Pass the Juice, Mummy, Or I'll Say It in Russian

The fact that both sets of grandparents complain that Vita speaks "the other" language better is proof enough that she's a perfect little diplomat.


Her few dozen words so far divide up roughly 50-50 Russian and English with a few vital words like "more" and "me" spoken fluently in both languages just to be on the safe side.


But the question is, what will her mother tongue be? Obviously, as her mother, I hope it will be English -- it is "mother" tongue after all -- whereas I suspect her father is secretly hoping it will be Russian.


But I also fear I'm fighting a losing battle: She gets Russian all day at playschool and with her nanny, as well as with her father in the evenings, whereas I am the only reliable source of her English.


This naturally leads me to keep up a constant stream of inane commentary of the "Vita is eating her supper with a spoon" variety which leads non-parents to suspect that breeding causes previously rational adults to go soft in the head. (The point is -- bewildered non-parents take note -- that if you don't tell a child what is going on how can they ever learn the words to describe it for themselves).


But there is now undeclared war going on in the Ingram-Anichkin household: Vita and I potter on quite happily discussing her spoon-eating prowess until Papa gets home and interjects with a "Vita yest lozhkoi," which, whatever tone it's said in, nevertheless sounds more like an outright contradiction than a simple translation.


Vita, bless her, remains unfazed by her parents' apparent inability to agree on what exactly she's doing and already considers it normal that everything has two words. If "juice" doesn't get the fridge door opened she simply tries "sok" instead.


In fact a friend who grew up trilingual from birth with parents of different nationalities and living in a third country maintains that he doesn't think in any one language at all, he just thinks and the thoughts are in neither English nor Dutch nor Italian.


As an initial monolingual who has had to learn other tongues but naturally thinks in her own I find such a concept hard to grapple with, but my friend is adamant that neither his dreams, spontaneous exclamations nor innermost thoughts are more likely to come out in any particular language at all.


Meanwhile, as she watches her parents -- two apparently intelligent people who, moreover, both use language as a profession -- arguing over what she's doing, Vita just fixes us with her condescending-bewildered expression which speaks far more eloquently than any words: Come on, make your minds up -- is this a spoon or a lozhka I hold before me?