Thursday, February 5, 2009

He's always wagging me!

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet says to the players: "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you, trippingly on the tongue..."

I started this blog really just to have a place to write down and keep in one place all the little isms of my life - truths I uncover along the way, cute things my kids say or do, lessons I hope to remember and, more importantly, teach to my kids. This one falls into the second category but I love it also because it demonstrates something that I always used to try to teach my students: language changes.

When Hamlet instructs the players (actors) to pronounce the speech "trippingly on the tongue" we understand exactly what he means. "Trippingly" is not an adverb in our current lexicon but we still understand it. In fact, more than just understanding it, you can almost feel what Hamlet means, the words rolling off of tongues so quickly that they are almost tripping over themselves to come out. Shakespeare is known, ne revered, for this kind of language play. His wordsmithing is legendary.

Now that I have a three year old, it amazes me to have a little wordsmith of my own. Along with my three year old and one year old, we share our home with two dogs. Correct that: with two big dogs. Two big dogs with big long tails. Two big dogs with big long tails that think they need to be everywhere and go everywhere with us. Where we go they go. Where we are they are. Very often as we try to make our way out the door the dogs are crowding along down the stairs or the hallway.

Yesterday we were headed out the door and the dogs were campaigning to come along as usual. Will was trying to get down the stairs to go out with the dogs in his way and he protested (loudly), "Mom, the dogs are always wagging me!"

I love that. My three year old taking language and making it his own. This is what Shakespeare was all about - taking language and playing with it. Sure, it's not correct in the grammatical sense but you understand what he's trying to say and, actually, he has taken the verb "to wag" and imbued it with more meaning. When he says that the dogs are "wagging him" we understand not just that they are wagging their tails but that they are wagging their tails and hitting him with them.

This morning he was using the toilet and wanted to "do it private" so he asked me to close the door. I obliged by shutting the door but leaving it slightly cracked. Will then said to me, "No mommy, do it lockingly." I don't think you'll find the adverb "lockingly" in the dictionary but his meaning was clear.

I'm not saying that Will is Shakespeare in training. That's not my meaning at all. You have to understand how language works, some of the "rules" of language in order to bend them. But a three year old, by virtue of listening to people talk, has started to grasp some of the basic rules and apply them to convey his thoughts. Will cannot tell you what an adverb is but he made the word "lock" into one to suit his meaning. I love that about language: we can take words and play with them, use them in new ways to convey new meanings.

The primary purpose of language is to express human thought and emotion. Many people suggest that our power to use language is one of the key things that separates humans from animals. We use language to convey to others what is happening in our worlds, our minds, our hearts. To bend language to suit that purpose is, I think, one of the essences of being human.

But I do hope we'll always have dogs that wag us.

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