Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

XZIWFUN

Posted by Neal on November 4, 2004

Adam rediscovered the bathtub crayons a couple of nights ago, and had me take them down from the high cabinet where he’d caught a glimpse of them. Now who would have stashed those messy things up there? Anyway, after scribbling with them in the tub for a while, and then writing his name, he decided for no particular reason to sound out and write xylophone. This was actually some good generalizing from this therapy. In therapy, he has worked on the sounds of the letters as part of his academic program, and on writing the letters as part of his fine motor program. So I watched as he carefully said the word bit by bit, and wrote, in these colors, X Z I W F U N.

The X he knew, since X is always for either xylophone or X-ray. The Z, I, F, and N were appropriate choices for the sounds he heard, and the U was pretty close. The W was intriguing, though. Adam does indeed pronounce his /l/ as [w] (and also as [n], word-initially), but my understanding about a child’s language acquisition is that even when they can’t produce all the phonemes properly, they can still recognize proper and improper pronunciation. And since Adam has mastered his letter-sounds program and knows the sound L makes, I would have expected Adam to recognize that the letter he needed here was L, even though he himself pronounces it as [w].

Doug was this way, back when he pronounced some of his /l/s as [y]s. We’d have exchanges like this one:

Doug: I’m yucky!
Neal: You’re yucky?
Doug: No, yucky!
Neal: Oh, lucky?
Doug: Yes!

I guess it’s time for me to experiment on my kids again. Tomorrow night I’ll suggest writing a word he hasn’t seen spelled that often, something like lizard or lock, or better yet a nonsense word like laggis, and see if he starts out with an L or an N. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Last night, I suggested that Adam write ladder. He did, and spelled it LADR.

4 Responses to “XZIWFUN”

  1. Anonymous said

    Hotr, ladr, redr, smartr—Adam u’r g8tr than mOst kids @ ur age!! I’v a furthr suggestion thO: The bAsbal playr was a good hitr vs. don’t hit’r ’cause shE’s a girl! We need to mAk betr & wIsr Us of capitalization & apostrophe”’s!!! Hugs 4 Adam!!!

  2. Anonymous said

    greater=g8r, not g8tr (it takes a while to get the hang of this if your not 4 yrs. old!)

  3. Anonymous said

    player=plAr, not playr (Promise, I WILL get the hang of this, Adam!)

  4. […] Until recently, I was the only one I knew who’d had that particular pronunciation error, but then Karen Chung reported hearing it in Stephen King’s speech. More recently still, I became aware that Tom Brokaw is often lampooned for his /l/ pronunciation. I listened to Brokaw’s interview of New York Public Radio’s Leonard Lopate here, and it sounds like he might be using a uvular nasal for an /l/, too. And most recently of all, Adam has stopped pronouncing his /l/s as [w] or [n] as he was doing a year and a half ago (see here), to follow in my footsteps by switching to [N]. […]

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