My two-year-old grandson is extremely talkative. His typical day is a running narrative with emphatic hand gestures, grand voice modulation, and expressive raising of the brows. One problem: He seldom uses a word I know–and I seldom grasp the meaning of his words when he tries to teach me.

It helps when he uses a kind of verbal shorthand. If I say, “I love you, Evan,” he replies, “Too.” And the whole family understands what he means by the single word, “Mine.” (Except his five-year-old sister, perhaps.) Occasionally, he uses a sign language that even Grandpa can comprehend. (Shrugged shoulders and upturned hands = “All done. What else?'”)

Most of the time, however, he talks without regard to whether anyone else understands what he’s saying. Here’s my theory:  For Evan, language is not a means of communication but a means of self-expression.

We grown-ups talk because we want to transact a bit of business with each other: “How much is it?” “How much can I have?” “What will you give me for it?” “Why would you do that?” etc.

Evan couldn’t care less. If you don’t give him what he wants, he’ll find a way to acquire it himself, thank you. And if it’s out of reach, a torrent of tears puts the family on notice. Better start guessing what I want–now!

But he reserves the spoken word for more important purposes: to tell you about himself, what he thinks and feels, and what he intends to do about it. If you don’t understand, that’s your problem. He walks into a room and begins his little soliloquy with his hand upraised for dramatic effect, like a Roman senator in the Forum. Then he grins with obvious pride and exits the room — only to return in a few minutes to unburden himself again.

If I’m not careful, readers will see my writing in the same way: Not a serious attempt to exchange information or advance our relationship, just a soliloquy: Talking to myself about myself, with an occasional gesture for emphasis.