Saturday, July 25, 2009

the language gap

Every time I'm around my friends' typically developing 2 and 3 year olds (typicals), I go through a three-step process. First, I am simply astonished that they can answer my questions about things like what they did yesterday or what exactly they are doing with that toy teaset. Second, I tell myself that these kids must be so advanced, that being professor's children must give them a leg up on language learning. And third, I have that moment of heartbreak when I realize that it is not this kid who is far ahead, but my own kid who is so far behind. Martin (who is five) cannot reliably tell you what he did yesterday. Every once in a while he can let you into his world of imaginary play with a sentence like, "The toy ducks are going to the ocean."

Because Martin is my oldest child and Sasha is only just learning how to say a few words (she's 14 months), I have no idea what it would be like to raise a child who can talk to you. I have no idea what it would be like to take a kid trick-or-treating without cue cards. I have no sense for what my days would be like if it would be easier for Martin to tell me when he's hungry and thirsty.

Some philosophers say that our experience of the world is organized, understood, made possible even, by language. (If you're a Wittengenstein specialist, stop reading right now because I'll probably get some of this wrong.) That's why we don't have memories from our earliest childhood - because we didn't have language. We begin to have memories when we have enough language to hold onto them. I wonder if Martin will remember anything about being three, four, even five. What would it be like to be unable to remember parts of your life that everyone else seems to have at least fleeting memories of?


  1. Jen, it could be because I mostly read Buddhist stuff these days, but maybe memories are overrated. THey encourage us to believe in permanence, in permanent selves. Maybe Martin will be free of all the self baggage that "normal" people carry around. Maybe he will live in the moment, take people for who they are instead for who he's been pre-conditioned to think they are, etc. Maybe it's a gift, albeit a frustrating one for a parent. I am sure you will learn a lot from Martin that I will never learn from Gus. Different things. Both worthwhile. Much love, k.

  2. By the way, love the name. :)

  3. Love this stuff, Jen. Oh to be just over a washed out bridge from you four again. Would be more than honored to be able to trade care, laugh and cry, and talk these things through in person on a regular basis. The bit on Durham in one of these posts reminded me just how much I'd like for us to get back there for a bit.


  4. I really appreciate what you are doing with this blog. I have to say that I don't really remember being three, four, or even five. I agree with Kate, that memories are overrated. I'm not surprised that Martin doesn't like some of the fast-paced movies made by Pixar and Disney. What about Bedknobs and Broomsticks? I haven't seen that in awhile so I can't remember the whole thing. You might want to watch it first. I work in a school where the kids are always going, going, going, so I think it's important to slow things down and just be.