Monday, October 23, 2017

Our Own Language

We tagged along with some Icelandic preschoolers on a walking excursion to a lightly wooded area not far from their school. When we arrived many of them raced for a pair of sculptures that I later learned were hollow wooden ponies. They played there for a time, then all but one went on to other things.

I don't speak Icelandic, of course. Likewise, most of the children don't speak English. It's the sort of barrier that too often keeps adults apart, but is only a minor inconvenience when it comes to children.

I approached the girl who was astride her pony, kicking the sides to make a drum-like sound. I stood nearby watching her. We made eye contact. We smiled at one another. Then she pointed at the second pony, an invitation to ride alongside her.

She made a rhythm by kicking her feet against her pony's flanks, another invitation, so I imitated her. After a minute or so, she suddenly changed her pattern, alternating feet: left, right, left. This, I took as a friendly challenge, so I copied her pattern. She smiled my way and nodded. I winked at her. She tried to wink back.

Now she began with her hands, patting the top of her pony. I followed her lead. The sound was different than the one we were making with our feet. We moved our hands to the sides of our respective pony heads where we found yet another sound.

Then she stopped altogether and I followed suit. After a moment of silence, she kicked her right foot three times creating a deep, hollow sound. I did it as well. Then the other foot, but this time higher up on the pony's neck: yet a different sound. Again I echoed her. We talked this way for several minutes with our hands, with our feet, with our smiles and our winks, connecting across the barriers of language and culture. Indeed, it felt as if we were spontaneously creating our own language and culture.

Finally, the noise we made attracted the others back to the ponies where they clambered on, wordlessly, joining for a moment the new world we had made together.

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