I got to spend an evening with my niece and two nephews this past weekend. Of course, they are all amazingly intelligent and advanced for their ages. I drove the older two (ages seven and eight) to an ice cream parlor and we had a fantastic conversation on the way. It made me think about how children learn about language. Some of it is through actual instruction, but a lot is through observation.
Jesse, the 7-year-old was telling me that it’s a law for him to wear a helmet if he rides on a four-wheeler. “It used to be a rule, but now it’s a law,” he said. So I asked Jesse and his older sister Hannah what the difference is between a rule and a law. They explained that if you break a law, you go to jail. If you break a rule you just get in trouble, but you might die. We agreed that by that definition breaking a rule might be worse.
At another point, we were talking about having to take medicine. Both children have often had to take a liquid antibiotic that apparently tastes pretty awful. Hannah said, “I used to think ‘liquid’ meant something that tastes bad. Now I know it means something like water.” How amazing is that? She developed a definition based on her personal context. I just wonder if she ever said, “This spinach is liquid!”
We take language for granted. It’s so much fun to see it taking shape in the next generation.