Baby’s First Words: A Language Summary At 16 Months

I remember asking my parents, when I was little, about my first word, and my siblings’ first words. As though there’s a single, definable, momentous occasion when a child first opens their mouth and says something. A clear border between talking and not talking. I must’ve realized at some point that this isn’t quite how it usually works — or at least, that definitely hasn’t been our experience with Lillian.

She started with the babbling and babytalk when she was a few months old, continuing it ever since — and slowly over that span of time, certain things started to sound more and more like comprehensible words. Since I haven’t mentioned much of this on the blog yet, and since Lillian passed the 16-month mark earlier this week, I thought it would be fun to do a little language summary. Here are some things she’s been saying so far:

  • Cat – Sometimes pronounced without much of a “T” sound at the end, but almost always said while pointing at our cat, or the neighbor’s cat, or another small furry animal. (When we were down in Florida over Christmas, Lillian seemed fairly insistent that her grandma’s bunnies were cats.)
  • Tickle – Pronounced “ticka-licka-licka-licka” while making tickling motions with her fingers.
  • E-I-E-I-O – From the song. It’s really cute — you can sing “Old MacDonald had a farm,” and she’ll say “E-I-E-I-O” (sometimes with and sometimes without the final O.) I’ve also heard reports from our daycare that she does this during other songs they sing too. Row, row, row your boat? E-I-E-I-O!
  • Mama and Dada – She seems to know who’s who, although she was calling me “Dada” and Joe “Mama” for a little while there. She also does things like point at herself and say, “Dada!” and I’ll say, “No, you’re Lily!” and she’ll laugh, and point at herself again, and say “Dada!” So, I’m pretty sure she’s just messing with us.
Random Instagram photo of Lillian in the snow.

Random Instagram photo of our little trickster in the snow.

There are other suspiciously word-sounding things that get mixed in with the endless stream of babytalk,  though it’s hard to tell if they’re actually words, or just this mama finding meaning in the verbal equivalent of Rorschach inkblots. But some other words I think I might’ve heard so far are: Good, Duck, Dog, Cookie, All Done, Light, Door, WindowButton, and Hat. Time will tell if they start to come up more often!

Finally, there are a handful of words that she doesn’t say, but clearly understands and reacts to when someone else says them:

  • No – She definitely understands this and will respond to it, though not necessarily in exactly the way we parents would like (i.e. unquestioningly on the first try). More likely she’ll pause whatever she’s doing, look at you, then repeat it 2-3 more times to test and see if it gets the same reaction. Baby version of the scientific method, I guess!
  • Gentle – This came about while trying to teach Lillian to pet Grendel without being too rough, hitting, or grabbing her fur. “You have to be gentle,” we’d say, and then show her how to gently pet the kitty. It actually seems to have worked — with the occasional exception — and Lillian seems to understand how to pet Grendel gently enough that our furry friend doesn’t even get flustered and scurry off. (I’ve also noticed that if Lillian starts getting too rough in that toddler way, I can say “No hitting, Lillian, you have to be gentle,” and then she’ll start trying to gently pet my hair.)
  • Shake – If you say this while she’s holding an object, she will try to shake it.
  • Wipe – If you say this after handing her a baby wipe or a kleenex, she will try to wipe down any available surface no matter how practical, including the table, the rug, the couch, or the floor. (Here’s hoping this love of cleaning things continues as she gets older!)

These are just a few examples that seem particularly obvious, though — I’ve heard that toddlers at this age understand a lot more than they can say, and a lot more than they may let on, so this is likely just scratching the surface.

All in all, it’s been such an incredible joy watching her language skills develop this far, and I can’t even say how much I’m looking forward to all the learning and talking and eventual two-way conversations that lie ahead.

To anyone reading who’s been down this road already, did your toddlers follow a similar pattern (lots of babytalk slowly becoming more word-y) when they first began talking? Any particularly interesting/cute/funny words that emerged in those early days?