What’s the first thing you would ask when inquiring about someone’s toddler? I would think to say something like, Has he started walking yet? How’s the potty training going? Has he developed a keen interest in train sets and dinosaur figurines?
Today I overheard a conversation between my linguistics professor and a graduate student in my class. It went like this:
Student: How’s your little girl doing?
Prof: She’s great, thanks. Her phonetics are still lacking; she can’t quite produce consonant clusters yet. Her syntax is really advanced though.
Student: Oh really? How so?
Prof: The other day she said to me, “I don’t like these crackers. Are you a fan?”
(Group laughter; a few expressive “wow”s. General consensus of amazement and approval.).
Student: How’s her vowel space?
Prof: It’s coming along. She’s mastered several diphthongs already.
At first I assumed they were joking. I thought they were recognizing their own linguistic obsessions and mocking themselves for it. I expected the conversation to turn at any moment to The Terrible Twos or first play dates. But no, it just hovered around vowel and consonant production. Linguists may have just officially beaten out astrophysicists for the Number One Nerd slot.