Family Matters

Millions Watch Twin Baby Boys Babble: Are They Truly Talking?

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courtesy YouTube

One of my favorite children’s books, Before You Were Born, recounts the legend of the angel Lailah, whom rabbinic lore has accompanying babies in utero, sharing the history of their souls. When they’re born, Lailah touches them gently above their lip, leaving an indentation and causing them to instantly forget all the wisdom she’s imparted. Ostensibly the ability to speak goes out the window as well, leaving a babe to slowly piece together the nuances of language over many years. Apparently, the twin brothers who’ve become YouTube darlings didn’t get the memo.

Millions of people have watched the baby boys, clothed only in diapers and socks, appear to have a full-fledged conversation in their kitchen relying on just one syllable repeated over and over. “Da” becomes a question, an exclamation, a statement. There is cadence and inflection and intuitive understanding of the need to take turns, with one listening while the other babbles. With the accompanying hand gestures — and even the occasional kung-fu-like kick — it feels hard to deny these guys are having a real convo in their own private language. (More on Study: Why Language Has More to Do with Math than You Think)

Babies should be babbling by 10 months and using identifiable words by 14 months, on their road to slapping full sentences together. The twins in the video are using what’s known as “reduplicated babbling,” in which they repeat a sound, according to Hope Dickinson, coordinator of Speech-Language Pathology Services at Children’s Hospital Boston at Waltham, who spoke with Thrive, the pediatric health blog of Children’s Hospital Boston:

It’s fun because these two are demonstrating great mimicking of multiple aspects of conversation. It really demonstrates how very young children communicate and know how a conversation works, even before they have the words to use. They will eventually begin to replace the babbling strings with words. If you listen closely, you’ll even hear a couple of words: One says “mama” when looking at the camera, and one or both say “up” more than once when picking up a foot.

One thing they are using wonderfully is turn taking, as in first one “talks” and then pauses and the other responds. They are also imitating the various intonations we use in conversation and speaking. There is fantastic rise and fall to their pitch and tones. Sentences or exclamations end loudly and emphatically, and there is also some questioning (rising) intonation. They are using gestures to supplement their talking, much like adults do. Their body distance is even very appropriate for most Americans; not too close, but not too far either.

Are twins more likely to understand each other as babies? It may seem that way, but it’s probably not true. “Some people believe twins have the ability to generate their own detailed language, a twin language, but it doesn’t seem to be true in terms of a fully developed language system,’’ Stephen Camarata, professor of hearing and speech sciences at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told The New York Times.

“They are going back and forth and enjoying each other’s company, but they aren’t saying anything specific like, Hey, Mom’s videotaping us. Look at her hair.” (More on Time.comWhen Parents Favor One Kid Over the Other, Is It Okay to Admit It?)

For April Fool’s Day, Ellen DeGeneres took the liberty of translating the boys’ conversation as they cooked up a trick to play on their parents:

Let’s hide in the hamper…and surprise Mom!

We did that last year.

I know! Let’s tell Dad that Mom’s pregnant again.

Don’t give them any ideas.

The twins’ video has been posted in countless places, but at Twin Mama Rama, where their mother maintains a blog, one viewer had some good advice: “When your boys get older, you should make them sit and watch it whenever they get into an argument.” (More on Time.comIn Preschool, What Matters More: Education or Play?)