Mother Goose and scary stories for kids


As a kid, I loved to hear again and again my parents reading me Mother Goose rhymes and listening to Raffi or scary supernatural stories on cassette tape. Such is a point that Eric A. Havelock makes in chapter 8 of his book The Muse Learns to Write. This chapter focuses on the personal transition from pure oral communication, like children, to creating a separate language that includes words and compositions (mostly) only present in written documents.

Havelock makes the observation that children use only one language for their communication, speech. Such young beings learn from auditory stimulus and mimicking what they hear in order to build their ability as speakers. But what I think is most interesting is the common phenomena of grown adults "dumbing down" the words they use in speech when speaking to children. This happening ties in with Havelock's writing "Until we are five to seven years old we ourselves are oralists, pure and simple, albeit children dealing orally with a world controlled by literate adults. What sort of language do we use, or better, what sort do we prefer and enjoy during this period?" (67). So, do even as literate adults we instinctively revert back to a simpler, easier spoken language instead of consistently utilizing the separate, yet combined languages we've picked up from reading texts?

"Baby talk" or any of the other numerous names that such speech is called may essentially set children up for their introduction to our first primary method of communication: speech. However, I just wonder if this natural, if not instinctive, primary communication will continue in the future due to a trend of introducing children to literature as soon as possible. It may create a combined language earlier in life, or it could just make kids hate reading earlier than first grade.


You bring up a lot of really great points about the oral development of language for young children, Maddie. It is important to use words that young children can understand; however, baby talk should not be used. Whatever words a child hears and understands are the words a child will use, so unless parents want their children to use words like "binki" and "baba" until they go to school and are made fun of for doing so, baby talk should be avoided. Also, tons of research shows that the ways we talk to or do not talk to our children affect their ability to learn in the future. When parents use a proper vocabulary and talk to their children, even when they are infants, most often these children are more likely to learn better in the future. Parents should encourage their children to speak, even if they cannot properly say the words, but parents themselves should not use this "baby talk."

Also, I was wondering what Havelock would do with children who grow up with more than one language spoken in their home. A friend of mine lived in the Gambia in Africa for two years and saw a few children who were infants when he got there and about three when he left. He said that they did not often speak until age three or later because they could potentially hear three or four languages being spoken by their parents. The parents spoke to them often but in all of the various languages they could speak. I also knew someone with the same sort of thing here, except her languages were French and English. I would have like to see how he would address the idea that some young people develop many languages at once.

Maddie, I like the points that you made in this entry. I can't stand baby talk...ever and I find it interesting that you mention people trying to teach kids how to read earlier because that reminds me of the "Your Baby Can Read" DVDs. I've kind of been in a disagreement with those commercials because I can never tell if they are the real deal and if that would really be beneficial to my future children. Do I really want my child to excel so far in reading that he/she can't be on the same social level of other kids? Reading is a good tool and obviously I think everyone should be able to learn to read, but I agree with you, I think we're starting too early these days.

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