Category: language

H and I were playing with play dough.

“What is your project?” I asked him.

“Rolling balls,” he informed me.

“What is my role?” I asked.

“Your role is rolling like papi.”

I was not certain what this meant exactly, but experience has taught me that further questions sometimes elicit clarifying answers, so I asked, “What is your role?”

“My roll is something different,” he said, “like a worm.”

A beat passed before I realized we were talking about different things, me the parts we were playing in the game, he the way our hands were moving to form the play dough and the different shapes made by each way of rolling. My roll makes balls. His makes worms. My role was to make balls. I’m still not sure what his was.

“I heard you had a blueberry muffin for breakfast with papi. And milk. How was it?” I asked H upon our reunion.

“I had Milch,” H said.

“Yes, Milch,” I replied.

“Milch. Not mama milk. Milch,” he clarified.

Of course. We only ever have mama milk in English. In our house, it is the default milk, the one that needs no modifier. Every other kind of milk is specified: cow milk, almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk. It appears that milk without specification in German is not mama milk, but something else. Milk and Milch are not the same. Of course.

Experience shapes language. Language shapes thought. Thought shapes experience. Of course.