Saturday, February 28, 2009

learning pronouns

Espen's been learning to use pronouns lately. It's kind of humorous, since he has only heard us refer to him as "you," so he calls himself "you" and his things "your." So for example he says, "Play with your toys please?" Or if he hurts his foot he says, "Your foot hurts!" It's pretty cute. (By the way, we just launched a new blog for pictures of Espen, and perhaps stories that don't fit with the main thrust of either of our blogs, so if you want to check it out, click here.)

It got me thinking about a) how confusing pronouns are, especially since I'm trying to learn them in German, and b) the fact that by teaching him pronouns we're actually socializing him quite a bit. I'm learning in my youth ministry class about child development. (Actually, I'm re-learning it, since psychology was my major in college, but it's a much-needed refresher!) For the most part, I like Erik Erikson's stages of development and think his work seems to explain what happens developmentally with most Americans. I also like that Erikson has a fairly good opinion of humanity in general. Erikson gets some of the bases for his theories from Freud, but Freud's theory assumes all people are completely messed up and neurotic, while Erikson assumes that most people will develop fairly normally if given a healthy space in which development can occur.

Anyway, so Espen is in the "Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt" phase. He has passed through "Trust & Mistrust," where he hopefully learned that there are trustworthy people in the world, but there are also things (and people) not to be trusted in the world. The virtue developed in that phase is "hope," so if he passed through that stage healthily, he will be able to have a good measure of resiliency in life: hope in the goodness of other people, the world, and his own place as someone who is loved.

Now he's working on potty training, which hopefully will give him a sense of autonomy: he has control over his bodily functions, and no one can make him go (or not) except himself. (He hasn't quite reached that stage of mastery yet, leading to many messy experiences the last several weeks, but he's doing a great job learning! He has #1 down pat, and even goes on "big potties" when we're in public places now. So we're making progress.)

Part of this phase is complete separation (individuation) from his primary caregivers, in terms of learning that he is an individual that is in no way dependent on anyone else as far as ego and physical boundaries go. This is where the social training comes in. I'm sure in every culture, people learn that their bodies are their own and no one else can control them, but it is a hallmark of our culture that we emphasize "autonomy" or individuality so much.

It is even embedded in our language!

In order for Espen to learn to speak English, he has to learn to use the pronoun "I" (and me and mine and my...). I've heard that in some languages there really isn't a word for "I." That seems completely strange, and maybe it's not true. At least in cultures that are more collectivist, perhaps words that are singular--especially possessive--aren't used as often. So by teaching Espen pronouns, I'm teaching him about individualism.

Is this a good thing? Is there any way around it (since I don't speak any other languages that don't use this kind of thinking)? I don't know. I think it's OK, it's just interesting thinking about how much we're teaching him about "the way life is" through our language. It's amazing how much culture and language are intertwined.

Hopefully we're able to teach him to think beyond singular pronouns, especially possessive ones, and to live a more communal life than most Americans. Hopefully we're able to model that, too!

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