For the Love of Language

My son is starting to talk.

This is no surprise, as this is generally something humans do as they grow up.  It is a normal part of speech.  But, as a lover of language, this provides an interesting look into the process of learning a language.  I haven’t spent a ton of time around children, prior to having my own, and so I was mostly unaware of the various stages that children go through as they learn to communicate.  So it is amazing to see him learn his name, and point to his eyes.  To see him name things and decide on his own name for things.  But as he goes through this process, so do my wife and I.

Children don’t always use items proper name, and so we almost, most of the time, usually, are able to translate what he wants; avo, or cado, means avocado; peebee is peanut butter; beebee is belly button or baby.  These are the easy ones, almost anyone could figure these out.  But then we get into the next level; our dog’s name becomes Mimo, for Milo; Toodles for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (it’s a character in the show), and the eternal PaBa versus Papa debate.  Then there is the downright hilarious.  He was toddling around one day saying, “beesch.”  I was confused, and a little concerned that my son was using words that were perhaps too far above his grade-level.  Turns out he wanted his beads.  Sometimes the mind hears things strangely.  He also has trouble with L’s; so “clock” comes out in a disturbing way; that one was figured out because he also said, “tic toc,” after the mildly offending word.  Context, folks, it matters.

What I’ve decided is that instead of spending all this money on cyphers and codes, the military should just pay some families; one feeds the story to the toddler, record what the kid says, send it to the other and let them translate.  The parents are the only ones who will be able to figure out what the kid is saying, and anyone intercepting the recording will be bored to tears trying to watch it.  It’s secure and unbreakable!

Which brings up one of the biggest things that has worried me about raising a child: how do I pass on my love of language?  We read a story every night, and it fills my heart with happiness when he brings me a book, even in the middle of the day.  I have made an effort to speak to him throughout the day, not just his level, but just out loud.  I watch shows in different languages so that he can learn the lyrical qualities of other cultures.  As he grows up, I want to continue to encourage a passion in reading, in music and theatre and art.  I want him to know about the classics of Shakespeare and Keats.  To find the joy in the sparse language of Hemingway, or the perverse humor of Steven King.  I want him to grow up with a love of language like I have.

Which, really, is the crux of it.  I recognize the power of language.  I recognize that language is a powerful tool.  In fact, it is the only tool that matters; if we are not able to communicate to each other, how could we grow together as a society.  Good storytelling is based on language.  Good theatre, or poetry, or music, is based on language.  Good public policy is based on language.  Good relationships are based on language.

Language is a powerful thing; it allows us to get our thoughts into someone else’s brain, to reach across cultures and time, to influence, and be influenced.  It conveys emotion and thoughts, truth and lies.  We name the unnamable, and conquer the universe, while sitting in our armchairs.  People forget how powerful language can be; we speak of Doctor King, but it is his words we remember.  We know of Hemingway, but it is his stories we retell.  Language gives us the ability to share our lives with others, and maybe we should all be better at listening.

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