Recently, the world watched the viral video of twin baby boys having a conversation filled with “da-das” instead of words. What exactly was happening??We asked Stephen Camarata, PhD and professor of hearing and speech sciences at Vanderbilt School of Medicine.
In the YouTube video, it looks like the babies are having an actual conversation. But what are we actually witnessing?
Essentially, you are watching two toddlers using many conversational features, including intonation, turn taking, facial expression and gesture along with babbling. The babbling includes syllables and speech sounds that appear in regular words.
But they’re not actual words?
At this age, few children have full knowledge of word meaning and grammatical markers, so this is not quite the same as an adult conversation. A parallel might be for me and another person, neither of whom speaks Japanese, to have a pretend conversation in that language. We could mimic key features including bowing, Japanese intonation and could generally make the words sound like we were speaking Japanese. But there would be no specific meaning. That’s the case with these twins.
Do the “da-das” stand for something?
Yes, as in the Japanese example above, the da-das are fillers in the phrases they are saying. They are not random sounds, but word-like in their structure.
Does the fact they’re twins make a difference?
Yes, a twin — a “clone” in terms of DNA — is a great conversational match. They have the same genes, a lot of shared experiences, similar physical and mental maturity as well as a propensity for being interested in similar things. They are a good match for each other as a peer. The video speaks for itself in terms of the pure enjoyment they are having while speaking to each other.
The hand gestures — did they learn those by watching adults?
This is hard to know with certainty. I would hypothesize that these were indeed learned from watching adults. You can see in the video that they imitate each other, which leads one to believe they also imitate adults.
What should parents look for when their child starts to talk, so they know the kid is “on track”?
The video shows several key things to look for. The babble is speech-like, as if they are practicing words. They smile at each other and respond to vocalizations. They point and look at what is being pointed to and they use gestures. They are socially engaged and show a general interest in each other and in mom — who evidently is filming. You can look at this video and say this is not at all like what we often see in toddlers with autism. Even with no specific words, it is clear that the twins are quite social in ways that children with autism are not.
Your next study should be about curing our addiction to YouTube baby videos. Are you available to help a world in need? I can’t stop.
Actually, I would not be opposed to watching this kind of video often. All who watch are captivated by the happy, carefree toddlers having a grand ol’ time. Worries about getting into the right preschool so I can get into the right primary and secondary so I can go to Cambridge or Oxford — that does not appear to be on the forefront of their minds. Who could watch this without it bringing a smile to their face?