I was talking with one of my neighbours today, and she mentioned that the kids she teaches music to are displaying a change in their Catalan that is very very recent, no more than five years old.
Now, before I tell that story, I want to tell you another story, a true one...I do not have the book here with me, so forgive me if I get some of the facts wrong. First of all, children have an astonishing facility for language, it is inborn and amazing. Anyone struggling to learn the complexities of a foreign grammar will relate to this as they grind their teeth to the gums when listening to two year olds using the complex grammatical structures that they are attempting to pound into their aging and thickened skulls with adorable lisping perfection.
What is more amazing though is that children's facility for language is not purely imitative. There was a group of children, and I am going to get this country wrong but I believe it was in Nicaragua, who were deaf. Indeed there were quite a few deaf children in this country, most of them living singly as the only hearing impaired person in their village. They had developed some rudimentary signs, but were effectively devoid of language, and certainly devoid of any concept of grammatical or syntactical structures. These cannot be learned after a certain age, as numerous tragic cases have illustrated.
ANYwhooo, the nations government decided that it would be a good idea to provide some kind of education for these kids, so they set up a school, and brought in all, or many of the kids, from very little ones of three or four right on up to teenagers. I am pretty certain it must have been a boarding school. Now, there were no sign langauge speakers or teachers at the school. The oldest kids got together and kind of pooled their signs and came up with some basic words, but these were choppy and limited primarily to nouns and verbs, with some finger spelling and pointing.
The little ones, and this is absolutely amazing, the little ones however got talking.
They got together, without a single adult signer and made a language. Grammar, syntax, rules and systems, declinations, prepositions, the works, all in sign.
The invented the grammar, the syntax and vastly expanded the vocab. The older kids started learning from them, and the adults too. So strong is the human drive and facility for grammar, that we can in fact create it out of a vacuum, well, little kids can.
Mind blowing isn't it. The oldest kids never got good at it, they were past the age where their brains were sufficiently plastic and could not adapt, like any adult learner of a second language, and indeed they would have been somewhat worse off than a foreign language speaker as they do not even have the concept of grammar to misunderstand.
What the local Catalan kids are doing is neat, and along the same lines, though not so mind-bendingly out there.
They have created a new verb. Nothing all that new to it you say, we do that in English all the time. For instance we use the verb 'to click', as in: click on that window....or, he is clicking and clicking but nothing is happening, I think the screen is frozen.
This is done in English ALL THE TIME; anyone who has learned the language can certainly attest to it.
What I find kind of neat here though is that it is ONLY the smaller kids that are doing this trick with this new verb; they have adopted the word click, which is used in Catalan as a verb by everyone, the same as in English, but they have applied it universally to anything that you change with the touch of a single digit. For instance they now click the lights, and they click the elevator buttons.
The adults are confused and surprised when they hear the kids using the verb, which they have accurately conjugated (no easy thing), and then adopt it themselves. Not as universally as the kids, but they are using it too. It will be interesting to see if the original words for turning on a light and pushing a button die out. I hope not, that seems like an impoverishing move.
Kids sure can work a language though, can't they.