2839: Language Acquisition

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Language Acquisition
My first words were 'These were my first words; what were yours?'
Title text: My first words were 'These were my first words; what were yours?'


Language acquisition is the process by which humans, generally infants, learn a language. There are many theories as to how this process works, but Randall humorously conflates an infant's language acquisition process to an adult's , saying that infants learn languages one new word at a time. This could be equated to how app-based language learning works, at least at certain stages of vocabulary expansion. This is typically not true[citation needed] for infants learning the native language(s) that they will consider as their mother tongue.

The child's sentence says that he has acquired another word, bringing his total to twelve words, all unique. This is conveyed in the twelve unique words spoken, thus indicating (if true) that these are the very (and only) words the infant has acquired up to this point. These would be a very unusual set of words to be the first ones learned for an infant (and even for an adult, deliberately acquiring a new language). Furthermore, the child appears to have learned some fairly advanced grammatical concepts in order to construct this fairly complex sentence, similar to how adults may start with somewhat advanced grammar rules as they start to assemble the knowledge of a new language. Learning grammar typically takes much longer, and only occurs makes sense once sufficient vocabulary has been learnt to recognise the patterns in how the words are used.

Interestingly if this sentence is true, the child has learned the word "twelve" before learning the words for any other numbers, and so could not have given a quantitative update on previous days. However, this would also imply that their counting is not yet as advanced as their language acquisition, which may mean that they are simply wrong about the number of words they have learned.

In fact, it is possible to create a "learning sequence" based on these twelve words to somewhat make a little sense if the words are acquired in a word-after-word basis. An example is shown below:

  • Word!
  • Another word!
  • Learned another word!
  • I learned another word.
  • I learned another word today.
  • Update: I learned another word today.
  • Vocabulary update: I learned another word today.
  • My vocabulary update: I learned another word today.
  • I learned another word today to update my vocabulary.
  • I learned another word today to update my total vocabulary.
  • Bringing another word I learned to update my total vocabulary today.
  • Vocabulary update: I learned another word today, bringing my total to twelve.

Two letter-blocks on the ground next to the child show capitals 'A' and 'B', and a third has an upside-down lowercase 'e'. The block with the 'e' may indeed be upside-down, but it could also be a block with the phonetic symbol schwa on it. As phonetics are generally used by lay-people when they start to learn how different sounds in their target language is pronounced, this would suggest the parents are teaching their child advanced linguistic concepts before they've fully learned to speak their first language, which might explain why the child's language acquisition is so unusual.

The title text makes a self-referential joke about the concept of "first words", where a supposed child discusses one's own first words in a complete sentence. There are seven unique words in the title text, most of which do not appear in the comic image, suggesting the title text and comic image referred to two different children. It is a common milestone to celebrate a child's "first word", but typically these would be less advanced words, such as "mama" or "dada".

This seems to be another indication that Randall is conflating adult language acquisition and infant language acquisition, because such moderately-complex sentences are usually a beginner's first attempt in a new target language, by the way of learning set phrases by rote (for concepts they can already voice in another language). Examples might include standard greetings, such as "Hello, my name is [...]", and various questions and answers related to their exposure to the foreign language concerned.

2567: Language Development has had a similarly obscure take on language acquisition.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[A child, drawn as a smaller Hairy. He stands amongst three blocks with letters on them, showing faces with A, B and an upside-down lowercase e. Megan and Cueball stand to the right of him.]
Child: Vocabulary update: I learned another word today, bringing my total to twelve.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


It is probably obvious to say it, but: If the person in the title text is the same person speaking in the pane, there's a contradiction here, since if your first words were the seven unique words in "these were my first words what were yours" ("were" is duplicated) then "I learned another word today bringing my total up to twelve " adds another ten (duplicating "my"), for a total of seventeen. Or nineteen if you count "vocabulary" and "update." I'm not sure what to make of this, since Randall is surely aware of it. Perhaps I miss a subtlety. Or maybe the title text is spoken by a different character. JohnHawkinson (talk) 21:43, 9 October 2023 (UTC)

The title text is often taken as coming from Randall. In the comic, Cueball is often a stand-in for Randall, but in this comic the text is coming from Baby Hairy. So the title text is contrasting the baby's first words with Randall's. Although they share the feature of being self-referential. Barmar (talk) 23:48, 9 October 2023 (UTC)
Of course "vocabulary" and "update" count, they're part of the twelve. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:22, 14 October 2023 (UTC)

A friend of mine said that his child's first words were "isi, äiti, kondensaattori" (dad, mom, capacitor). 22:07, 9 October 2023 (UTC)

The first words I learned to spell were "ON" and "OFF" due to my high chair being located next to the light switch. My grand nephew one day announced ``I learned to spell a word: HDMI.Lone Haranguer (talk) 21:57, 10 October 2023 (UTC)

Very nice. I wish I had such fruitful learning experiences-I couldn’t talk in full sentences until 4. 42.book.addict (talk) 21:19, 2 February 2024 (UTC)

Is the leftmost block schwa or upside down? The world may never know. Me[citation needed] 22:14, 9 October 2023 (UTC)

Looks like it could be an upside down "e" ? 23:07, 9 October 2023 (UTC)
Strange that it's lowercase, if so, given that the other blocks are not*. "ab..e.." I could see for learning blocks, or "AB..E..". Perhaps even capital vowels, lower-everything-else (notwithstanding the implied pretext that a child of the age to learn basic block-stacking motor skills is also going to sufficiently benefit from a grounding in such 'advanced' and nuanced character-recognition), but not that.
* - Logistically, for the full unique set of (A..Za..z), perhaps paired by case on opposite sides, you'd need nine blocks at a minimum (and then room for two repeats/punctuations/perhaps-'@'-and-'&'?). Just three blocks is already insufficient for all-upper, so the tropish illustration/posed-photo of three actual "ABC" blocks** always makes you wonder if there's no Z, Y, X, etc. Although perhaps 'd'+'p' (lowercase) or 'M'+'W' (uppercase, or lower, with the right font), or maybe 'E'+'M' (different font/style) could help reduce the number of sides needed, allowing some context by orientation.
** - And oh-so-often, correctly orientated, correctly sequenced and facing the observer that the toddler is also facing, which implies both a complete understanding of the glyphs and a sense of self-vs-other. Which is not far off as improbable as the preverbal 'infant genius' somehow presenting "SYZYGY"/whatever. (Not unsigned, these are my own internal deliberately inserted footnotes - 00:39, 10 October 2023 (UTC))
OTOH, the populating of a set of blocks (far more than three!) with IPA begs questions of what capitals A and B are doing there. Or then there's the intriguing idea that these blocks are to specifically hothouse the child in Predicate Logic ("A" can perhaps be there for/additionally for "∀", seen upside-down, though somethjng like "E" should at least be present for the "∃").
In short, odd child; likely already odder parents. Or ones that cobbled together blocks from different (second-hand, possibly incomplete) sets, as hand-me-downs, but that seems far too mundane an explanation for xKcD... ;) 00:39, 10 October 2023 (UTC)
If you're going to use the blocks for spelling things out, though, (rather than just learning the alphabet) you'd want the letters to appear in some sort of corpus frequency - so likely only one 'Z', 'Q', etc., but several 'A's, 'E's, and so on. 08:34, 10 October 2023 (UTC)
That requires vastly more than nine (or five, and especially three) blocks. Especially as using the one remaining block with the "Z" will 'use up' all the other letters on the other faces. Maybe have rare letters 'blocked' together (not to eat into the common-pool) but then what do you put on an "E" block (ultimate error being to put several "E"s all over a single block), and best not to have "U" on any block with a "Q" and waste them when you probably want them. The logistics would be more complicated than mere corpus-counting.
Even/especially if you allow two faces (with sufficiently correct orientation!) to be angled for sequential characters, i.e. always have your "Q"s directly one face to the left of a "U", just in case you need such a digraph (usually just once per word!), plus others. 14:46, 10 October 2023 (UTC)
Azerbaijani has a capital schwa that looks like that: Ə 00:50, 10 October 2023 (UTC)
If the child's first number is "twelve," I don't see why their second number should not be "two point seven one eight two eight one eight two eight." JohnHawkinson (talk) 01:37, 10 October 2023 (UTC)

Hence the e block, which is upside down. Blocks with upper and lower case letters are not that uncommon as well as sets without a complete alphabet or other pictures on 4 of the sides only giving you two letters per block. Seems to be a manufacturing thing since the letters are embossed on the end grain side & the pictures or letters just painted on the side grain sides.Lone Haranguer (talk) 21:57, 10 October 2023 (UTC)

Re the rules (barring the contradiction said above): If Day 1 was "Another", Day 2 can't be "I learned" or "vocabulary word" unless the child skips some days and isn't learning at a rate of one word per day. If it's A Word A Day, your options must be just one other word - so in the example case, "word" could work to make "another word" work. 23:14, 9 October 2023 (UTC)

First word could be "I" (or "Learned") for "I learned" on the second day. I don't know the intention(s) of the person(s) who put together that section, but multiple paths to the dozen-word sentence are possible, perhaps it just needs to be indicated that these are not of the same sequence.
There'll be many 'valid' sequences, with lesser or greater intermediate grammatical validity. 12!*(11!*10!*..3!*2!*1!) potential combinations. The 12! being the order of discovery; the other factorials are the orders of all intermediate sequences being rendered, but we actually know what sequence emerged from the 12! possibly renderings of the final set, so no need to repermutate that.
That's without considering repeated words. If day 1 was just "Learned" (grammatically a stump, but give the kid a break!), Day 2 could easily be "I learned I". (Day 3 maybe "I learned another"/"I learned word", then "I learned another word" on day 4...) 00:39, 10 October 2023 (UTC)
There's nothing that indicates that it's one word a day, or even one word at a time. They could, for example have learned all the other words on the previous day, and only learned the word 'update' today. 08:40, 10 October 2023 (UTC)

Not sure if it’s a deliberate reference, but it reminds me of the factoid that, while Green Eggs and Ham only contains 50 unique words, a child who knows those 50 would realistically have to know several hundred (I can’t re-find the specific number). 23:38, 9 October 2023 (UTC)

This kid somehow avoided the almost universal step of learning "dada" and "mama" (or similar words in other languages) as their first words. https://www.livescience.com/32191-why-are-mama-and-dada-a-babys-first-words.html Barmar (talk) 23:45, 9 October 2023 (UTC)

A related game: What sentences could have been formed on the preceding eleven days?[edit]


1. Each sentence must contain the same number of words as the number of the day
2. Words can only be added - each previously learned word must occur in subsequent days
3. The sentence must make sense - this is clearly a highly articulate child
4. On Day 12 the words must be "Vocabulary update: I learned another word today, bringing my total to twelve"
Day 1: "Another" (possibly in reference to something that child wants to happen again)
Day 2: "I learned", "Another word", or "Vocabulary Word"

A possible solution, if it is allowed for the child to omit some words previously learned:

1: Word?
2: Another word.
3: Learned another word!
4: I learned another word.
5: I learned another word today.
6: I learned another vocabulary word today.
7: Vocabulary update: I learned another word today.
8: Bringing another vocabulary update: I learned another word today.
9: Bringing my vocabulary update: I learned another word today.
10: Update to my vocabulary: I learned another word today.
11: Update to my total vocabulary: I learned another word today.
12: Vocabulary update: I learned another word today, bringing my total to twelve.

My attempt:

1 (vocabulary) = "Vocabulary!"

2 (update) = "Vocabulary update!"

3 (my) = "Update my vocabulary!"

4 (I) = "I update my vocabulary!"

5 (learned) = "Update: I learned my vocabulary" [or "I update my learned vocabulary"]

6 (to) = "I learned to update my vocabulary"

7 (word) = "I learned to update my word vocabulary"

8 (another) = "Update to my vocabulary: I learned another word"

9 (bringing) = "Update: bringing another word to my vocabulary, I learned"

10 (today)= "Update: I learned today, bringing another word to my vocabulary."

11 (total) = "Update: I learned today, bringing another word to my total vocabulary."

12 (twelve) = "Vocabulary update: I learned another word today, bringing my total to twelve."

Kittyabbygirl (talk) 23:51, 9 October 2023 (UTC)

Why does the number of words uttered have to be the same as the number of the day? If that's just a rule that's been invented for this game, then fair enough - be as arbitrary as you like. Otherwise though, that's not implied anywhere.Yorkshire Pudding (talk) 23:57, 9 October 2023 (UTC)

My attempt at the first eleven days:


Another word

Update: Another word

My update: another word

My update: another vocabulary word

My update today: another vocabulary word

Update to my vocabulary: another word today

Another word update to my total vocabulary today

Bringing another word update to my total vocabulary today

Bringing another word update to my total learned vocabulary today

Update: I learned vocabulary today, bringing another word to my total.

(I assumed that the child provides one of these updates every day and used that as the topic of the sentences, and I allowed for the kinds of omissions seen in casual adult speech ("[I am] going to the store; do you need anything?"). 00:03, 10 October 2023 (UTC)

Attempting to deliberately defer/advance various words, without too much look-ahead... 1:"Today..." 2:"Another today!" 3:"Today, another update." 4:"Bringing another update, today." 5:"Bringing today, another total update." 6:"Another total today, bringing vocabulary update." 7:"Today my vocabulary update, bringing another total." 8:"Total update today. Bringing another vocabulary, my word!" 9:"Twelve today! My vocabulary update bringing another word total." 10:"Today update my 'Twelve' total, bringing another word to vocabulary." 11:"Bringing ‘learned’ today, another word to my total 'twelve update' vocabulary" 12:"Vocabulary update: I learned another word today, bringing my total to twelve."
Of course, my choices strain grammar frequently, but proper "grammar" isn't something the child claims to have yet. Maybe in another couple of days. 08:41, 10 October 2023 (UTC)

Related Game
Why is all this stuff about the "related game" on the main page and not here on the Talk page? I don't get it. Is it just that no one has moved it? Yeah, sure, it's better off below the grey box for the talk page transclusion, but it's still wrong. JohnHawkinson (talk) 01:34, 10 October 2023 (UTC)

I've moved it now. -- 03:41, 10 October 2023 (UTC)

My attempt:

1) I

2) I learned

3) I learned: word

4) I learned another word

5) I learned another word: vocabulary

6) I learned another vocabulary word today

7) Update: I learned another vocabulary word today

8) My update: I learned another vocabulary word today

9) My total vocabulary update: today, I learned another word today

10) To update my total vocabulary, I learned another word today

11) To update my total vocabulary, I learned another word today: bringing

12) Vocabulary update: I learned another word today bringing my total to twelve

Baralong (talk) 07:59, 10 October 2023 (UTC)

My attempt: 01: Learned. 02: I learned. 03: I learned "another." 04: I learned another word. 05: Another word I learned: "Update." 06: Another update: I learned my word. 07: My vocabulary update: I learned another word. 08: I update my vocabulary today, another word learned. 09: I learned another word today to update my vocabulary. 10: Bringing another word I learned to my vocabulary today. 11: I update vocabulary today, bringing to my total another learned word. 12: Vocabulary update: I learned another word today, bringing my total to twelve. 20:12, 11 October 2023 (UTC)

A generalization to the related game[edit]

Given some predetermined list of usable English words (say, the online Merriam-Webster dictionary), what is the longest amount of days one can "last for", with the rules that:

1) one must speak exactly n words in a single, grammatically correct sentence on day n

2) all words spoken on day n-1 must be used for the day n sentence

3) all forms of punctuation are allowed (e.g. the original comic used a colon)

4) no lists in the sentence (too boring)

5) no adjective trains (maximum of 1 adjective per noun) 02:35, 10 October 2023 (UTC)Bumpf

I think you could get a very long way by simply continuing to stack adjectives on a noun, so you might have to bar that too. Also, is it just grammatically correct, or does the the sentence have to make sense, because those are not the same thing, and allowing nonsense would give a lot more leeway. 08:47, 10 October 2023 (UTC)
very interesting! I have edited my original comment with that new rule. Sentences like colorless green ideas sleep furiously are totally allowed :) 12:28, 10 October 2023 (UTC)Bumpf

This seems to be a spoof of Duolingo progress reports, celebrating achievements of learning words. The well formed sentence would be presented as the training sentence. The achievement would not be autonomous but prompted. 20231011 Morie (talk) 07:43, 11 October 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)