The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, emphasize the importance of speaking to babies from the minute they're born. They also reinforce a longstanding observation of scientists: that babies get the most out of one-on-one human interactions, such as speech or games, which can't be replaced by high-tech toys.
Which led me to think about the comic genius our nation lost this week - Robin McLaurin Williams.
How did he learn to take our common language and reshape the sounds, mimic it, recreate its rhythms, or semantically take it on a flight to elongate a story? Did his mother talk to her toddler in dialogue with different characters' voices? Reported to be shy in high school, did he learn his rubbery versatility at Julliard or was he coiled with manic energy as a child?
His impersonations as sometimes troubled lunatics or offbeat authority figures showcased his gifts in movies like "Dead Poets Society," "The World According to Garp," "Good Will Hunting," and "Mrs. Doubtfire." But the role I most remember was in "Good Morning Vietnam." It was there his feverish free associations reigned supreme.
However his brain reshaped his mother's words into loose-knit spontaneity, he remained an alien we understood. When he used pure sound in an octave higher (or lower) than his own speaking voice, somehow we understood (like a woodpecker's "rat-a-tat-tat-tat"). His imitation of dialects and his mumbled asides took us on free associations, but somehow we followed. His routines stretched stories out to the planets, then brought us back with a snap, like Mork's rainbow-colored suspenders.
Yet he remained an alien. His ability to play disturbing characters ("Insomnia," "One Hour Photo"), gave his genius the freedom to expand and grow inside characters we couldn't like. He was tormented with interior demons, we know, living in a universe most of us will never inhabit, like his disturbing characters. But unlike them, he will always be loved.
If only we had a clue as to the sounds he heard as an infant, we might begin to understand the development of his creative powers. They might have been the same sounds we heard in his stand-up routines, sounds that, like his genius, couldn't be contained.
|Robin McLaurin Williams 1951-2014|