Speaking And Its Faults
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
ONE may read in the literature devoted to the mental growth and to the training of children much learned discussion of the development of speech, and the reasons for this and that. The most prominent fact is that the baby's first efforts at talking are imitative. It calls the cow "moo-moo," and cries "ting-a-ling" when it hears the bells ring. When it comes to forming words, which it overhears, or is regularly taught, it copies them not only in the language of its teachers, but in the form, good or bad, in which they pronounce and use them. But its organs of speech are a delicate and strange instrument, which it requires much practice to use quickly and correctly. Many of the sounds of letters, especially some of the consonants, are very difficult for the baby's tongue, and it often happens that even after it has learned many words, and knows how to form sentences, what it says is almost unintelligible to a stranger. These mispronunciations can hardly be helped at first, and are sometimes most amusing, so thoughtless parents indulge them, and prolong their funny period (they are, indeed, largely responsible for it) by themselves speaking in the mangled nonsense called "baby talk." The mother's impulse is to make her speech show the tenderness of her love and delight; but she can do this quite sufficiently by tone and look, without sacrificing her darling's lessons in language.
No one more than she wishes for the time when the little one can answer her, and they can really converse. Will she not enjoy it better if, as fast as he gets command of his voice, he articulates as distinctly and pronounces as correctly as he can the words he uses? Baby talk is a mistake. Let the little prattler learn good speech while he is about it-words fairly pronounced and accented, and sentences properly composed.
Later, constant watchfulness is necessary, not only of the child, but of himself, by the parent, against faults he does not want to hear imitated. Children not only copy but invent tricks and objectionable habits of speaking, for they love to play with their new accomplishment. They mumble their words, or drawl, or stammer, or hesitate, with a sucked-in a-a-h between every phrase or two. Contortions of the face, and particularly of the mouth, in speaking, should be corrected. The voice itself ought to be looked after. Yelling and screeching may strain the vocal cords, and permanently ruin what would other-wise be a pleasing voice. Gentle, nicely modulated, yet full tones add greatly to a person's agreeableness, especially in women; and girls ought to be especially careful not to spoil their naturally good gifts in this direction. But these faults will least often make their appearance in those who hear correct speech and pleasant tones at home.