Friday, May 6, 2011

Poopy Jurbage: A Lexicon of Beta Family Pidgin

It just occurred to me that I haven't been keeping up with my childhood development reading lately.  I guess I'm getting less anxious about screwing things up.

It seems like everything is going pretty well with the girls as they approach their second birthday.  Their sleep is back to normal after a period of backsliding, they're eating well, they're as agile and lively as a couple of ring-tailed lemurs, they're trying to become more independent, and holy crap are they learning to talk!

As I said, I haven't been reading much scientifical stuff about baby brains lately, but nonetheless I've got a theory about this one aspect of language acquisition.  Ready?  Here goes:

Kids will have plenty of opportunities to learn the "right" way to talk as they become woven into the stultifying institutional fabric of school and work.  Allowing, and even encouraging, toddlers to develop their own patois nurtures their creativity and problem solving abilities, making them more productive, happy citizens.

That's why, when they form rudimentary sentences out of a mix of English, Vietnamese, made-up, and grossly mispronounced words, we reply to them in kind, rather than correcting them.  It has nothing to do with the fact that we find their bumbling attempts at grasping grammar and vocabulary completely adorable and want them to remain babies forever.  That's not it at all.

What follows is a glossary of some common terms from the pidgin English the twins have developed in order to express themselves and, mostly, to boss their parents around:

Bitey: [bai-tee] verb
Imperative form of bite.  As in bedtime ritual where child demands parent bite her toes: "Daddy bitey toes!"

Bok-bok: [bok-bok] noun
1. Chicken in any form
2. Any thinly sliced meat.
[From the English bawk bawk, the sound a chicken makes]

Cold-cold [kold-kold] noun
Ice cream 

Cookit [koo-kit] verb  
1. To cook something.  As in "Daddy cookit."
2. Imperative: cook something!  As in "Daddy cookit!"

Cuddit [kud-dit] verb  
1. To cut something
2. Imperative: cut something! [usage note: may take a direct object, as in, "Daddy cuddit bok-bok!"]

Daddyjuice [Da-dee-joos] noun  
Beer, wine, spirits, or coffee

Dilam [dee-lahm] verb
To go to work, as in "Mommy dilam." (And, very infrequently, "Daddy dilam") [From the Vietnamese đi làm]

Dooty [doo-tee] adjective
Dirty, or displaying similarly distasteful or suspicious qualities. Often an interjection used to express concern or panic about perceived uncleanliness.

Hepyu [Hep-yoo]
1. verb 
To help
2. "Help me!"

Jurbage [jur-budge, jur-bich] noun
1. Garbage
2. Anything unappealing, slimy, amorphous, not immediately recognizable

Jurbage chuck [jur-bitch chuk] noun
1. Garbage truck
2. Any loud vehicle, vehicle that beeps when it backs up, vehicle that has a high-performance exhaust sound, mommy's car
3. Anything noisy and terrifying

Mommyjuice [Mom-mee-joos] noun
Hot tea.  May also be used, with pointing gestures, as encouragement for mommy to take sips of daddy juice

Muh [muh] verb
Open, release, unscrew [from the Vietnamese, mở, to open ]

Poopy [poo-pee] adjective
Having any of the characteristics of feces; e.g., "poopy jurbage."

Rollits [Rol-itz] noun
Any thinly sliced food product that is rolled into a cylindrical shape; e.g., "bok-bok rollits"

Sua [Soo-uh] noun
Milk [from the Vietnamese, sữa, milk] 

Sef [sef] verb
1. To do something oneself
2. "I'll do it myself"
3. "Leave me alone, I don't need your help, get away from me!"
[from the English, self]

Toi [tow-ee]
1. adjective
2. verb
To fart
[from the Vietnamese, thúi, smelly]

Yoti [yo-tee] noun

Zyeppy [zye-pee] noun
Sandal, flip-flop, open-toed shoe [from the Vietnamese, dép, sandal]


  1. As they get older BD the vocabulary reduces quite considerably to "Dad,can I have some money/a lift/some money and a lift/pick me up at.../pick me up at.... and bring some money."

    So enjoy it while you can.

    We still refer to magazines as magamines (thanks to Kathryn at 2) and sometimes enjoy basagne instead of lasagne (thanks to Elizabeth at the same age)

  2. I never thought about it, but I guess to the babies, your wife's car is about as loud as a garbage truck.


  3. It's so great you're writing this stuff down! When Bossy's kids were little, they hadn't yet invented paper or pens or MacBooks.

  4. Well, w/the exception of the Vietnamese words, I understood it even w/out the definition...Can they try to say each other's names? My middle one couldn't say "melissa" so for a few years she called her 'sister'... which made heads turn, cuz u know people would probably think she was calling a nun...
    oh, do they say 'peepee'? or is there a Vietnamese word for that?

  5. Here comes the science part:

    Most of the lexicon seems to be phonetic simplification, mostly reductions of difficult consonant clusters. 'Hepyu', 'dooty' and the 'chuck' of 'jurbage chuck' are examples of this. They also seem to be doing the same thing with Vietnamese words, but as I don't know the pronunciation, I can't say for sure.

    'Bok-bok' is a pretty standard onomatopoeic protoword, although it's usually done with 'woof-woof' and 'mao-mao'. This is a little bit different, as they've made the association between the animal and the meat. They've also overanalysed it include all kinds of thinly sliced meat, which is interesting, but should sort itself out as they build semantic networks of animals and sandwich fillings respectively.

    'Rollits' is an interesting one, making a word for something we don't actually have a word for in English. I suppose we could call it a 'tube' or a 'parcel' or a 'log', but none of those are as good as 'rollits'. Your kids have plugged a semantic gap in the language there, and you should feel rightly proud.

    So there you are. I'm glad Mummy also has some juice.


  6. Oh Daddy Juice. Where would be without such sweet, sweet nectar :)

  7. Great list, very cute. I liked when my daughter used to say tooken instead of taken, seems to make more sense right?

  8. @Jack--I am enjoying it now. Not looking forward to the more transactional communication. My parents still use words that we made up or mispronounced as kids. It's good comedy.

    @M--Yes. It's kind of a hot rod.

    @BOSSY--This was quite a self-serving post. I know I'll never remember the funny stuff they are doing right now without committing it to the internet.

    @KBF--It's funny--they're just now starting to use their own names, and each other's. For the longest time, they referred to themselves and each other as "Sissy."

    @James--Thanks for the analysis! Now I don't have to revisit my Linguistics textbooks. The funny thing about the Vietnamese words is that their pronunciation is clear enough for a native speaker to understand, which is saying a lot. I have a decent ear for language, but I can mimic a Vietnamese word so it sounds exactly like the original to me, but my wife won't have a clue what I'm trying to say. It's a tonal language, and the slightest deviation in pitch renders the word incomprehensible. I'm endlessly frustrated and fascinated by this. It's as if I said to you, "Dog!" and you pictured your black lab; but then when I said, "Dog?", you had no earthly idea what I was talking about.

    @VEG--Oh, thanks for reminding me! Don't mind if I do.

    @Everyday Goddess--Thanks. Most grammar mistakes kids make are based on being overly logical while navigating a language that features huge lapses in logic.

  9. I'm going to start using "mommyjuice" but with the "daddyjuice" meaning.

  10. In our house it's Daddy Medicine. And Mommy medicine is hot tea too.

    Good stuff man.

  11. It worked. I bought some fucking Hidden Valley Ranch at Vons today. No, I never clicked on your banner ad, but their minds games win. Boo.


  12. @The Schweitzers--You should. It makes drinking seem much more wholesome.


    @M--Yes!! Now they owe me a nickel!

  13. My personal favorite here was
    "I-sef", which is a variation on your "sef ". My three children almost always used the imperative form. Watching with mixed forms of pride, amusement, and terror, I always got the biggest kick from their efforts.
    I miss "uppy", the plea uttered from a small person on my feet to be picked up immediately.

  14. Keep writing these a few years, when they use a billion more words and never shut up, you srsly won't remember most of this stuff. Trust me on this one.

  15. @Rise and Shine--I look forward to the day when I will miss "uppy." I hear it about 9,000 times a day now. And I'm powerless to ignore it, as my physical therapist can attest.

    @IzzyMom--I hear you. I've already added a couple to this post. And every time I add one, I think of two more.

  16. similarly.
    bai tuh
    to bite.
    as in "no bai tuh"
    "don't bite me"
    use similarly with fai tuh for to fight.


Don't hold back.


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