Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Monday, November 22, 2010

Yightning DaQueen the Wookie

The other day, I received a photo via e-mail of a friend's darling little boy wearing his "Yightning DaQueen" (as he calls it) baseball cap. This made me smile, because (1) he is darling and (2) the photo brought back memories of Parker James' own "Disney PIXAR's Cars" obsession. He never got Lightning's name right, either. He insisted on calling him by the descriptive nickname "Rookie" (and I was fairly impressed when I asked him why the other characters called Lightning "Rookie" and he responded "because he's a new car").

What made it cuter was the fact that he couldn't say his R's, so "Rookie" came out "Wookie":

Parker is still having trouble with those pesky R's, and the cuteness factor is ratcheting down in light of Mom's rising concern that this cute quirk may not just be a passing thing.

Connor never had a little kid lithp or impediment of any sort. For that matter, he never had a little kid VOICE. We went straight from baby babble to whiskey throat. God knows what he will sound like when his voice actually drops, because it's pretty low as it is.

When PJ was an infant, I always wondered what his voice would sound like, relative to Big Bro, and I sort of hoped that he would sound more little kid-like - you know, him being the baby and all. So the "R into W" thing utterly charmed me, initially, and it didn't particularly worry me, because in the back of my mind I remembered other mothers saying that the problem has a tendency to work itself out once a kid starts grade school. I also remembered from my college linguistics class that the inability to pronounce R's is the most common language problem among children, because R is usually the last sound that a child masters. I even remembered the name of the phenomenon - rhotacism. (Yes, I took linguistics - actually, I took a couple of linguistics classes. And also Mayan hieroglyphics. Yes, actually, I WAS a liberal arts major. Thanks for asking. Why do you think I went to law school? It was that or "welcome to McDonald's, may I take your order, please?")

I had my own rhotacism issues when studying German in high school and college (yes, I minored in German - did I mention that I was a liberal arts major?). A German R is supposed to be uvular (pronounced at the back of the throat). Yeah, never got the hang of that, and ultimately had to substitute an alveolar R (the trilled R sound that you hear in Spanish). Fortunately, my voiceless velar fricatives and umlaut vocalizations are spot-on (translation: I can make my ch's and those vowels with the funny dots over them sound all German-y), and my affricates are straight outta Hamburg (translation: I don't say the pf sound in German words so much as I hiss it out of a place in the back of my throat, which is characteristic of speakers of "High" German, who are concentrated in the north of the country), so the judges forgave me my bastardized R and awarded me first place in prose at state UIL German competition my senior year. (Yes, there is such a thing as German competition. Yes, I competed in it - as president of the freakin' German Club. AND THEN I WENT ON TO OBTAIN A BASICALLY USELESS LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE. Pay attention, people.)

For the record, German Club was awesome. For whatever reason, it was a haven for athletes, cheerleaders and drill teamers whose parents were pushing them to add academic extracurriculars to their resume. Actually, I know exactly why it was a haven. First, it was an excuse to eat a lot of pastry. During Foreign Language Week, Latin Club got to eat pizza, Spanish Club got chips and hot sauce, and French Club got bread and cheese. We got tortes, strudel, the works. I should mention that Northwest Houston was settled by Germans, a lot of our students were of German extraction, and their moms inherited the cookbooks and the baking chops. Second, among other events at German competition, you had folk dancing (hence, there are pictures circulating somewhere of me in a dirndl), gingerbread house decorating, and pretzel eating. For purposes of college admissions, you tended to go with "participated in local and state German competitions, Grades 9-12" on your resume, versus the more accurate "skipped around in lederhosen and dominated the root-beer chugging contest, in training for fraternity/sorority life to come." But the latter is totally what you did.

Long story short, I have tried to take the R thing with PJ in stride - perhaps in part because I suspect that it comes from me, if those sorts of things are genetic. But it's getting harder to keep it cool, because now that PJ is reading and writing in earnest, I can't help but notice that his speech impediment is translating into his written words. As noted in a prior post, when he left me a note reminding me to get the tinsel and lights out of the carriage house in preparation for the upcoming December holiday, he referenced "Quissmiss dekorwayshuns." For Thanksgiving, we are "dwiving" to Grandma's.

But that's the thing: we're dWiving to GRandma's. The Quissmiss decorWAYshuns go on a Quissmiss TRee. In other words, he's getting half of it right. It's the other half that I worry about, and I can't help but wonder: are we approaching a linguistic point of no return, and if we don't right the listing (or lisping) ship before we get there, will he be forever confused about the R/W thing? I'm envisioning college graduate Parker sending his resume to a Forune 500 company with a letter advertising himself as a "tWemendous asset" with a proficiency in "MicWosoft Word."

We have spoken to the kindergarten teacher and to the speech therapist, and neither one seems particularly concerned. They assured us that they will intervene if/when they see the need to do so. In the meantime, I am trying to cowwect - I mean, CoRRect - errors as I see and hear them, in the hopes that he will start moving words over to the "tree" and "Grandma" column and learning to differentiate between the actual letter W and the actual letter R.

But it's hard. Patience has never been one of my stwong - I mean, stRong - suits.

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