Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Jay Z and Dr Seuss

A few weeks ago my fairly eloquent five-year-old was babbling away nonsense word after nonsense word. All of a sudden, my almost two-year-old was repeating every nonsense word she heard. The two of them were having a great time. Harmless enough right? My first reaction was to shout out something like:

      "We only use real words in this house. How is your little sister going to learn the right words for things if she only hears babble?"
     "Only babies use babble words - are you a baby?" 

But before I could spout out a single brilliant word of parenting frustration, my husband cut in.
"Only Jay Z was able to make millions off of nonsense words.  Do you think you're Jay Z?" 

For those of you who may not remember this gem:
        H to the izzo-O V to the izz-A
        Fo' sheezy my neezy keep my arms so freezy
                                    -Jay Z

yup. made him millions. 

Of course my daughter had no idea what her father was talking about and went back to singing her nonsense song, but it got me to thinking. Is there something to the nonsense words in life? 

Dr Seuss definitely thought so.  

     Did you ever have the feeling there's a WASKET in your BASKET? 
     Or a NUREAU in your BUREAU?
     Or a WOSET in your CLOSET? 
     Sometimes I feel quite CERTAIN there's a JERTAIN in the CURTAIN. 
     Sometimes I have a feeling there's a ZLOCK behind the CLOCK. 
     And that ZELF up on the SHELF! I have talked to him myself. 
                                   -Dr. Seuss  from There's a Wocket in my Pocket.

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities. 
-Dr. Seuss

My personal favorite is definitely the tweetle beetles. 

And shockingly enough, I am not the first person to ask this question. Here's a great blog post about how nonsense language helps increase reading comprehension. If you don't want to read the entire (very intersting) post, here's a bit stolen from the middle:

...The point is that creating nonsense words in verse is FUN while being an excellent exercise in language, sentence structure and comprehension. This is particularly important as kids are developing vocabulary and comprehension skills.  So often, when they come to words they can't read or don't quite recognize, readers can use context to help them.  This is the power of playing with nonsense words.  By understanding how the location of a word in a sentence can tell readers if it is an action, a name, a description can help them better figure out its meaning.  Nonsense can be used to teach kids the power of context, rhyme, alliteration, and sentence structure. 
It also makes language learning more fun and less intimidating.

The #1 thing that is great about made up language:
Read that last sentence again - it makes language more fun and less intimidating. 
Let's face it - language is hard. It's so unfortunate that something so necessary is so much work to learn. I would love to speak ten languages, but let's be honest. That sounds like a lot of work so I probably never will. 

The #2 thing that is great about made up language:
 For all you writers out there, nonsense words can help build the world that your
characters live in. Just think of Harry Potter - how many made up words, names, sports, etc. are included in the crazy world of Hogwarts?  I would guess thousands.
These words help help define the magical space that is not initially familiar to readers. But once defined, you are transported into that world and part of the "secret club" that is Hogwarts. 

Or Star Trek - anyone out there speak Klingon? Yeah, that's not a real language... or at least it didn't start out as a real language.

Language created for a fantasy world can help break your reader out of their daily reality and into the "reality" of your story. It helps your readers accept the otherwise unexplained.

Still not buying it? Consider the made up words to be a foreign language. There are thousands

of books that use foreign words throughout a text to help bring the reader into the country or time that the story takes place in.  These are not made up words, but are still initially unfamiliar to the reader and serve the same purpose as the made up words of the wizarding-world.  
Shakespeare did it, and so does Dora the Explorer.

So I guess the lesson here is: babble away my child, babble away!

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