"Once upon a time there was a mysterious old mermaid named Spot the doggy. And then Spot put on spots."
That's the story Zoe told me this morning. I know, the ending needs work. But the mermaid figure is intriguing.
One of the funny things about these early toddlings into the realm of narrative is, frankly, how much the products resemble stories generated by crude computer programs. It makes me wonder whether my daughter is operating more at the level of syntax or semantics when she comes up and out with the stuff. I mean: is she just stocked with a fair selection of threads she knows how to snip and tie together in random but moderately rule-governed ways? She has a 'Once upon a time there was a mysterious old x named y' function, and sets of possible plug-ins for the argument slots: mermaid, witch, puppy, boy, girl, so forth. Or is she really thinking about a scene for a story and a character, only to lose track of it almost instantly?
Most of the time when she talks - constantly - she is obviously expressing fairly definite beliefs and desires. She could pass a toddler Turing test, no question. But when she decides to 'tell a story', she does appear to switch on a strange sort of syntax-only autopilot; then it's anyone's guess where we'll end up.
I suppose it just goes to show that Plato was right. Those mysterious old great poets have no idea where the stuff comes from. It's very cute.