Winter 2003 • Vol. XXV No. 1 NonfictionJanuary 1, 2003 |

Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song

The best time to visit doting literate parents and their first child is between years one and two. They won't ask you to change the diaper, and you'll see confirmed the two seminal theories of language acquisition: Piaget's tabula rasa, the child imprinted by example and instruction; and Chomsky's hardwired "generative" or "transformational" grammar. Piaget explains best the accrual of a lexicon, one's individual stash of words. This usually begins as idiosyncratic sounds the fond parent will push toward semantic meaning; from his knowledge of context and, of course, deep belief in the genius of his child, he translates these sounds into names: of objects, people, actions, even early abstractions. When I last saw Emily Ryan, at age eighteen months, she was pointing out purple, yellow, and red; by now, since both her parents are poets, she's probably up to mauve, chartreuse, and ecru. Similarly, Emily could count up to three blocks or books or teddy bears, "one," "two, " and "thr

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Ellen Bryant Voigt’s eighth volume of poetry, Headwaters, was published in 2013. “Rubato” appeared in Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006, which was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. She has also published The Flexible Lyric, a collection of essays on craft, and The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song, and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

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