When I was in college I took a child development class with a lab, complete with Osh Kosh B’Gosh clad tots. We studied how they picked up language. It was fascinating.
I remember one experiment in particular. The little kids would be shown pictures of an action word–with different illustrations to show verb tenses:
–See the toy? Soon the baby will play.
–The baby is playing now.
–The baby played with the toy before being tucked into bed.
Then the young subject would be shown a picture of somebody doing something random like touching a spot on the wall. They were provided with a made up word describing the activity.
–The lady is clonking,
–Soon she will clonk,
“Clonked!” the small people in their Velcro sneakers would inevitably answer. Voila! They were somehow able to generalize grammar rules without actually being taught how to do it with a new word.
Unfortunately I can’t remember how they knew what to do with the conjugation rule.
And he did this one thing in particular that just knocked me out.
His favorite meal was monana (macoroni and cheese) which he would eat 24/7 if given the opportunity. Which he wasn’t.
(Except when his parents weren’t home and I was babysitting.) In any case, if you asked him what he wanted for breakfast, lunch or dinner, he football chanted: Mo-na-na! Mo-na-na!
But the wildly interesting thing he came up with was to use his revered word in vain.
‘Monana!’ he uttered if the remote was removed from his little fingers.
‘Monana’ he exclaimed when told he couldn’t go outside.
‘Monana’ he yelled at the stupid puzzle piece that wouldn’t fit.
He had, without instruction, figured out that the same word could be used both sacredly and profanely.
His discovery of the plasticity of language has been particularly fascinating as I, too, have found myself at a linguistic frontier. I turn on the news, see the latest obscenity committed by our president and without warning a conga line of curses come out of my mouth.
Words that have never before crossed my lips now dance out holding hands — employed as nouns, adverbs and adjectives. All in the same sentence.
I’ve been trying harder to edit myself (I am a grandmother, after all) so let me say to Mr. Trump and all of those in the GOP who are cool with letting Americans die from pre-existing conditions, orphaning children at the border and sucking up to the NRA: