Children languaging freely

Language is often taken as the hallmark of the human species, and with the emergence of language, the conditions seem to be given for the coöperative and coöordinative activities that found all societies. But the way in which we characterise “language” greatly matters, and the study of joint speech makes it clear that a narrow view of “language” as the passing of encoded messages from speakers to listeners will omit very much that might be of relevance. Languaging is then offered by some as a term to cover a much broader array of behaviours that collectively might be considered responsible for the dramatic change in our species that led to the flourishing of human communities across the globe. Chapter 7 of the Joint Speech book (The Ground From Which We Speak) pursues this topic at length.

For now though, enjoy this example of young children languaging like crazy at the behest of a gifted story teller. He induces them to join in a raucous chorusing of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The children are displaying a propensity shared by all children in all cultures. Chorusing of various kinds is particularly prevalent in primary education and similar contexts, and children do not need to be instructed in how to join in and speak performatively as one. Looking at this, I find it a bit ridiculous to think that we adults believe that we teach children language, where in fact it simply blossoms, naturally, as fruit happens to trees.

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