People just make noise. We like to think it’s more than that, but it isn’t. My son is fifteen months old and he makes noises. They aren’t specific yet but everything else is there, ready to go. I think a room full of toddlers might be having deep conversations that they understand, perhaps berating the necessity for a language that can be written down and used against them in the parking fines of their future. But in this gibbering soundscape can be heard a kind of phrasing, something that feels like sentences. There’s a kind of urge to speak running through them, with intonation that implies a question or a statement depending on the upward turn at the end. They are imitating us, and mostly they have us down pretty good.
What they don’t do is labour intensively at one word, remaining silent until it is perfected before moving on to the next. Yes, there are occasional words that pop out, words they pick up and repeat, that will eventually become absorbed into the stream of verbal noise and sidle up to our adult language. But there is no struggle for perfection (such as I am currently experiencing with the Italian indefinite article rules): just a kind of river of sound that picks up real words and carries them downstream.
Jazz students and teachers, you probably know where I’m going with this. Get in there and make noises. Eventually, like developing toddlers, you’ll get impatient with them and need to refine things, move the notes around, make cadences and all that. But it can wait. With no sound, with no “urge to speak”, you will be tied to the paper and what it tells you to do, all the pipework and no water. Don’t be like that, it’s no fun. God knows we need some of that right now.