Sunday, December 30, 2007

Them's learnin' words

I have much more to say about Christmas, but I think I’ll leave it alone for now and talk about something new: Language acquisition.

The entire concept is pretty amazing, really; it’s even more amazing to witness it happening in a real person. I never truly understood the power of imitation, what little parrots we all are as children. It’s no wonder that these are golden years for absorbing words, learning to speak multiple tongues, etc. because pretty much all a hearing child does is mimic the bigger people around him. Sometimes this is cute; sometimes it is obnoxious or even dangerous. Often, it reveals how a human brain moves from generalities to specifics to rule exceptions.

Marcus is beginning to figure out past tenses. He’s applying generalized rules already, and this part is cute:

“Hey Mama, camel comed to see giraffe and he had Christmas present.”

“Hey, that Silent Night—we singed that in big church.”

He doesn’t yet grasp that some verbs are irregular, and can’t be changed into past tense simply by adding a “d,” but hey, he’s 2 ½—I’m impressed that he is applying any rule at all. And he’ll figure it out, as time goes by. He’ll get to know the tenses a little better, will start to understand how to turn all verbs into past tense, even in our unpredictable, unlawful English language. He’s figured out that there’s a yesterday, a now, a tomorrow that is yet to come, and that you refer to them in different ways to signify time of action. It’s awesome.

Not so awesome is his eagerness to repeat what he hears spoken. Yesterday, we made the mistake of turning on the TV, and the movie Bruce Almighty was playing on one of the stations. We left it on, foolishly—and don’t get me wrong, I thought the movie was rather clever and much better than I’d expected it to be—but at one point, Jim Carrey screamed “You suck!” Shortly thereafter we turned the TV off.

Now, Marcus never said a word about this. Never commented, didn’t respond with a facial expression, nothing. And what does he say today to his father? Without prompting? You guessed it: “You suck.” Todd was flabbergasted. I was horrified—but remembered in a flash where the kid had learned such rudeness. Yes, our own fault completely—and a good reminder of how everything a child hears is funneled through his awareness and stashed away somewhere inside. EVERYthing. Especially the stuff you were hoping he didn’t hear.

So, I’ll continue to be rendered speechless by my child’s language development skills—both by the progress therein, and by the disgust I feel when I hear my own words spouting forth from his tiny, clueless mouth.


Athelas63 said...

Ah, you're just now finding out what an eager little blob of silly putty the human brain is! It stashes a copy of EVERYTHING away, to be used at the most unexpected moments - usually pulled and stretched j-u-s-t enough to be different from the original. Don't sweat it tho - as 4-letter words go, 'suck' is pretty damned tame!(whoops - don't let Marcus read this!) (note, however, I DID use past tense correctly.... :)

Mel said...

It's alarming, what they pick up. I know that little kids are super-language-attuned, but still--makes you wonder what the rest of us are picking up and retaining from this messed-up, media-driven culture.

I knew I was in trouble the first time the kid said, "Right now!" Yep, he could've snagged that phrase right out of my own trap. Embarrassing.

chris h. said...

Ah yes, those little pitchers. My own 2-1/2-year-old great-nephew discovered a couple days ago that it was hilarious to turn "Aunt Chrissy" into "Aunt Pissy" and say it over and over (having no idea why that wasn't the right thing to do...and I'm sure not intentionally making any editorial comment on his favorite aunt's demeanor!)

Mel said...

omigosh, Aunt Pissy is priceless. LOL.

Cari Skuse said...

Oh yes, they pick up everything. And usually the bad stuff. But don't worry too much. They usually forget the bad word quickly (at least mine did). Carrick just like to call things (like Mark) "anal". Just because I said it about something Mark did. And he is anal.
Just beware of Mark. You know his judgment of what is OK. We just had a round of why it is not OK to teach the kids "Here I sit all broken-hearted...."