By Amy Robinson
Language is not Abigail’s first language. She is doing ever so well at it, but it doesn’t come naturally. She speaks, as TheRev puts it, like somebody using a phrase book: echoes from television, bedtime stories and overheard conversation are all stored in her extraordinary library of a mind, where they are broken down, mixed up and carefully chosen for use in every conversation. She takes comfort in scripts and songs which are the same every time.
She started to learn language in echoes of full sentences and phrases. If she’s learned that a phrase is an acceptable answer to a question (because it was true the first time) then it becomes the answer to that question every time: for a while, the answer to the question “Why is s/he crying” was always “Because my hitted him” even if it was a character in a book! Sometimes, a word selection accidentally triggers an echo, meaning that her reply to your question isn’t at all what she meant to say. Sometimes she accidentally does it to herself: “I’m going to turn the page” she announced to me, before turning off the light.
The way she listens and speaks may make communication difficult sometimes, but at other times it’s like living with a tiny unintentional poet, a walking box of connections and combinations all sparking and hissing and flashing at once.
Rather than try to describe it any further, I’m going to make a list of quotations from my journal that will hopefully give you some idea, both of how incredibly quickly she’s learning, and of the amazing things that can by done with words by a child for whom language is not her first language.
Tiffer says, in conversation, that he thinks something is less important. Abi shouts: “It’s not less important, it’s FULL OF PORRIDGE!”
2/10/13 Abi’s response to being asked what she did at nursery today: “I just played happily. Then I done a song about the sleeping butterflies. I think butterflies do sleep on something, it’s just a pillow and a blanket and all the way back to bed, and then they go in a wirrelbarrel all the way home”.
“I have an idea, how about we can play instead? It’s playtime, that why we can play, and the time is play.” (Actually, it was bedtime!)
Abi’s response to my reaction upon discovering that she had drawn in orange highlighter on our hosts’ pillowcase: “Don’t worry Mummy. It’s not the matter. It’s GREAT!”
Me: Abi, we need to change your trousers, those are too small.
Her: No, those are too fine, they are just my same.
Abi is very interested that I am eating chocolate. “Have you beened a GOOD Mummy?”
Me: What does an angel say, Abi? (This is a script that we’ve been doing together since before Christmas, and the answer has always been “Don’t be afraid, I’ve got good news for you”, which comes from a favourite Christmas song on video).
Her: Don’t be afraid. I got something in my pocket to good news you.
Mummy, are you feeling better, or are you properly poorly?
Me: Abi, please put that magazine into my bag now.
Her: No, I won’t do that. Putting in bags is not good for magazines.