Children are linguistic marvels… Both of my children display a remarkable ability to intuitively comprehend language in both English and Dutch. Elliot, my son, can transition and mentally translate from English to Dutch to English to Dutch unconsciously; it’s absolutely incredible. Little Olivia isn’t the least bit phased by the fact that Dora the Explorer sometimes speaks English with a little bit of Spanish mixed in (if she’s watching the American version of the program) and sometimes speaks Dutch with a little bit of English mixed in (if she’s watching the Dutch version of the show)… Indeed, my children’s aptitude for languages is absolutely amazing.
But my favorite part about watching my kids’ linguistic development is hearing them invent new language.
Olivia is at a particularly fun stage in her experimentation with language. She’s invented a special word for a feeling of discomfort associated with her neck or torso: nicky. Most typically, she uses the word when she’s going to bed. She’ll start tugging at the top of her pajamas and rubbing her hand on her neck as she whines, "Daddy — it’s nicky!… I don’t like it. It’s nicky!" And if I unzip the pajama top about three or four centimeters, she’ll instantaneously cheer up and say "Thank you, Daddy!" Apparently, it’s hard to think about sleep when you’re just feeling so nicky…
Her other classic word these days is nuppy. Actually, I’m really not exactly sure how it should be spelled — nupy… noopy… nuppy… The vowel sound is somewhere between the "u" in "cup" and the "ou" in "soup" — so I’m going with n-u-p-p-y… nuppy. This unique word applies to a feeling of discomfort associated with her nose. If she has a cold, with a runny nose, for instance, she’ll say: "Daddy — I’m nuppy! Could you please get me a kleenex?" or she’ll wake up in the middle of the night complaining, "I don’t like it. It’s nuppy!" The other day, I learned another use for the word when she was inspecting my face on a day in which I had not shaved in the morning. As she fingered the stubble of my upper lip, she scrunched up her nose and said, "Daddy — your face is nuppy!"
Maybe these types of things are not so interesting to people who are not genetically connected to such inventive linguists. But I love these words like nicky and nuppy. If you start to hear them enough, you can really appreciate the subtlety of their meaning. Marci and I have even started adopting the vocabulary in our own daily lives, believe it or not. Sure, I could be wordy and say — "Man, I really need to shave. My neck is starting to itch like crazy, and this moustache is looking scary…" But it just feels so much more efficient and more accurate to say — "I’m nicky and nuppy. I think I’m going to shave."