Monthly Archives: May 2008

Language and thought

Lillian seems to be in the phase where her grasp of language, and concomitant conceptual sophistication, is mushrooming.  A few snippets:


We’re riding past the gym on campus.  Normally she says “That’s Mummy’s gym!”  This time she says

“Daddy, how do you spell “gym”?

I say “g…y…m”.

“g-y-m…g-y-m…g-y-m” she sings.

Then she continues: “What does this spell?  l..y..p..d..m..a..s..m..g..y..m”

“Well, that’s a silly way to spell “gym”.

“What about this: x..p..d..l..m..o..l..m..g..y..m….?”

We’ve played this game before.  It’s not that interesting anymore.  I say “That spells “rubbish.”

“Daddy! Tell Mummy that I can spell “rubbish”!”

A bit later, she comes back to this game.  “What does this spell? b..d……”

“That spells “silly”.”



Out of the blue: “Daddy, “fragile” means really breakable, doesn’t it?”


A few weeks back, I was trying to explain what “fib” means and she didn’t quite get it.

Today, we’re reading a story called “Whoops but it wasn’t me.”  During the story, one of the characters tells a fib.

Lillian says: “She told a fib, didn’t she.  Because she said she didn’t break the rocket, but she did, didn’t she.”

[Technical aside: the current issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science has an article called “The Function of Fiction is the Abstraction and Simulation of Social Experience.” That seems a good description of what goes on in the reading of children’s stories.]


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Butterfly spirit

Tonight Lillian discovered some sheets of animal stickers she’d been given at her birthday party a few months back. She was quite excited.

“Severin gave me these stickers at my party. They’re my favourite.” she said, following with: “Lily also gave me some stickers, and those are my favourite too!”

She took some to bed with her to hold and play with as she went to sleep. When I went in later, she was fast asleep. But where were the stickers?

She had stuck a few on the back of her new book, Looking for Animals. She’d stuck a small golden butterfly sticker on her own forehead. The rest were under the blanket, by her side.

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Teaching and translating

Tonight Lillian was speaking Mandarin. She obviously enjoys it. At one point she was teaching me some phrases. She’d slowly but fluidly pronounce some exotic phrase and wait for me to repeat it, correcting me when I made some major blunder. I’d ask her what the phrase meant, and she’d offer a translation – e.g. “pretty butterfly”. Interestingly, translating – providing a phrase in one language which “means the same thing as” a phrase in another language – seemed effortless and unremarkable to her. Other times she’ll proudly announce “I did it!” when she’s achieved some minor thing, such as climbing up onto the bench. But translating from one language to another, which is really a far more spectacular feat – no animals can do it, for example – passes without notice.

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At dinner time Lillian was deeply engrossed in building towers out of Lego. She ignored the delicious salmon, avocado etc. on her plate, and our attempts to get her to distract her.

She figured out a simple engineering principle – that two tall towers connected together (in the manner of, for example, the Petronas towers in Malaysia) are much stronger than each/both of the towers separately.

Teresa remarked that she must have inherited this taste for building with Lego from me, since she (Teresa) had never been interested in this.

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Mother’s Day Card

Lillian made this card (with help) at child care.  When giving it to Mummy she added “I wrote my name on it, so you know that I made it.”

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Miss Manners

“Daddy, I like your haircut.”

I’m busy trying to get The Little Mermaid playing on the TV.

“When somebody says something nice, you’re supposed to say thank you.” she says. “Like when I love Emma MacKinnon, she says thank you.”

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Deductive logic

A few months ago, before she turned four, we were riding along and Lillian called out:

“Daddy, is your bike old?”

“No….” I had bought the bike not long before Lillian was born.  This seems fairly recent to me, and so I think of it as my “new” bike, but as far as Lillian knows, I’ve had the bike forever.

“What makes you think it is old?”

“Well, the wheels are dirty” she observes.  She pauses, then  “And dirty means old.”

[Note: this is the official on-the-record anecdote illustrating something she does quite often, which is to exhibit clear-cut deductive inference, clearing stating both premises of a syllogistic argument.  It shows that four year olds have this capability, even before they can read and write.] 

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