My nearly 4-year-old has an amazing way of staying away, whether it is by asking for endless bed stories or asking for drinks of water, there’s always a creative flow when the lights go off..
Last night, his attempts to stay away were a bit different. He asked logical questions that, I can tell, were really on his mind.. He wondered to me, “why do I talk?” And then “how do I talk?” I tried to explain in a somewhat scientific approach–looking at the clock and realizing that it’s long overdue for sleep to take hold of him, I shortened things up a bit and said “God made you be able to talk.” Then he asked, “but where is God?” Of course, ‘heaven’.. And then “But where’s heaven, I can’t see it?”
I just said “up there” and sternly said it’s bedtime..
As I sat there watching him journey into twilight and dreamland, these questions became my fated destiny that would keep me awake long past my bedtime as well..
Sure, why do we talk? The five senses.. all of those easy scientific methods can explain away the normal intricacies of the human body. So we know how we talk.. evolution.. sounds we make as infants and the learned behavior of voice and recognition of words.. It makes sense ..
Or does it.
Why do we talk?
The first thing I thought of was a horror movie I saw last year called PONTYPOOL. The premise of that film was a radio show host who was narrating a crazy development; Zombies. And those zombies were being created by people who lost their ability to understand words–saying the words so many times the words lost meaning…
Ever do that?
Ever something so much that it begins to not make any sense anymore?
But why does it make sense to begin with?
We talk, in a way I suppose, because we need to communicate. We need to share and tell others our fears, thoughts, suggestions, and hints. Early man needed to alert fellow community dwellers of the threats posed by animals, cliffs, or rocks along the path to the stream where fresh drinking water would be found.. And then if someone died from eating the plant that looked good but was poison, we needed to tell others. I just still can’t understand why someone would have eaten an onion, unless it was on a dare.
So communication and sharing information is the prime reason for talking, right?
But that still, for me, does not answer the question my toddler son posed to me before sleeping: Why, in fact, are we beings who talk?
I have two autistic children in my family–so many people can say the same thing these days, can’t they? In their world, talking is not nearly as important as it is for others.. As a matter of fact, they are both over a decade in age and their vocabulary is not nearly on par with others’ abilities. But they have their own skills that no others can have–they perceive. They are able to move beyond the tactile and break out of their limits.. They are further along the autism scale than others, so I don’t know how good or furthered their speech will get in life. But for now, they are smart as can be, sharp as nails, and able to express themselves in a far deeper way than children who talk. The one thing I am amazed with more than anything: For their age, and inability to use words like others, they don’t lie. They can’t lie. They show their emotions immediately and wear them like proud banners on their sleeves. Happiness, anger, sadness, or fear.. For children who can talk fine and talk a lot, lies many times flow from their lips like hot lava from volcanoes..
But still, none of this answers the question: “Why do we talk?”
Others have asked this question as well. Since the moment prior to sleep last night,. I have been Googling and even BINGING all I could concerning the question.. I found out that Noam Chompsky believes it to be an innate human trait: Talking.. Lots of people also wonder why we talk in our sleep.. Also there are reasons we talk, the scientific explanations as to how our vocal cords evolved through time to allow the better movement of air and noise.. A 2010 NPR article explains,
“Speech, by the way, is the most complex motor activity that any person acquires — except [for] maybe violinists or acrobats. It takes about 10 years for children to get to the adult levels,” says Dr. Philip Lieberman, a professor of cognitive and linguistic science at Brown University who has studied the evolution of speech for more than five decades.
Lieberman says that, looking back at human evolution, it’s evident that after humans diverged from an early ape ancestor, the shape of the vocal tract changed. Over 100,000 years ago, the human mouth started getting smaller and protruding less. We developed a more flexible tongue that could be controlled more precisely, and a longer neck.
The reason the neck started getting longer, Lieberman says, is that the tongue moved down, pulling the larynx lower, requiring more room for it all in the neck. “The first time we see human skulls — fossils — that have everything in place is about 50,000 years ago where the neck is long enough, the mouth is short enough, that they could have had a vocal tract like us,” he says.
That’s fine and understandable.
Isn’t it amazing that children learn how to talk so early in life? How they pick up on the words being used around them and somehow figure out the meanings of those words? Yet there’s so little achieved in the scientific world that explains the real reasons this occurs.. This video portrays a unique experiment.. the Speech Home project.. It was a dad who performed a language observation experiment, with every second of the man’s son’s life from the moment of birth to three years old to showcase how language happens..
The video shows something also interesting.. as the boy learned words, the parents dumbed down their own speech.. using simpler words. As the child learned more, the parents began to increase their vocabulary again, thus introducing the child to newer forms of words and phrases. And all of this happened naturally without purposely intent. It was innate.. and Chomsky said.
5000 words by the time a child is 5..
Think about that?
We know how we talk. We are beginning to understand why we talk..
But I still don’t know how to explain that to a child.. because in the end, even I cannot comprehend the magnitude of the incredible human trait: Speech.