The Power of Language
This is the next in a series of musings inspired by visits with our wonderful granddaughter, Evie, who lives in Hong Kong.
The occasion this is an amazing event in our family's life, the wedding of our daughter, Hannah in May of 2016. This great celebration brought the whole family together, including our son, and his family, which means Evie. I will note that the wedding was an extraordinary moment. Of all family events, weddings are one of my favorites, it is a moment of incredible creation through our own actions. After all, no one chooses their parents, and few choose their children, but every couple chooses each other, and creates a new relationship, and often, family, from that choice. We are very lucky that our new son-in-law is a terrific person who cares for Hannah so well, and who we care for very much as well.
During the week after the wedding, Evie's parents took a break, and we took Evie home with us for most of a week. It was a powerful and wonderful experience spending 4 days with our 21 month old granddaughter, we really got to know her ways, her daily rhythms, who she is. It was nothing but pure delight!
She turns out to be a very witty and positive young girl, who is consumed with songs and stories. She also uses the word yes much more than I would expect.
In these posts on Evie, I like to share whatever few insights I gain observing her at various ages. The main experience that moved me this time, again at age 21 months, was the power of emerging language. Last time we were with her, her ability to understand what people say was emerging. This time, her ability to tell us in complex sentences what she is thinking is emerging.
I suppose the first thing to share is the power of song in learning to say something. Music is a totally different production of the mind from words, and seems to be a much older part of our minds. There is evidence that some human-like species, the hominin species like Homo habilis or erectus, made bone flutes that even today can make in-tune music, a million years before we Homo sapiens were evolved, long before the first word was spoken. We also know at the the end of life, songs we know are remembered long after many facts fade.
So it is very intriguing to watch Evie start her life of talking with songs. She loves songs, especially songs with gestures and strong emotion, such as "The Wheels of the Bus," "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," "Little Boy Blue," "Open-Shut Them." To name just a few. We have watched her pick up the idea of the song, and even most of the lyrics, after 2-3 rounds of singing them. Once she knows the words, she loves singing them together with us, over, and over, and over.
The tune is quickly recognized and picked up, then when one adds words, you have easy access to telling a whole story. Singing songs, like reading familiar books, opens a path to telling a story.
But telling a story turns out to go well beyond telling that story. Telling a story allows one to create one's own story. And this is the next thing we got to see with our time with Evie. Evie spends most of every moment when awake in the frame of a story. She creates a narrative that explains to herself and others, what she is doing and what she is thinking.
Her stories organize her ability to tell people her thoughts, but they also organize what her own thoughts are.
Of course, this is a fact for all of us. Give it a try, try to have a thought unconnected to any story or narrative. It is likely next to impossible to have a thought that is not part of a context, a story.
At our age, our words come pouring out, like in this post, a mile a minute, and our words achieve so many ends, but when spoken language first emerges, at any age, but typically between ages 1 and 3, we see the power of a story in full view.
And that is just where Evie is at, she is moving from understanding what we are saying, to crafting words to tell us what she is thinking, and linking them into sentences that do indeed tell us what we are thinking.
How powerful, how delightful, and what a privilege all grandparents and parents have, to watch their children and grandchildren's language emerge, and at every step to see just how powerful language is, it's not just what we say and think, it reveals how we think.
We love our time with Evie, and it is a great pleasure to share some of these moments with all of you.
To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin
Dr. Arthur Lavin
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