC2 – the kind that only get made if the presenter agrees to do at least one or two interstitial segments dressed in period costume.

There’s always the risk that parents, doe-eyed with love, will see and hear things that aren’t there. So, it’s a real relief to know that this is definitely not happening in our case, especially since we see it so much among other parents and, frankly, it’s embarrassing. No, it’s good that as we scan every single burble and blab, and only analyse these malformed phonemes out of a sense of honest inquiry, not some sort of maddening desperation to imbue them with a nonexistent gravitas.

It’s a marvel that, the better he gets at speaking, the better my wife and I become at understanding his every word

What’s arguably most impressive about my son’s new faculty with language is how infectious it is. It’s a marvel that, the better he gets at speaking, the better my wife and I become at understanding his every word.

About four days ago, he said bawbboye which a lesser mortal might have thought errant gibberish, or perhaps an injunction that we fetch for him a match day ballboy. It was only a little later that we realised he was likely recreating my wife’s ‘bye bye’ in that earthy Dublin twang that grips her tongue. The fact that he’s never made this sound again, despite roughly 700 inducements to do so, is likely because he’s ‘been there, done that’, rather than evidence that it was a random occurrence. No, my son is above the petty catchphrase and he makes his every utterance count.

He must be so proud of his new level of speech and I intend to ask him what he thinks about it all. It will, no doubt, be hard for him to put such feelings into words, but I’m sure he’ll manage it somehow.

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