April 1, 2011 – A video of two diaper-clad twins chatting up a storm in the family kitchen has gone viral, prompting millions of viewers to wonder what the heck the toddlers might be talking about.
Speech experts say that video captures the twin boys on the cusp of language development, but that’s more babble and mimicry than real conversation.
Some people believe twins have the ability to generate their own detailed language, a twin language, but it doesn’t seem to be true in terms of a fully developed language system,” said Stephen Camarata, professor of hearing and speech sciences at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “They are going back and forth and enjoying each other’s company, but they aren’t saying anything specific like ‘Hey, Mom’s videotaping us. Look at her hair.’”
The video posted on You Tube in February, comes from the blog TwinMamaRama.com, written by the boys’ mother, who doesn’t give her name, but she notes she is a twin herself. In the video, the boys, wearing only diapers and socks, strike up an intense and animated conversation near the family refrigerator. They point, stomp and laugh as they babble back and forth with each other. The video has attracted more than six million viewers and been featured on television morning shows.
Dr. Camarata says the video is rich with examples of how children develop language. It’s filled with canonical babbling that sounds like speech because it uses vowels, consonants and syllables to mimic words. Although most healthy babies go through the same phase of language development, most of the time the conversation is one-sided because they are interacting primarily with parents or older siblings. What’s special about the twins’ exchange, he notes, is that each baby has a peer with whom to practice language.
“The thing that is remarkable is that they both have this intonation pattern,” he said. “It sounds like they are speaking, making a statement, asking a question. They are using those broader markers we use in language.”
He says it’s possible that the twins are re-enacting conversation they’ve witnessed in the family kitchen.
“Children are very clever at watching and learning from adults,” said Dr. Camarata. “You wonder if there hasn’t been a conversation between the husband and wife or other people in the kitchen that they are mimicking. The intonation patterns were almost certainly learned from the parents.”
Dr. Camarata said he finds the video particularly delightful given that he often works with children who have delayed speech as a result of autism or another disability. He said he hopes parents who see the video will be reminded to celebrate the amazing developmental milestones of their own children.
“Here are these children interacting with each other in a very spontaneous and unguided way, and there are a lot of rich things going on that are really cool,” he said. “You wonder in this day and age of people programming their child’s activities if we’re losing a little bit of that. I worry that we’re not looking for and celebrating these kinds of spontaneous things that our toddlers do that are really exciting and fun.” (Tara Parker-Pope, NY Times)