So, yesterday I was feeding Clare lunch--yummy yummy baby oatmeal, green beans, mashed banana, and the inevitable Cheerios since nowadays she gets frustrated after too long without being able to take control of her own eating process. I was sneaking in spoonfuls of green beans in between the Cheerios and her attention began to wander: the cat had walked over to our corner and Clare got all maniacally happy like she does when she sees the kitty. So I attempted to get her attention. "Clare," I said, to no avail. "Clare! Clare!" and holding out a spooful of green bean mushiness, "Clare! Yao bu yao?" That got her attention. And she started giggling maniacally at me...every time I asked, "yao bu yao?"
"Yao bu yao" is Chinese for "do you want it?" although literally it's more like "want-no-want." I guess I've never spoken Chinese to Clare before. I wasn't planning on making lunch a Chinese lesson yesterday, but it was such a simpler way of asking "do you want more green beans?" Chinese is such an economical language--all kinds of meaning packed into a few single syllables.
So why was it so funny? She kept laughing so much every time I said it that she nearly spewed green beans all over both of us and everything else in the vicinity including the cat. I don't know. Maybe after 8 months of incomprehensible English noises coming at her she somehow knows that these syllables don't make sense? Could she know somehow that this is a different language? Even before her own Chomskian black box of language acquisition apparatus starts humming?
Well who knows. But I am going to start incorporating some of my favorite and more useful Chinese phrases into our daily one-sided conversations. Mei wen ti. Hao bu hao. Mei guan xi. Zou ba. Kuai le! Maybe even the Wuhan-hua "ni he wo!" Because although I, as a kindergartner, found it dreadfully inconvenient that my teacher couldn't understand me when I told her, "I have to go xiao bian" (xiao bian means pee, and da bian means poop. "xiao" is little and "da" is big; I don't know what "bian" is, but Chinese is nearly always politely euphemistic so it can't be too bad) it's also really cool that I have tidbits of Chinese in my childhood vocabulary, and something of Thweatt family history that I'd like to pass along.
Of course, she's also going to have to learn Spanish if she doesn't want to be shown up by her cousins...