Wednesday, November 19, 2003

One for 'Yes', Two for 'No'

I was visiting a cousin of mine a few weeks back. Beth and her hubby Bob have two kids now, and older than both kids combined is their dog, a black lab. (Should that be capitalized? It is, after all, short for "black Labrador Retriever". And they're really from Newfoundland not Labrador, apparently.)

It was a fun Sunday afternoon. Little Evan was a very cute and happy baby. He would smile a huge grin whenever someone paid him attention and smiled. He only cried when he got stuck while crawling around. Leah, I remember, cried a lot when she was that age.

Playing along with Leah with her toys was interesting though. She's three, IIRC, and I thought the border around what was allowed while playing "make-believe". For example, she had a little Fisher-Price plastic person that she had named after one of the Madeline characters. Leah said he was going to the park, and then walked him over to an end table that had a lamp on it. She said, "He's in a swing," and moved him back and forth under one of the lamp's overhanging fiddly bits. "It's an imaginary swing." See, she was very careful to keep the imaginary world whole: the little people made side-to-side movements as if they were walking even though she was carrying them through mid-air in her hands; she never stopped to clarify that the lamp was the park's jungle gym and swingset. But she's willing to break with the separation to explain to the audience what she thinks might be a non-obvious representation.

Later, she wanted me to play with stuffed animals with her. I think the parents were grateful - Mom Beth I think changed brother Evan's diaper and Dad Bob lied down reading something on the couch. I think Beth said that it was almost time for bed and Leah would have to put away her toys soon. So the little people and animals were at another imaginary playground, and I had one of the stuffed creatures look up at out the bedroom window and comment that it was getting dark and they had to go back. That wasn't allowed; Leah explained to me that it was day in the pretend world.


At a few points in the day Leah would say, in preparing to answer a question "If I do this it means yes. If I do this it means no." and she'd hit the palm and the backside of her hand. Or turn one eight to the left and back then turn to the right and back. Beth said she had been doing that a lot lately, though they weren't clear as to why. I said, "Well, she's understanding the inherent arbitrariness of human language. She's figuring out it's a representational medium, and she's free to assign other representations so long as all parties to the communication understand the representation beforehand." Beth and Bob thought that was funny.


I think I think about this stuff too much.

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