3V0233.03 Understanding the command “No!” 9/12
UNDERSTANDING “NO” — Saturday I sat in my chair trying to write. Gretchen left Peggy on the floor of our bedroom/study while she tended to the wash. Peggy played with the sunlight and shadows made by trees moving beyond the porch and open screen door, then turned her attention to the trash can — a plastic container, about 6 by 8 inches and ten inches high, with a few papers visible at the top. Peggy raised her shoulders on one hand and reached for the lip of the trash can. “Peggy. No.” I interrupted her — and she put her hand down, turning to look at me. She raised her hand a second time. “Peggy. No.” She looked again. Then, still looking at me, she raised her hand toward the lip of the can. “Peggy. No.” After a fourth try came a very surprising response. Peggy asked me a question — one with no words, with only a rising intonation over an indistinct vowel. Was it her /ae/, the vowel of our verbal imitation game? It seemed between that and a shwa. But what did she mean (if anything)? Was it a whimper of frustration? Was it “Why not?” sans words? or “Can’t I, please?” I suspect to her it meant all of these. I said again, “Peggy. No.” She turned away to play with the sunlight and shadow.
After a few minutes Peggy was back at the trash can. Each time as she raised her hand, she stopped when she heard “Peggy. No.” But, after six more tries, I stopped interrupting her. She pulled over the trash can and scattered papers all over the floor.
Since my telling Gretchen that I believe Peggy understands in a limited sense what “NO” means, she has tried to control Peggy with that command — with, I suspect, unrewarding results (“control” here means get her to stop flailing out with eager arms at a spoonful of food as Gretchen tries to feed her).
RELEVANCE – This note continues our establishment of a catalog of words Peggy uses, our attempt to describe their original appearance in the context. I mentioned to Gretchen that we should try introducing to Peggy a distinction between “NO” and “LET BE” — the first to mean “stop what you are doing”, the second to mean “let that thing alone.”