My two-year old twins are in the Sesame Street phase of life when characters like Elmo and Grover are as real as they can be. As we started reading Sesame Street books with them, I realized that my daughter Salma kept referring to Bert as “Big Bert.” At first, I thought I heard her incorrectly and she had really meant “Big Bird.” Then she started pointing to the pictures in the book. The tall yellow bird-like creature was properly referred to as “Big Bird” and then the character of Bert, who was without his life partner Ernie in the picture, was referred to as “Big Bert.” I clearly heard the [t] sound hitting her alveolar ridge. I laughed immediately and corrected her by pointing to the feathered friend and clearly saying “Big Bird” and then pointing to the ornery character and saying “Bert.” She looked at me with those beautiful big eyes and I assumed she took this information in and processed it immediately. Of course, she continued with her labels of “Big Bird” and “Big Bert” when pointing to the characters in the book and still does as of now. Was it the alliteration that was stumping her? Could she not decipher the distinction between the various /b/ words? Then I realized that she is perhaps playing a ritualistic game with me because she would start the deictic act by saying “Mummy look…Big Bert.” I would come over each time and continue making the distinction between “Big Bird” and “Bert.”
How do young children make sense of alliteration? We know alliteration is good for the human ear but why and how does it work with young babies? Do they sense the phoneme hopping quickly from one word to the next?
Another interesting game that Salma plays with me is the M/W game. When I am reading magazines at the table, she comes and looks for letters in the magazine, often taking over the table space and the precious little time for myself. When she finds a capital /M/, she then quickly flips the magazine upside down and says /W/ in her rounded way.Is this an act of transmediation? Does this act go back to the mirroring effect we see young children later on in their schooling display when they write the letter /b/ as the letter /d/?
The language games with Salma will continue and I love them all.