When my wife was pregnant and I told some people at work about it, one of the lead software programmers, a slightly older (than I) Russian woman, asked me which operating system we were running. I was startled at first and then realized what she meant and said “it’s going to be a boy.”
At the time, the comparison sounded a little creepy to me–maybe it was just her accent. However, now I do sometimes feel as if our little boy, Ben, now 20 months, is going through a sort of installation, as he develops. The difference is that I think of language development as his operating system. From my wife and me he’s getting two operating systems: English, from me, and Polish, from my wife.
Of course there are many ways his thinking is developing. When I give him a bath in the evening, and I see him investigating how the water interacts with his toys and his fingers are probing every tile, I know his mind is developing a feeling for the physical laws of the new world he inhabits. Sometimes he seems to have gained a new insight that he wants to tell me about, but whatever he is trying to tell me is incomprehensible babble to me, even if this is truly meaningful to him. My guess is that, as important as perceptions are, his language development will have a lot to do with everything else–it will relay what he perceives and often affect what he perceives.
For some who emphasize environment in development, I only have to point to our cat. Our cat Marcel (pronounced Mar’ tzel) has spent many years with us, before Ben was born. However, while he is aware of certain concepts and commands, his communication to us consists mostly of his high pitch squeeks, that show little variation. I get a sense of what he wants or what he is feeling mainly from the expression in his eyes. Also, I have noticed no more increased complexity in his understandings from us.
If what I suspect is right, our cat has not become fluent in English, nor in Polish, despite years of living with us. There seems to be something babies have come pre-installed with, a sort of BIOS (in computer terminology) to assist the initial boot and installation of the operating system, part of which seems to reside in the hardware, or rather our baby boy.
My intuitions have a little assistance, such as from philosophers like Noam Chomsky. It’s not exactly my original observation that something internal is happening. Still I am amazed to watch this little seed of instructions so heavily engaged with the outside world to grow in a very orderly, largely pre-instructed manner.
And while I don’t want to rush the time I’m enjoying, I can’t wait to tell my son what things were like when I was little, and to hear his ideas about his new world.