A child's language is a patchwork quilt of their world - each square representative of an idea or object suddenly understood.
I say this with something similar to authority, having worked for a decade in paediatricSpeech and Language therapy for the NHS. In a multi-cultural inner city environment, I met children fluent in four different languages, and children who knowonly the strange, Americanised staccatogleanedfrom their iPad. And, of course, everything in between: each child individual, each patchwork vocabulary a unique reflection of their world.
Then along came Orla, to make it all more personal and real: my daughter, a perfect mimic, our idiolects intermingling until I can't really recall if 'ahh' is a real word for 'cuddle' or not.
Her language surprised me. At one, sheknew all of the sounds for the farm animals in her books, but when confronted with the real thing, would fallsilent and confused. Sheep and cows were not these stomping, smelly beasts; they werethe neat, sanitised pictures on the page.
We were meetinga lot of farm animals around that time. Our little family was in the process of moving - swapping our red-brick city terrace for a crumbly old cottagein the Yorkshire hills. It was a move prompted by a lot of things, not least the sense of displacement I'd had since Orla was born; this tiny person, by nature soanimal and free,that our concreteand streetlightsseemed increasingly like adated and gated enclosure at the zoo. Through her language I saw the world from her angle, and our move seemed like a chance to broaden her horizons, both mentally and literally.
Years back at University I read linguistics, learned that language is a living, breathing thing. Each generation makes their own alterations - words are born, they evolve, age and decay. To try to prevent this is as futile as pushing back the tide.
How ironic then, that even as we packed for our rural move, the words in decline were the parlance of nature: pasture,heather. lark,mistletoeandnectar.These, and more,from the Oxford Junior Dictionary - especially for children aged 7-11- deemedarchaic and unnecessaryby the highest authority on English.
There was outrage from all corners - a wealth of writers, artists and columnists spoke out in horror. Many recalledin sadness alltheir ownhappy childhood associations with these words -catkinsandconkersandcowslipsin summer, autumn adventures and nostalgic winter wonderment. Accepting the OJD's decision to remove these terms wasto accept that our children now live in a very different world - a world where most spend less time outdoors, and more time hooked up toelectricentertainment instead. However greatthe benefits of IT,it so far stillstruggles to match the sheersensory pleasureof a waist-high meadow under the August summer sun.
Perhaps this is the biggest clue to the true cause of the wild words' decline-for many of us, this was a world loved, and then left at childhood's door. Alongsidethe Sindy dolls and the Lego, we put away the wild words, thepasturesandlarks, and moved on to brighter & shinier pursuits. Now parents ourselves, we go crawling into attics in search of our old playthings, only to find thatsomebodythrew them away for rubbish yearsago - and who can blame them?Blackberryis a mobile phone now, at bestan untrusted berry on a roadside bush.
So it is a world that is a little less wild these days, a little less feral. Instead of theadderandotter, we stay home withbroadbandandblog, use our smartphones forvoicemailandchatroom. All necessary and useful, in their own right, for children equipped for their modern world.
In my mind's eye I see those blankets: the kaleidoscopic pattern of the bilingual, the binary tones of the new e-kids; my own daughter's messy, chaotic and colourful.
TOAST Charali Bedspread - Made in India from layers of recycled sari fabric quilted together with running kantha stitch.
The world has changed, but the wild is still out there, roughly where we left it as kids. When we can just find a way to balance the two, our children's blankets will be brighter, heavier and more brilliantthan ever. Amongst the black and the silver & chrome, a flash of kingfisherblue; a square of heatherpink.
Words byMe & Orla.
Photography byJames Melia.