Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Invented Words (And Why We Love Them)

Most children will mispronounce certain words as they’re becoming more comfortable and proficient with spoken language. Sometimes their "mistakes" sound very close to the original or correct word, with just a slight variation. At other times they’re not even in the ballpark. Babies and young children take great pleasure in experimenting with sound and cadence in language, often without even realizing what they are doing. Predictably, they believe they’ve done something very clever when they make unusual sounds (and indeed they have) because the new words can be close to the original but they’ve added some additional content to make them more personal and unique. These moments should be celebrated rather than corrected, because our young linguists are truly inventing as they go, trying words on for size as they master the art of verbal communication.

Anyone who has ever read Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Roald Dahl, or J.K. Rowling knows there are lots of words that have been invented by authors to represent the inner workings of the stories in their minds. Most of these words connote something out of the ordinary, many don’t look or sound familiar, and they all boast unique meanings that have become part of our shared language experience. Think "Muggles," "jabberwocky," or "gobstoppers." While scholars continue to debate the volume of Shakespeare’s contributions to the English language, we do know that he effectively used many previously unfamiliar word combinations to share the comedy and tragedy of his creations, and the history of the time, with his audiences. All of this serves to show that invented language is fun and educational for the reader or listener, and can also fulfill a very specific purpose for the inventor.

Keeping a record of unique words in your child’s vocabulary can be a fun way to track language development. These inventions might also serve as a secret coded language among family members. When our children were young, we started a dictionary of the words and phrases they used experimentally at first, but which later became fully integrated as a part of the family's history. Our two-year-old grandson has started inventing some of his own special words, like "mookits" for music, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. Encouraging word play in all of its forms, such as rhyming, replacing one letter at a time to come up with a new word, and silly sounds, will benefit both the children and the adults in the house, while almost always adding some lighthearted humor to the day!

Guest post by Bridget W. 

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