“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” Voltaire

Voltaire, who said a lot of things, has probably been the most ardent and most quoted free speech champion of all time. What is speech? When and how do we learn it? How do we think without speech? What is “free speech”, and why is it so important to a free people? Is free thought even possible without free speech?


Studies have shown that human brains are “hard wired” for speech, that babies recognize and respond to the sounds they hear before birth, and even in the womb the child may “practice” sounds. Some researchers and many parents are aware that babies learn grammar and process imaginative ideas long before previously thought.

My daughter finally had her treasured girl (after five boys), and one day when Andreina was about five months old her mother told me she thought she was already talking. My own children had been rather precocious speakers, but I told my daughter Andreina probably couldn’t be speaking so young. Leah, our dog, came walking by and Andreina stuck her lip out, glared at me defiantly, smacked the dog and said, “Hi, Leah.” I’ll be darned if I know when and how children understand language. Leah was about all the baby babbled on about for some months, but she sure wanted me to know she could talk.

My best advice to parents is to speak to your children about everything, don’t use “baby” talk, and assume they understand just about everything you say.

I have decided here to add in about my eldest son who now speaks several languages and is big in the linguistics field.

When he was a baby, around a year old, I would try to get him to say something, anything would do. He stubbornly kept his mouth shut for months and I couldn’t  get him to even wave “bye-bye”. One evening when he was 17 months old we decided to go out for dinner and as I was putting his sister in her car seat, he started to whimper. “Don’t cry,” I said, “We’re going to feed you soon.” He stopped for a second, then said, “Are we getting Chinese soup and noodles?” I was stunned and tried to get him to talk to his dad when he got into the car. No deal. He didn’t say a word until we pulled up to the restaurant, then this is what we heard, “Oh boy, Chinese soup and noodles, my favorite. Are we getting egg rolls, too? Do you think Steve (the waiter) will give me extra fortune cookies?” We figured out later that he didn’t like doing anything until he knew how and had a horror of being thought stupid. By the way, he never closed his mouth again, taught himself to read, saw a book on learning Norwegian, asked me to buy it and proceeded to try learning how to speak it.

Never underestimate your children.

Part Two tomorrow.

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