Emma’s Language

Emma’s language continues to fascinate.  What follows are a number of examples demonstrating Emma’s creative use of the English language.

This morning she said tearfully, “ Rope?”

I now know she was asking me to help her find Merlin’s cat toy, which Emma has become particularly fond of.  It resembles a fishing rod, only it’s plastic and at the end of a thinner plastic “line” is a cat’s version of a fishing fly.  The “fly” has feathers in royal blue and black though ours, or I should say, Emma’s no longer has any feathers.  Just a few defeated bristles are all that remain.  I tried to get Emma to call the toy “Merlin’s cat catcher”.  Emma repeated the words and then said, “rope,” in a matter-of-fact tone.  Fair enough, saying rope is certainly easier than the tongue twister I was suggesting.  Emma’s interest in Merlin’s toy is not to engage Merlin in any sort of play.  She likes to hold it and chew on the thinner plastic line.  Merlin, under the misguided impression it is still his toy, leaps at the bristled end and tries to grab it in his mouth.  Emma ignores him unless prompted by one of us to use it to play with him.  At which point she will whip the thing around her head so violently Merlin runs away.  Mission accomplished.  No one can accuse Emma of not being able to creatively problem solve.

“Leash?” Emma said the other day.  “Leash” is short hand for any number of things:  tape measure, jump rope, belt or dog’s leash.  It began out in Colorado where she loves to hold the leash attached to one of my mothers’ two German Shepherds.  She is actually terrified of most dogs, including my mother’s.  Giving her the leash to hold is one way to calm her when we are taking the dogs for a walk.  But since we do not own a dog in New York City I know when she asks, she is looking for my tape measure or less frequently her jump rope.

This morning Emma sat on the floor and looked at some work sheets that had been sent home in her backpack.  There were a series of numbers referring to corresponding red dots.  Emma looked at the number and said, “What’s that letter?”  She then counted the red dots, ” One, two, THREE!”

“What’s that number, Emma?”  I said.  “It’s a number.”

Dutifully Emma repeated, “What’s that number?  One, two, three, four.  FOUR!” She looked up at me and smiled.  “What’s that letter?”  She said pointing to the number 6 on the next work sheet.

“It’s a number, Em.  Look these are numbers and this,” I drew the letter A, “is a letter.  Can you see the difference?”

Emma nodded her head.  “A”, she said.

It was not clear she understood the difference.

As I watched her counting and naming the numbers I thought about how it must all seem so arbitrary to her.  A number, a letter, a rope, a leash, a toy…  All things we learn to identify at a very young age and never think about again.  But for Emma this is not the case.  Why would the symbol for a quantity – say the number 3 – be any different than the letter G if one does not understand quantity?  If one continues along this line of thinking all the names we apply to letters in the alphabet must seem incomprehensible.  Why is the letter H called “Aich”?  It’s phonetic sound doesn’t offer any clues either as it’s the sound one makes when hit in the solar plexis or something resembling a whispered “huh”.   As anyone knows who has attempted to learn the English language, for every rule there is an exception, making it an exceedingly difficult language to learn.

The other night Emma was recounting our trip to Costa Rica, something she often does.  She tapped her stomach and said, “Now go bang-bang!”  Which means she was remembering how her stomach hurt.  “Now see thunder.” She added.  Meaning she remembered her headache.  “Make you cry.”  She said and proceeded to pretend cry while looking at her reflection in the mirror.

We have an African Senufo Bird in our loft which is a primitive statue carved from wood.  It stands about five and half feet tall and Emma refers to it as – “giraffe”.  I have corrected her on numerous occasions, but she remains unconvinced.

Yesterday, seated next to Emma while she ate her breakfast, she looked at my upper arm and said,  “Ahhhh… you bit.”  She made a sad face while pointing to three scars on my arm, which I received when I broke my shoulder about 14 years ago.  The doctors inserted three metal rods into my arm to facilitate the mending of the broken bones.  Emma has never mentioned the scars, so it was interesting that she took notice and then showed genuine compassion for what she imagined must have happened – that I bit myself.  Something Emma does to herself when her frustration becomes unbearable.  That Emma was relating the scars on my arm to an action she often takes and was identifying with it was remarkable and very hopeful.

I have come to appreciate Emma’s use of language.   I would like to become fluent in it.

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