February 2, 2010

Language Is a Virus, Part 3

I saw this guy on the train
And he seemed to gave gotten stuck
In one of those abstract trances.
And he was going: "Oo-ah...Oo-ah...Oo-ah..."

These lyrics, particularly the bit about the man on a train in a trance spouting gobbley gook, remind me of young Master Bertram and his current obsession: Curious George. I’ve already noted that mimicry is one of young Master B’s specialties. Mimicry serves Bertram well when he imitates the way in which my fellow Parental Unit and I read books aloud. For instance, when we read Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Tom Thumb, does Hunca Munca merely squeak with joy upon seeing the doll’s food laid out upon the table? Oh no, she squeeeaks with joy! So delighted is Bertram at this pronunciation that he repeats it to us as, “Mommy squeeeks with joy! Daddy squeeeks with joy!”

Where this toddler mimicry becomes a problem is when Bertram decides to imitate that cartoon monkey George. So instead of words, I get to hear, “oooh, ahhh, ahhh, ahhh, oooh aaah.” That’s right, young Master B speaks monkey. When I remind Bert to use words, he takes that as a cue to repeat his monkey declarations, only louder and with stomping and jumping for extra emphasis. Thank you, PBS Kids.

What I want to understand is why so many kids'shows feature shouting unintelligible creatures like George or characters like Sesame Street’s Baby Bear, who speaks with a lisp. Many of young Master B’s contemporaries seem similarly drawn to mimicking, so I have to wonder what the thought process is for the child education experts (supposedly working for these shows) who create these characters with speech impediments—yes, I am looking at you Elmo: Parental Unit One wants to introduce you to her new paper shredder.

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