‘Infantese’: Learning the language of baby talk

Mar 22, 2023
Source: Getty

Well, there are Japanese, Maltese, Lebanese etc; all legitimate languages, shared by the inhabitants of the culture where these languages originated.

But there is also another language, perhaps a primordial one, which we adults tend to think of, as not a language at all. 

It is the first, kind of cackling language of infants, representing perhaps a primordial language of all humanity, that varies somewhat from toddler to each unique toddler, yet they are all a variation of this perhaps primordial ‘mother of all languages.

In our adult ignorance, we tend to think of it as “senseless babbling”, rather than recognising that we perhaps are coming face to face with a primordial language we have long forgotten: the primal and primordial language re-emerging from generation to every new generation since times immemorial in every brand new infant.

But if I listen closely to this verbal and non-verbal rudimentary language of my ten weeks old grandson I cannot but be in awe that I am perhaps now witnessing this primal language from the infancy of humanity, a variation of which you and I must also have spoken once, when we were infants. 

But it is one, which we have long forgotten as we came to swap it for the common language of our parents with which we eventually became indoctrinated.

I realise now with excitement that if I want to communicate with my infant grandson, my first task is not to teach him my language but for me to learn from him his unique language, which I call the “Infantese”.

Freud talks about a “sense of eternity” of infants ‘a feeling of something limitless, unbounded –as it were “oceanic”. 

He says that “the ego is originally all-inclusive, but later it separates off an external world from itself.”

And that “our present sense of self is only a shrunken residue of a far more comprehensive, indeed all-embracing feeling, which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ego and the world around it”. 

Freud’s arch-rival in psychotherapy, Dr Jacob Moreno, the inventor of psychodrama, makes a similar point. 

I regarded it so important when I started to learn the psychodramatic skills of “mirroring”, “doubling” and “reversing” with others – which Moreno developed when he started the “encounter” movement – that I felt compelled to memorise it.

Moreno says – 

“I suffered from an idee fixe”, (that) became a constant source of productivity; 

It proclaimed that there is a sort of primordial nature, which is immortal and returns afresh with every generation, a first universe that contains all beings and in which all events are sacred. 

I liked that enchanting realm and did not plan to leave it, ever.

As I look into the eyes of my ten-weeks-old grandkid, I am convinced that he represents this “enchanted realm”, which he, thank heavens, still has not left. 

And if I tune into and re-learn his primordial language, maybe I shall be able to re-enter this world of his too.

I lay him on his back and we look into each other’s eyes.

He becomes animated and begins to cackle with increasing intensity as if trying to share something with me.

I offer him my right index finger, which he grabs firmly.

Encouraged, I offer my left index finger too and he grabs it equally vigorously.

Now we are ready to dance.

I gently swing our now connected arms from side to side singing “Twinkle, twinkle little stars…” while moving our arms to the melody.

He lets his little arms move with my fingers and he seems to like the singing and the dancing of the arms.

He is uttering all sorts of sounds and I talk back to him without having the faintest idea of what he was saying: “And what else have you got to say?”

Him: uu, ha, oo, uh.

Me: Really? That’s all you have to say for yourself or do you have further news for me?

Him: Oooo, uh, ahhaha.

Me: I see. So you enjoy the dancy-dancy. Shall we continue?

Him: ee, hu, ooo.

Me: OK. I take it that this is a yes. So, let’s rock and roll.

I stand him up whilst he is still grabbing my index fingers and now it’s time for rocking. 

I mix in a few explosive ‘boo’ sounds into the singing and dancing.

He seems to find the explosive boos most amusing as he nearly smiles every time he hears one.

We are communicating.

I try to talk to him as if he was my peer but ignore that neither of us has the slightest idea of what the other is saying literally.

Nevertheless, I feel we are communicating by responding to each other emotionally, even though each of us speaks a language seemingly incomprehensible to the other. 

His goo-goo language I can only guess for meaning and the English or Hungarian that I address him with, at this stage, is unknown to him.

Yet the important thing is that we seem to have tuned in to each other’s vibes and we are moving in tandem.

Maybe communicating through vibes only first is similar to people’s speaking in tongues.

But whatever the case, this is a triumph of intergenerational communion that overcomes the language barrier as the old and young hearts beat and dance together to the tune of the ever-uniting and universal language of love.  


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