In the previous post I talked about the example, John likes Mary more than his wife, and I said that it can be understood as having two meanings (John likes Mary more than he likes his wife and John likes Mary more than his wife does). I also said that these two meanings are easily discernible by a child. I can see you smiling full of doubt because a little child won’t be able to understand the connotations, so let us delve a bit more into this idea.
What do we mean when we say that a child can speak a language?
The answer is that a child can clearly and easily express his thoughts, his needs and his feelings. He can understand those around him and be perfectly understood. What’s more, through the language he can be transported to imaginary worlds where sticks of wood can speak and bad magicians turn people into frogs, and he has no problem whatsoever with doing that although none of these things happen in the real world.
Let us think for a moment how a child achieves all that: he has no formal and systematic education; everything comes naturally, he doesn’t have to try hard and he always succeeds. Just compare a child to an adult trying to learn a foreign language and you will see my point. The speech the child hears is sometimes half-said, elliptic as we call it, and some children hears this truncated form of speech called motherese. In four years he is a perfect native speaker. But is what a child achieves truly a great accomplishment?