Thursday, 22 March 2012

Are You Talking To Me?

A large part of my time at the moment is taken up with other people's language. For two days a week I look after my grandson who is learning to talk and on a further two days I sit in a room in a college in London and students come to see me to discuss problems with their writing. What surprises me is how similar these experiences sometimes are.

The other day, for example, a young woman came along with an essay that had been failed by her tutor - unsurprisingly, since it seemed to have been written in accordance with an alternative set of grammar rules from that commonly in use by the rest of us. 'Let's just take a look at these first three sentences,' I suggested. 'It seems to me that they're really all one sentence.'

The young woman frowned and shook her head. 'No, they couldn't be,' she said firmly. 'Why not?' I asked. 'Well a sentence has to be twelve words long, doesn't it?' she said, as if this was a truth that even a babe in arms was well aware of. 'Um, no,' I said.

She gave me the sort of look you normally reserve for someone who tells you that the second hand car you are considering buying was owned by one old lady who only ever used it to drive to evensong.

Well that was what she had read on the internet, the young woman insisted, and she had struggled for hours to get every sentence the same. 'It was really hard,' she added. 'And now you're telling me I've got to do it all over again!'

At least my grandson doesn't get his rules from the internet. Instead, he makes them up himself, along with some of his vocabulary. Bread-sticks, for example, are soozies. Goodness knows why. Yes used to be Ah. Now it's Och, as though he had spent some time in Scotland.

Recently his mother told me about a new expression which seems to mean, Who's that? 'I don't know where he got it from,' she protested, 'but whenever there's a knock on the door he looks up, frowns and says something that sounds exactly like arsehole.'

And indeed just last week my grandson was having his midday nap in the spare bedroom upstairs and I was sitting on the edge of the bed reading when he woke and sat up. At the same time the tree-surgeon who was working in our garden came in by the back door and walked through the hallway downstairs.

My grandson's eyes widened and he looked at me. 'Arsehole,' he said.

Funnily enough that may be exactly what the poor young woman who had to rewrite her essay was thinking.

1 comment:

Derek said...

You brightened my day, Brian. I remember reading somewhere (hopefully not on the Internet) that one had to understand the rules before one could break them.