C is for shifting language and styles

While I have been reading the half forgotten books of my childhood I have been struck by a fact which I am sure I was never aware of as a child. The language of my favourite tales, from Uncle Remus to the Famous Five books, my elastic plastic mind was being formed by such a variety of accents, dialects, grammatical structures it is a wonder, thinking about it now, that I ever learnt to read English at all.

 How great is a child’s mind; take a moment to sit and wonder at the capacity that small organ of intellect possess. From 0-5 years, in particular, the amount of information absorbed and made sense of is colossal but even after 5, children, like sponges, soak up influences from wherever it is offered.

So back to those books, what is the difference? they were all written in English, they spoke of familiar things, they had children having adventures, talking animals, morals and fun. They made me laugh and cry in equal force. Why should it have been difficult for a reader to have understood them. I did understand them and I flowed effortlessly from one to another. I had the key to this communication through words and, as when talking in school child French to a frenchman, so I understood so many versions of what authors were wishing to communicate.

Studies have shown that children can read fluently and with enjoyment before full comprehension is developed – before such as irony, figurative language are in place. Before the ability to prise apart thin layers for the hidden meanings which may be there. This is of course how adults and children can enjoy the same books i.e. Winnie the Pooh, on so many different levels. How much of what I read did I understand or not? Whatever, it is the language – the beautiful, wonderful, riveting words which sink into the depths of the mind and make themselves cosy down there ready to enlarge and enrich the spoken and written word for a lifetime.

The Child’s Garden of Verses Robert Louis Stevenson

‘I do feel ashamed now to think I listened to all that silly nonsense that Flatter talked. She made me feel that I was the most wonderful boy in the world

The Land of Far Beyond. Enid Blyton

Whither and whence?:)

 The Book of nature Study Ed Bretland Farmer

‘But none of ‘em had any intentions of doing the little colt any harm,ans as it was it looked like Smoky had ‘em all buffaloed. He’d tear in after some big horse like he was going to eat him up and all that big horse would do was to scatter out like the devil was after him.’

Smokey. Will James

‘Well, Mr Buzzard, he feel mighty lonesome, but he done prommust Brer Fox dat he’d stay,en ‘termin’ fer ter sorter hang’ roun’ en jine in de joke. En he ain’t hatter wait long, nudder, kaze bimeby yer come Brer Fox gallopin’ thoo de woods wid his axe on his shoulder.’

Uncle Remus. Joel Chandler Harris

‘Why don’t you bring out the mare, which is as tall as two days,and as broad as half a day, and make a shade for yourselves.’

In the Land of Marvels by T. Vernaleken


One of the poems which inspired a lifetime of travel- with no apologies for any un-PC ness

A Child’s Garden of Verses Robert Louis Stevenson

‘Now, dear,” I told her, “you’re quite old enough to realise the risk I’m running by leaving your mother to find the washing-up half done when she gets back. You’ll show your appreciation best by not arguing.’

One and Three Halves. Mark Bevin

‘Don’t you know what declining is? Haven’t you learned grammar?’

‘I’m learning Latin now,”R replied Walter, “and I’m in the Fourth Declension now.”

“Well, do you like declining nouns?”

”They’re rather difficult sometimes,” Walter admitted.

“Naturally; they’re sick and out of sorts and hard to manage: that’s the way with Horny Head just now.”

“But what has he to do with nouns?” Walter enquired rather impatiently.

“Everything. He is a noun, isn’t he? Well he has been declining for years.”

Wonders in Monsterland E D Cuming

‘Didn’t he come into my kitchen the noight the new prisident was nominated and shtand afore the fire, lookin’loike a pictur’, wid his hands in his shmall pockets, an’ his innocent bit of a face as sayrious as a jedge? An’ sez he to me: Mary,’ sez he, ‘I’m a ‘publican, an’ so is Dearest. Are you a ‘publican, Mary? ‘Sorra a bit, sez I;’I’m the bist o’ dimmycrats! An’ he looks up at wid a look that ud go to yer heart,an’ sez he:Mary,’ sez he, ‘the country will go to ruin’. An’ nivver a day since thin has he let go by widout argyin’ wid me to change me polytics.’

Little Lord Fauntleroy Frances Hodgson Burnett

‘Rouse thy vigilance, lad. Draw the blade of alertness before the enemy strikes.’

Gay-neck Dhan Gopal Mukerji

‘The sea-birds sang as they streamed out into the ocean, and the land-birds as they built among the boughs;and the air was so full of song that it stirred St.Brandan and his hermits, as they slumbered in the shade; and they moved their good old lips, and sang their morning hymn amid their dreams,but among all the songs one came across the water more sweet and clear than all; for it was the song of a young girl’s voice.’The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

What a wonderful array of styles, spelling, and language for my ever ready mind to make sense off.


2 thoughts on “C is for shifting language and styles

  1. Another great post for the A-Z! My mother tongue is Spanish, I have had the great fortune to live and study in four different languages. I also taught at a language school in Malmo, Sweden in the 1980s and I can tell you that very often the adults with less education learned a language quicker and better than the very educated. I believe this was in great part because they accepted and did not question. For example in English The White House would be in Spanish The House White (La Casa Blanca); I cannot tell you how many people wasted time in the WHY IS IT DIFFERENT. Whereas if I had to teach a person who had attended vocational school and who just accepted and did not question grammatical differences they truly absorbed the information like the mind of a child.
    As far as language nuances, I must say I once picked up a book that warned it was written in “Cuban Spanish” for Cubans and I absolutely failed to make heads or tails of the little I read! Great Post I have a different musical and interesting post for the letter “C” at http://thebridgeofdeaths.tumblr.com/


    • alberta says:

      I think that is the crux of it – before one accepts ‘rules and regs’ of grammar reading becomes more difficult – children’s minds are not programmed so much and can absorb all influences – of course it’s that plasticity which can lead to harm from manipulation but their brains are wonderful tools for survival because of this unformed space waiting to be filled. And wow on knowing more than one language – I cannot do it have tried so hard through the ears, including sign language – I cannot get my head around the ‘rules’ – I’m not that good at English rules either I have to confess:)


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