The Things Children Say

Picking up clues

I am fascinated by how children acquire understanding of our particularly complex and somewhat contrived language. I assume it is the same for all languages – children hear words; they link contexts; they check voice tone and to whom the words were spoken.

There is that other aspect of language which is mostly gathered through intuition or instinct. This is where the child must try to make sense of what they thought they heard or what something sounded like. “Our Father chart in Devon” is a common misunderstanding. I remember as a child going to several sailors’ work events instead of sales of work (craft fairs).

Adults find mis-quotes and mispronunciations amusing, to the consternation of the child who has no idea what created such uproar. It is even more disconcerting when the child is asked to repeat what they just said so that the grown-ups can have another laugh. I remember with some fondness, my daughter’s ‘eyebrowses’ and ‘particilarily’.

As parents and practitioners, we strive to provide the best role model for language and vocabulary within ourselves, which is probably why we are so highly entertained when the child creates their own words.

Sounding like a native

Making sense of the world of language is quite a feat. Each language has its own anomalies and eccentricities. English is one of the most common spoken languages in the world, but in order to understand what you are saying, you almost have to have been born into it.

I remember the mother of one of my school friends inviting us to have a ‘hen sandwich’. There was nothing wrong with what she said. In fact it was probably a more accurate description of the bird now deceased, but it sounded odd. It made the sandwich appear less palatable because there were connotations associated with hen as opposed to chicken. In the same way, people prefer to eat lamb rather than mutton.

The emphasis of a syllable within a word can change the meaning: produce – where the emphasis is on the ‘prod’, it inevitably indicates something grown such as vegetables, or fruit. Where the emphasis is on the ‘duce’ it could mean that a magician has made a rabbit appear out of a hat, or a shop assistant has found the very thing we want to buy!

My head is hurting already.

Time for a break?

This is the time when most parents set off on a sometimes long and challenging journey to a place called a holiday venue. There are endless possibilities for misunderstandings of terminology. They should always be noted and written down, not least because they can serve to embarrass a ‘cool’ and ‘shady’ adolescent.

Before you all set off on your much deserved annual vacation, here are some examples of children setting the world straight:

  • A little boy was passing a church with his mum. He noticed the church notice board but was still a little too young to read the sign. He turned to his mum and said: “I see the church is up for sale!”
  • A little girl asked for a chocolate and as usual was told, “Only one”. “But I have another hand with nothing in it,” she replied.
  • Son to father, “Mummy won’t be sad when you die”.

Father to son, “Why not?”

Son to father, “Because she hates sloppy kisses”.

  • Lisa had just spent her first day in school. She had been very excited about the prospect and couldn’t wait to get there. Her mother collected her and was surprised how quiet and subdued she was all the way home. When they reached home, her mother said to her, “Aren’t you going out to play?” to which Lisa replied, “No, I have had enough of children to last for a while. I’m going to lie down”.
  • Silas attended a church event with his parents and the priest mentioned Jesus several times. When they returned home, Silas was indignant. “Why can the priest swear and no one tells him off?”

See you in September.

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