“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

All Mine, All the Time, MINE – Part I

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In any language it’s the same: C’est la MIENNE, Es ist MEINE, or in Japanese, or in Swahili, or Esperanto, or pig Latin -- it’s MINE. Always the emphasis is on MINE. It’s MINE. It’s MINE. It’s MINE.

Most people think “NO!” is the language of toddlers. I don’t believe it. “MINE, it’s MINE!” puts “NO!” in time out.

But what escapes me is where toddlers come up with the word “mine” in whatever their language is. Normal adults speaking any language don’t walk around saying “MINE” constantly. How do toddlers attach the word “MINE” to their egocentric, self-oriented, singular world? Then after that, where does the concept that EVERYTHING in the entire world is theirs come from? Adults also don’t go around saying, “THIS is yours, and THIS is yours and THIS is yours,” as they go for a walk in the park.

Maybe later they might say, “All this COULD be yours,” but that’s not the same thing.

Granted, the Terrible Twos are simply preview to the teenage horror to come, but this MINE business really becomes like vomitus.

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My granddaughter and I were outside in the garden the other morning. I have about 20 gardenia bushes in the back, and when they are at their peak, the entire back yard smells of the sweet scent of gardenias. I thought, “Oh, this is a wonderful time to add ‘sweet-smelling flower’ to her repertoire.” HA.

I took her to see one of the bushes. I explained how the bloom’s scent is so heavenly. She started grabbing at the flowers. “Mine. MINE. MY sveet fower.”

Oh, yuk. That’s just IT.

My sister was here recently and was amused and horrified at this obsessive use of one word among millions. It became a running joke. We became more and more hysterical. “MY TV clicker.” “MY napkin.” “MY spilled wine.” “MY sponge.” “MY toothbrush.” “MY pillow.”

I was introduced in graduate school to Noam Chomsky’s theories about the predetermined nature of language structure in humans, transformational grammar, and other heady stuff. In his 1975 book Reflections on Language, he poses a hypothetical situation where a scientist is observing a child (maybe a two-year-old?) learning the English language. The scientist sees that the child has learned to form statements and questions like “the man is tall – is the man tall?” He then runs through a scientific method to arrive at the following conclusion about UG (Universal Grammar): “Linguistic theory, the theory of UG construed in the manner just outlined, is an innate property of the human mind.”

Oh, YIKES. But he didn’t hear Joanna Leigh saying, “The fower is sveet – is the fower sveet?”

No, she said “Mine. MINE. MY sveet fower.” And yanked it off the bush.

At the end of that chapter, Chomsky writes, “In the next two chapters I want to say something more about a few of these mental faculties and their interaction.” Well, I looked in the index and did not see “The Terrible Twos.” So not even Chomsky can answer MY question.

When MY sister was leaving, I said to her that when she got back to work on Monday, she could get things straight in the office by starting out with “MY file folders,” “MY cubicle,” “MY ad copy proof,” MY staff meeting,” and so on and on and on and on.

I’m going to go back and re-read MY copy of Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct. Meanwhile, can anyone shed light on this troubling aspect of the human condition?

 

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Photos by Alice Wilson, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. See her copyrighted work: http://www.alicewilsonphotography.com/

For recession watchers: Used copies of Chomsky’s Reflections on Language are available on Amazon.  Used copies of Pinker’s The Language Instinct are also available at Amazon

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