Thursday, January 17, 2008

Speaking Faux-English

Both Baxter and Kirby have, on occasion, tried to talk to us. Baxter's attempts at speech usually take place when two or more people are standing and talking. For some reason, this drives him crazy. He likes it better when we're sitting in chairs talking. Perhaps that's because we're closer to his level. Or perhaps he associates standing and talking with the logistics of leaving and wants to make sure he's included in the conversation. In any case, when my husband and I do engage in an on-the-fly, standing conversation, Baxter inevitably comes and stands next to us. If we don't acknowledge him, he starts yowling. This is not a bark and it's not a bay. It involves pursing his lips into a near-circle and sounds something like:

"Row woo woo oooo!"

At first it was cute. We were impressed. But he's still at it eight years later. Still, I have to admit that while it is disruptive, we can't help but laugh when he does it.

I don't know if Kirby picked it up from Baxter or if he's just improvising on his own, but he's been honing his faux-English skills as well. Kirby's attempts at speech usually take place when he wants something from us and we're not paying attention to his poinking (that's when he takes his little nose and pokes you with it, amazingly hard) or his pawing of our legs. He looks earnestly into my eyes and starts articulating sounds that are spookily close to sounding like actual words.

The other night he hit a new, more complex level of articulation. As we sat on the couch watching a movie, he came up to me and put his paws on my leg (he ALWAYS has to go outside about 20 minutes into a matter what). I ignored him. He tried again. Finally, out of frustration, he sat down on his bum and said something like:

"Ow ow ow wingy row rewerrr, ra ngow wow wow." His face was serious. His lower lip protruded, showing his little bottom teeth. His eyes were sharply focused and unwavering.

My husband and I looked at each other in amazement. That was the longest dog sentence either of us had ever heard. It surpassed Baxter's yowling. It rivaled the dogs you see singing on television, but no howling or yowling was involved. It was low, measured and matter-of-fact. It had a rhythm and tone that rose and fell like words in a human sentence. It really seemed like he was attempting to articulate something.

Ok, ok, for all of you scientists out there, I'm not claiming that Kirby was speaking human language (and my transcription may not be entirely accurate). But I do think he may have been trying to mimic sounds that get our attention as we humans talk to each other. He certainly succeeded. He got his trip outside. I'm now certain he will do it again and again and again.

Now he's taking it to non-humans. Yesterday I heard Kirby in the laundry room making low, growly word-like sounds. He was talking to the hamper. "What the..?" I wondered to myself. About the same time I went in to investigate, so did my husband. Kirby was sitting there looking up at a bag on the top of the hamper...a bag that held a stuffed moose that was in need of repair.

Perhaps he thought if the sweet talking worked on us, he might be able to convince the moose to come out of the bag. We may never know. But I'm looking forward to the next thing he says (and to Baxter expanding his repertoire as well).

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