Friday, October 28, 2016

The words

Any parent or grandparent will know what I’m talking about when I say it is downright unbelievably remarkable to talk to a young child who has launched himself on the trajectory of “learning to talk.”

I’m not talking about “first words,” although they are a once-in-a-lifetime treat.

I’m talking about, say, 3 ½ to 4 years old, when the chatterbox gene kicks in, when the kid is talking a blue streak and making sense, omigosh, that’s the time to admit that life is good, it’s time to share the mind of the child, it’s time to realize that he understands everything you say, even if he can’t say everything that’s on his mind, it’s time to be filled with joy as you have a real conversation with that young human being, as you realize that there is delight and reward in listening to what he has to say, in understanding a little bit of his world….

The details of learning to talk are startling. I rely on Dr. Robin Dunbar’s Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language for these milestone numbers:
“A human baby produces its first real words at about eighteen months of age. By the age of two, it has become quite vocal and has a vocabulary of some fifty words. Over the next year it learns new words daily, and by the age of three it can use about 1000 words…Its command of grammar is already nearly as competent as an adult’s…By the age of six, the average child has learned to use and understand around 13,000 words; by eighteen, it will have a working vocabulary of about 60,000 words…This is an extraordinary achievement.”(1)

Indeed, it’s a remarkable story.

Next chance you get, make your day: ask your 4-year-old to tell you a story.

(1) Robin Dunbar, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1997), 3.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

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