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When Does “Uh-Oh!” Enter a Child’s Vocabulary?

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Susan from Seattle, Washington, has observed her toddler granddaughter starting to exclaim Uh-oh! when something goes amiss. Is that something she picked up from adults, or do adults pick it up from children? By 18 months, children have already developed a repertoire of two-word expressions, and they acquire uh-oh at a time when they’re starting to learn about values between yes and no, and nuances of meaning. They begin to learn, for example, that uh-oh can express dismay but not worry. The interjection uh-oh! is what linguists call a discourse marker, a small utterance that, in this case, changes what we expect to hear. This is part of a complete episode.

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