Friday, October 17, 2008

The adjectival truth

'Daddy. I've got to tell you what I did last night when you were out.'

He has come into our bed for a cuddle. It is a dark early morning, and nobody really wants to get up.

'OK,' I yawn. 'What did you do?'

'I made something. It's to do with making.'

'What did you make?'

'I made a r... r... r...'

I know this game, because we play it with him all the time. We keep in mind the idea we want him to guess, repeat the initial phoneme, and see if he can fill in the rest. 

'A rabbit?'


'A racetrack?'

'No. A really...'

'Oh. I see. R for really. A really what?'

'A really g... g... g...'


'Uh huh. A really good c... c... c...'


'No, countryside. A really good countryside.'

Nouns and adjectives. Adjectives and adverbs. What makes a noun like countryside a better candidate for the 'missing ending' game than these other components of language? As words that stand for things, we tend to think of nouns as the support structures of our conversation. They are the pillars that the whole thing is built around. Words like adjectives and adverbs are just the decoration. But a four-year-old won't necessarily see it like that. For him, all words are created equal. They are all sounds that you have to labour to make, with your tongue, mouth and lips. They are all important in saying what you want to say. 

'A really good countryside? That you can put animals in?'

'M... m... m...'

'Mountains? Mice?'

'Maybe,' he says. 

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