At what age do babies understand human speech?
This isn’t just an abstract question, because there’s a personal application. I’m doing detective work on the dating of a couple of early
In the first memory, I’m lying in a cot by the window. It feels like the morning light.
I can remember a definite thought process. Whether verbal or non-verbal, I’m not sure. I wasn’t confident enough to claim verbal thinking, the
last time I mentioned this episode on ATS, so I talked of “being aware of” the stages of thought. But that is part of the question at issue.
Either way, the process went roughly like this;
I want to get out of this cot.
The trouble is, I can’t manage that thing which lets down the side [A simple hook-and-eye catch, I know from later observation]
But if I cry, somebody will come and do it for me.
So I will cry.
It worked, up to a point. In due course, the door opened (right-hand end of the opposite wall) and my father appeared in the doorway.
Unfortunately, the memory stops there, and I don’t know what happened next.
Was I released from prison?
“He would have thrown some toys into the cot”, my mother said when I told her the story. I don’t think that would have contented me.
Or did he react by telling me to be quiet? Was the rest of the scene too traumatic to be remembered?
In the other memory, I am lying on the parental bed, while my mother is saying to me;
“It’s going to be your birthday…
Not the next day
Nor the next day…
But the next day!”
There was a sequence of “not the next day”, in fact, but I can’t vouch for the exact number. And I don’t know whether I attached any meaning
to the word “birthday”, but I understood the rest.
Now which birthday did she mean?
There is a known date which may be relevant here. It seems that I spoke my first words when my brother was born, and my brother was born when I was
two and a half years old. (My first words are on record as “Baby budda”.)
If this conversation took place after I learned to speak, the next birthday would be my third.
But had I learned to speak?
My mother was addressing me in those coy tones that mothers use to babies when they’re not expecting any response.
And nothing in my memory suggests that I did respond, or ask any of the obvious questions.
For that matter, nothing in my memory suggests that I was moving about very much. I think I just lay there and absorbed this interesting information.
Too passive, surely, for a three-year old.
The implication is that my ears were coping with human speech at least six months before my mouth had mastered the art.
Another angle has occurred to me only recently. There is the momentous possibility that the second memory I’ve been describing was the immediate
sequel of the first.
This proposition reflects back onto the first memory in some interesting ways.
In the first place, we get a satisfactory answer to the puzzle of “what happened next?” He did not throw toys into the cot, and he did not shout
at me; he just picked me up and carried me through into the next bedroom.
And if I was capable of understanding words five minutes later, I must have been capable of using them in my mind. Perhaps the cunning plan of “If I
cry, somebody will come and let me out”, really was worked through in that verbal form.
Finally, the implication is that the first memory may be given the same date as the second memory, a few days before a birthday of some kind.
So now I must appeal to those who know babies better than I do.
Is it the best conclusion, that the approaching birthday was my second birthday?
Or it is permissible to speculate that it might even have been my first?
edit on 16-6-2018 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)