Friday, June 23, 2006

Farmhouse Semantics

Aunt Belle, holding up flashcard: L. Say "L."

3 1/2 year old nephew who didn't learn how to talk until age 2 1/2, which used to cause great concern in Aunt Belle: "L."

Aunt Belle: L is for LAMB.

3 year old: No, datsa SHEEP.

Aunt Belle: No, it's a LAMB.

3 year old: No, itsa SHEEP.

Aunt Belle: LAMB.

3 year old: SHEEEP.

Aunt Belle: LAMB.

3 year old, thinking it's a game, shrieks: SHEEP! SHEEP! SHEEP!

(3 year old collapses in laughter.)

So anyway, does it really matter? Should I stress this point? Is it just semantics? Like how many of you knew that a baby whale is called a "pup"? Did you get along fine in life before you knew this? Do we need to know the names of baby animals at the age of 3? My people don't eat lamb, and he doesn't sing that "Mary Had a Little..." song yet. So you know, can I just let this slide for now?

I know it's about matching up the beginning "L" to the name corresponding to the picture on the card, which is the only reason I'm trying to teach this kid "while it may look like a sheep, it's a little sheep, that is to say, it's an infant sheep, and thus, while you are correct as to its species, there's actually a more specific name for it, and so you should learn that being correct isn't the same as being precise....."

At which point the 3 year old will ball up his little fists in fury and become a post-structuralist, decide to major in semiotics, and grow up to reject my arbitrary attachment of names to objects and signs and signifiers.

Le sigh. Who knew that a flashcard could start so much trouble, the likes of which have not been seen since the Tower of Babel. The critical study of language is now deeply fractured, thanks to me and my dumb flashcard.