Thursday 24 October 2019

Lock step and language

I've written about entrainment, the way things can get into a resonance with each other . . . and shake themselves to death, in the case of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge or tall buildings without harmonic mass dampers. But there is also empathic entrainment when you fall into step beside your walking companion without thinking that you are shortening your stride or seeming to trot. I like that because it implies an intrinsic interest in egality and equality, and such things are probably part of the human condition - maybe even of the mammalian condition.

This desire to fit in with the group is also manifest in your conversation; which rarely about substantive matter. More usually it is string of of conventional saws and clichés and echos that make us seem friendlier or at least that we are actually listening to the vapid blather of the other party. It's called phatic discourse, and is mainly used to establish empathy (or a place in the pecking order).

Turns out the blathering on with your pre-verbal child may be imperative for the kid's cognitive development. Most blokes, even doting fathers, are much more interested in getting the wean back to sleep than making goo-goo with the small, incontinent, mysterious creature in the babygro. Here's a BBC summary report, with several links to the primary literature of the science, showing that pre-verbal kids who get less focused verbal interaction with bigger people finish up with narrower language themselves. It's not enough to have the baby in the vicinity while you discuss The Match or the timing-belt of your car with the neighbour across the fence. You've got to get down with the infant and pay attention listen and react. That way the child learns that conversation is about taking turns and, later, that there are several words which mean almost the same thing. We all want our kids to use more than one descriptive adjective - especially if that adjective is fucken.

And for gawd's sake will you please leave the goddamn phone in the other room when you're having quality time with your wean? Research shows that interrupted conversations really inhibit learning new words. You may surmise that it also does bad things for self esteem: the disembodied voice emanating from Dad's black gizmo is more interesting to him than me. But beware: this is when daughters start to twist their fathers round their little fingers: 16 years later the car keys will be required.

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