Eventual Kids and Grammar

Some of my eventual-kid plans get inflicted on my current, not-my kids.  Case in point: grammar.  One of my biggest pet peeves is the syntax (which is generally poor) of children’s books and television.  I am not sure who thought it would be a good idea to take a group of people (because kids are people, yo) who are just learning language and model poor language.  Sounds like a recipe to make language learning even harder – like pronouns aren’t hard enough on their own.  Try to explain pronouns to someone with limited verbal skills and comprehension sometime.  For additional fun and frustration, assume that person has a maximum attention span of twenty seconds – void immediately if there’s a garbage truck sighting, candy nearby, or anything remotely shiny/sparkly catches their eye.

Boo and I rarely watch television, which takes care of that problematic influence pretty handily.  It’s hard enough for a toddler to figure out the first person, without shoving a furry red monster with a big orange nose and third-person speaking tendencies down their throats. I mean, yes, it’s an easy shove, but still: it’s hard enough.  I understand keeping the language basic, for comprehension, but basic doesn’t have to mean wrong

My solution is to change things; I do think I know better than the professionals.  Boo can’t read, and if he could, I’d be less concerned with his developing speech – if for no other reason than he had the language ability to read at two.  I’d read (ha) into that as him possessing some natural ability in that area of intelligence.  When I read to Boo, I change things.  A lot.  Since I’m consistent with my changes, he’s still unaware and doesn’t complain.  As a mental exercise for myself, I try to keep my changes true to the characters and their stories, and rhyming bits still rhyming.  (When I’m desperate, the latter involves two changes.)  I don’t know if there’s some sort of standard to amputate the –ly on adverbs in children’s books, but it’s pretty much an epidemic.  I religiously replace them.  I dutifully fix them. We might not watch Elmo on the tv, but the kid has a bunch of books about him.  Any Elmo read by me is a master of pronoun usage and speaks in the first person. 

Since I change the syntax, I figure I might as well change the words when I don’t care for the printed option.  This basically involves editing out words I’d prefer not to have Boo use – mostly things like ‘hate’ and ‘stupid.’  Hate generally morphs into something more civilized, such as loathe or abhor. (If a kiddo told me that they loathe broccoli and abhor spinach, I’d probably find it adorable and give them a cookie.)  If it works with the context, such as a character not wanting to eat his or her candy (Little Pea!) it might instead become “don’t care for” or “that’s not my favorite.”  Basically, I employ characters and books to further model the language I’d like to hear back from the kid.  Characters in books, even the antagonists, always say “please” and “thank you.”  If I expect him to learn to speak properly, I have an obligation to him to provide him with examples of how to do so.

In addition to editing books to make them more courteous and correct, I also change things to breakdown traditional barriers.  Might as well go all-in, right?  Firemen become firefighters.  Policemen are police officers or officers of the law.  Mailmen?  Mail carriers.  In my version of What do People Do All Day there’s no mention of why Grocer Cat brings home a new dress for Mother Cat; he just does.  (In Richard Scarry’s original version she “earns” it by “taking such good care of the house.”)  Most of these changes update classic works.  The original versions fit with the time when they were written, but times have changed.  They are still fantastic books, and I absolutely adore sharing books from my past…some bits of them just need to reflect the present.  I’m not expecting huge dividends from these changes; they are just another, fairly subtle, way to make stories influence developing thoughts and standards.  After all, in What do People Do All Day the grocer is a cat and the firefighters are pigs, so I don’t think my pronouns or gender-neutralizing tricks are really the limiting factor as to whether my future daughter will feel like she can become a firefighter – I mean, sure, it’s no longer fireMEN, but I’m planning on her not being a pig.

Admittedly, my grammar is less than perfect.   I have a tendency to be conversational and “relaxed.”  (Relaxed sounds much nicer than lazy, no?)  Even when I don’t speak or write properly I still know how to do so.  It’s sort of like trying new foods and sharing: once one develops a solid grasp of the skill, it becomes acceptable to take breaks from it, when the situation and company is acceptable. The rest of the time?  It ain’t.


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