30 May 2008

I you he she it we they

Why do people speak to children in the third person? I have never understood this. I don't refer to myself as "Mom" when I'm talking to them (and NEVER "Mommy," which is prohibited at all times and in all places--Gauntlets, have you forgiven me for this yet?), and I don't refer to them by their names except when I'm directly addressing them. Is this some developmental thing that I'm screwing up, or just a weird cultural usage?

5 comments:

Susan said...

I've wondered the same thing: is there something developmental I'm missing here? I remember when I got to be 4 or 5, and noticing that my grandma was still referring to herself in the third person, like people do around babies, and being offended that she thought I was that immature that I didn't understand pronouns.

I can see that "me" can refer to any number of people in a room. And I can see that "Mommy" refers to only one person in the house, and "Joey" refers to only one person in the house. So maybe it's appropriate for a while, as babies are learning who's who. Come to think of it, when my youngest was in speech therapy and I was learning all about that stuff, there was something about kids learning pronouns around ages 3-4. But how are they going to learn it if everybody is afraid to use pronouns around them?

Kelly said...

It drives me nuts too. My in-laws tend to do this with our youngest niece, who is three. I refuse to do it when talking to her, and wouldn't you know, she tries to respond in like appropriate manner.

I was reading in the Dr. Sears book last night that when talking to infants, pronouns are not necessary, and one perhaps should not use them as they can be confusing. As much as I appreciate many of the Sears' approaches, I take exception to that one. I know darn well that my own mom never talked any sort of "baby talk" to me, and I don't think I turned out too linguistically backward : )

Reb. Mary said...

Like Susan and Kelly, I read/heard that kids don't understand pronouns till 3 or so. Which seems kind of late to me, now that I have experiment subjects, I mean kids, of my own. The 2 year old already refers to himself as "I" most of the time, and only occasionally in the third person. Maybe that's part of the reason people do it? Because kids do, and we assume they can't understand us otherwise? Which certainly seems a faulty assumption, of course.

I find the third person usage to be somewhat annoying, depending on how overboard it goes. Though I will admit to occasionally using it, especially when attempting to communicate with a younger toddler and feeling like we're just not...connecting. "You [applicable BoyName] No Touch Stove. [Emphatic gestures and pointing]. Stove Will Hurt [BoyName] Or Mom Will." That sort of thing :P

I most often catch myself slipping into third person in those moments of wild-eyed, ironic, surreal, deranged muttering to myself: "Mommy is happy. Mommy is fine. She doesn't mind doing [insert mind-numbing menial task] for the umpteenth time today. She's not going to run screaming from the house. No, Mommy is just fine..."

Kelly said...

Seinfeld: "Jimmy's down!" :P

Gauntlets said...

I think some people are just name users. You know the "Well, Rebekah, I was thinking the same as you! And, Rebekah, let me tell you that it's a great idea. So, Rebekah, let's get on it right away!" And then those people have kids.

It's a theory, anyway.

As for "mommy:" I respect you for your quirks. ;) We're "mama" people on this home front. Though, like Reb. Mary, the mythical Mommy occassionally comes out:

"Mommy is feeling a bit sick in the head right now. No, you may not tell Mommy another story. No, you may not bite Mommy on the collarbone. No, you may not wipe your nose on Mommy's jeans. Now go away; Mommy is going to sit in this dark closet and hum 'Marching to Pretoria' until the dragons go back to sleep."

That sort of thing.