The meaning of “Uh uh”


IMG_9448In college my first infatuation was linguistics, the study of language. I took German, French and Russian all at the same time. One thing that I learned from this experience was that a sentence is a unit of meaning. Verbs, nouns and objects are unnecessary. For example:
“Is he rich?”

The second sentence contains no verb, no noun, no subject and no object. It is clearly a sentence. It expresses the meaning: “He is wealthy.”

Why am I talking about my college days? I recently learned that “Uh uh” is one such a sentence.
Chloe began saying this about a week ago. I found it odd but at first I did not connect the dots. She started saying “uh uh” when Lauralei, our baby girl umbrella cockatoo, was in her face. The first time I remember hearing this was when the baby put her head in Chloe’s “nest box.” I understood from the look on Chloe’s face that she did not want to hurt Lauralei but she wanted the baby out of her way. So I took the baby and put her on the other side of the “divider,” a crock pot. Chloe went back to her box satisfied.

Several times she used a petulant tone and the “uh uh” sound called me to be a referee. It took nearly a week before I realized where this “sentence” came from. “Uh huh” was something Lauralei said when she was protesting something that I was doing. Even a bird person can miss the obvious.

The only time Chloe uses the sound is when the baby is bothering her. As in Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” where Gollum got his name from the sound that he made, Chloe had christened the baby “Uh uh.” Chloe uses it as a name and a request at the same time. “Hey, you! You who brought this creature into my home get Lauralei out of her now!” Chloe uses the sound Lauralei makes to identify the “problem” and draw my attention to it. Yes, Chloe has a name for Lauralei!

Because I react to Chloe’s call I have reinforced the behavior. Whenever Chloe wants me to deal with Lauralei she says “uh uh.” This is the essence of reward training. Behavior is a function of its consequences. Had I not responded that would have left only fight or flight; neither of these options is satisfactory.

Human language develops in much the same way; the study of linguistics is ongoing and we do not have all the answers yet.

The rabbit hole goes deeper as we shall see.

I realized something else. I use “uh uh” instead of “NO” with Chloe. Apparently, Lauralei learned this “word” from me. If I put her in her cage she says “uh uh.” If it move her from something she wants to destroy she says it, too. This realization sent a shudder down my spine. She clearly uses the sound I use to tell me “no.” She is using the word as I use it with Chloe. She understands the meaning of “uh uh.”
Intelligent? Oh baby!


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