Charles Heslett: Boo hoo! Should we be talking down (or up) to our babies?

Are some parents guilty of talking rubbish to their children?
Are some parents guilty of talking rubbish to their children?
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We’ve all seen them, cooing maniacally at a wide-eyed baby strapped helplessly into a pram.

Their gibberish is often mind-blowingly incomprehensible and their questions pointless in the extreme: “Cootchie, cootchie coo, goo goo gaa gaa, who’s a big baby boo boo?”

They may descend into even more inane questions such as “Who wants to go beddy byes?” or “Who needs an ‘ickle sleepy byes?”, uttered with a bizarre intonation like the Swedish chef on The Muppets.

But who is this infantilised claptrap really for? Do babies really want bow wows and choo choos instead of dogs and trains – or is it adults who secretly enjoy a good incoherent chat?

According to a report out earlier this year, lazy linguists and their baby babble could be doing infants a great disservice. Research from the University of British Columbia and the Université Paris Descartes has discovered babies as young as seven months can distinguish between two languages – even when they have vastly different grammatical structures such as English and Hindu. Which is how children adapt so easily to more than one language.

So despite the fact they are frequently exposed to barrages of mindless drivel, babies are technically brilliant at languages.

Perhaps the world-weary eight-month-old despairs at the logic behind “bow wow”, a particularly confusing piece of baby talk. After all, dogs make a barking sound; they do not say “bow wow” or “woof woof”. And why does everything have to be repeated twice or have at least two words?

No wonder babies sometimes have a cross expression on their faces. It must be the sheer frustration of not being able to tell someone to stop talking rubbish.

At this stage I must point out that I am not a parent but I have been guilty of patronising children in the past, albeit unintentionally.

On one occasion I had been dragged, like a reluctant teenager, by my missus to Ikea in Birstall and we had in tow my six-year-old nephew who was visiting from Ireland.

Thinking he looked as bored as I did as we traipsed around furniture displays, I decided to have some “fun” and got into one of the display shower cubicles, pretending to wash myself in an amusing fashion. I expected my young charge to love this moment of hilarity.

But with a tired look suggesting he had witnessed this type of adult behaviour once too often, he informed me the shower was not plumbed in. In fact, it was only a display unit and not even a real bathroom.

Undeterred, in the home office section I sat behind one of the desks and pretended to be Lord Sugar of The Apprentice fame.

I pointed at my nephew sitting patiently opposite me and told him: “You’re fired!”

He replied: “You’re stupid”.

When we got home I even had to turn the football over so he could watch a programme on lava flow and tectonic plates.

Another time, a mate’s five-year-old put me right when I referred to the sausages on his plate as battleships during a dinnertime game. “They’re only sausages”, he told me seriously, apparently worried I might believe his dinner was actually a warship.

So the next time you bend over a pushchair to deliver some vapid drivel, think about what you say. Choose your words with a little care and consideration, maybe even use a well-known and useful phrase.

The child may not respond immediately but you can be safe in the knowledge your contribution will have been absorbed into their linguistic development – especially if it was a swear word.

The city’s ‘ugliest’ building has a place in my heart

So the old YEP building is set to be demolished.

A planning application has been lodged to knock down the concrete printing giant that Prince Charles unveiled in 1970.

When the YEP ran a poll a few years back about the worst building in Leeds, guess which was voted top? The paper’s very own “Brutalist” home, of course! But despite this damning indictment, I love its stark design – and the fact it was created solely for the production of newspapers and was once a hive of activity with 1,300 staff bustling about inside.

And I’m not the only one who loves it, there’s already a campaign under way to save the landmark clock tower which looms over the ring road.

Had the building been clad in white marble, as originally planned, English Heritage might have been inclined to step in.

But they used brown/grey pebble-dashed concrete instead.

And there were only a few hundred of us rattling around in it by the end.

There’ll always be a place in my heart for the Wellington Street newsroom bunker – and in my shed, after I rescued some of the original clock sign letters from a skip.

Hurling - a game that puts sport, and not money, first

While over in Dublin visiting my in-laws I caught the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final on the telly.

I watched the first half at their home and the remainder while supping a Guinness in the departure lounge before my flight home.

The match was impressive, living up to its reputation as the world’s fastest field team game.

Super-fit players from Cork and Clare used wooden sticks (hurleys) to hit or carry a stitched leather-covered cork ball (sliotar) up field towards a netted goal which also had upright posts.

They then tried to score a point by hitting the ball between the posts or a goal (worth three points) by firing it past the keeper. All in front of a crowd of 81,653 fans at Croke Park.

What was more impressive is that the players are all amateurs and have to hold down day jobs despite being some of the country’s most recognisable sportsmen.

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which runs the sport, is a voluntary organisation. And the game, thought to be 3,000-years-old, remains at the heart of communities across Ireland.

It was nice to just marvel at the skill on display and not have in the back of your mind that player X cost £100m, or had just written off his gold-plated Ferrari.

Sunday’s final was a draw – Cork’s three goals and 16 points cancelling out Clare’s 25 points.

There was no golden goal, no crushing penalty shoot-out as on Saturday, September 28, another full house will watch the replay. And if I can find it on a screen in Leeds, I will too.

Spectators at Edgewater Park in Cleveland watch the sun set as the planet Venus crosses the upper right portion of the star, Tuesday, June 5, 2012. The next transit of Venus won't be for another 105 years. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

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