“Walk squishy ball.”
“You can go walk in the driveway with the ball,” I said—-guessed, really. Charlie likes to pace and run up and down our driveway and I wondered if he just could not recall the word “driveway” at the moment.
It turned out that I was right: Charlie grabbed the ball and ran outside (and up and down the driveway) until Jim drove up in the green car. One word can have a lot of associations, but you have to know the language—-Charlie’s being “Charlese,” I suppose—to know the full range of connotations a single word can have. So, for instance, is “socks” Charlese for “I want to put on my shoes and socks to go out.” We can prompt Charlie to say this long sentence bit by bit but, right now, it is quite a mouthful of words for him to pull up at one time.
I was to be reminded of this again when we went to see a very good of friend of Jim’s, Richard Dougherty. A native of South Jersey, Richard went to Japan twenty-five years ago to teach English and has lived in Tokyo ever since. He comes to the US every few years with his Japanese wife to visit his family and one thing about him always stands out, especially to Jim:
Richard speaks American English like a foreign language. Remnants of his South Jersey accent remain, but here is a Jersey Irish guy speaking his native language with the vowels accented differently. He pauses to recall words. He thinks before he responds and as he speaks. His voice rises and falls in speech patterns that are not those of English.
I’ll hazard saying that American English, or maybe just language itself, is “foreign” to Charlie. The “building blocks” of language for him have not been “nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouncs, etc.” such as I go through, chapter by chapter, when I teach Latin and classical Greek. The building blocks of language for Charlie were the vowels and the consonants, each of which was taught to him one by one—-teaching Charlie to talk back when he was three years old required teaching him to learn to move his mouth and tongue, and to watch how we formed each sound. I don’t know what “fluency” level Charlie will reach in English—-at the moment, he is once again enrolled in the 101 or “elementary” level class—-who knows if he’ll proceed to “intermediate” or “advanced.”
And so it behooves me to learn a little, or a lot of, Charlese which is the language—the mode of communication—Charlie is the native speaker, and I quite the beginner.
As we got back into the car, Charlie called out “turnahn!” and “Hendricks!”
“He likes Jimi,” Jim grinned to Richard. “Remember this?” Jim turned up the volume and Charlie sat up straight and serious as his music—-his kind of sound, the voice of the electric guitar—-streaming out of the black car’s windows.