Not taking no for an answer

On Quora, I was recently asked: „Why is toddler’s first most used word ‘NO’?“ And having raised a daughter, I consider myself an expert on questions like this, so I sat down and wrote a lengthy answer.

Others had already posited that it is because „no“ is among the easiest words to pronounce. Judy Johnson ventured that the toddler hears „no“ a lot so that is what he or she says back.

Most of these answers presuppose that it’s because „no“ is such a short, monosyllabic word and easy to pronounce forcefully („NO!“).

This is not true for many other languages. Take a few samples:

  • „tsis muaj“ (Hmong )
  • „heç bir“ (Aserbaidshani)
  • „a bhaalsuu myaha m“ (Burmese)
  • „hindi“ (Filipino)
  • „ochi“ (Greek )
  • „bomi“ (Laotian)
  • „tsy misy“ (Madagascari)
  • „kahore“ (Maori)
  • „tidak“ (Malyan)
  • „sam bith“ (Galic Scotish)
  • „kisidu“ (Singhali“)
  • „hakuna“ (Suaheli)
  • „akukho“ (Xhoa)
  • „kungekho“ (Zulu)

Saying no often involves rather complex polysyllabic words or even more than one word (4 in Burmese).

No, I think we need to fall back on the idea that nixing something a grownup tells you is part of your maturing process as a toddler. Voicing opposition to get one’s own way, after all, is an important part of personality development.

Of course, it may just be a cultural thing. Perhaps kids in aggressive, English-speaking countries are just by nature more contradicatarian then elsewhere. Toddlers in Zululand or Burma might be more respectful towards their parents ands elders…

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