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More Stranger Things, again. Eleven, mostly - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
More Stranger Things, again. Eleven, mostly
So, I'm thinking about this universe. It's a good one. I heard it described as "Stephen King as directed by Steven Spielberg." Sounds about right. :D

I am going to, at some point, analyze the use of doors in Season 2. I'm not sure when, but it's just out there, and I need to address it. There are doors EVERYWHERE -- closing, opening, being broken down, being forcibly sealed... I've got to work the symbol out, and that will mean putting in some serious pretension time. :D

But at the moment, I'm thinking about Eleven, and her speech patterns.

When we meet El, she can barely talk at all. She has to point to herself and say "Eleven" when Benny asks her name. We don't know how much she's understanding (she certainly doesn't seem to grok Mike's instructions to stay out of sight, going wandering around when the family is having dinner). She obviously understands more than she's able to say.

So, first conclusion: She was not talked to, or talked around, very much. Kali, who was taken after speaking age, retains her accent despite having spent most of her life away from people who share it. El fumbles around like a bright preschooler learning words for the first time. "Bad place." "Bad men." Yes, no. As Lucas tells Mike, "Your three year old sister says more."

As she spends time with the boys, she picks up more things. Her vocabulary grows quite a lot, though even at the end, she's struggling. By season 2, Hopper's had her working with a dictionary, and she's watching a lot of TV and practicing with it, so she's a lot better, but as her first scene shows, she struggles with the "unwritten" rules -- "Eight-fifteen" rather than "eight-one-five," for instance. On TV Tropes, someone says she inexplicably loses her English when she asks someone "Where is school?" but that makes sense. Like the "Eight-one-five," she'd be operating on how she'd heard things. (Mike tries to explain a quarter after three to her by saying it was when the digital watch read "three-one-five" in season 1.) So what is she most likely to have heard? "I have to go to school" or "She's at school right now" or maybe Hopper had suggested that she might "go to school." Because school in that sense doesn't take the article, when she's struggling to form sentences she's never said before, she probably would omit it. I know when I'm trying to form Spanish sentences, it almost never occurs to me to use the reflexive conjugations, even though I know they're common. I just... don't think about it. I'd think it's the same with the weirder, more practiced-intuition parts of English.

The other thing is: why was her childhood so bereft of words that she reached twelve years old without being able to string together whole sentences? She can obviously read (I think we've seen her read, though, now that I'm trying to remember, I'm not sure (ETA: Never mind, Hopper expects her to read the dictionary, though it's not clear whether or not she knew before she moved into the cabin)), but conversational English -- or conversational any other language -- is outside her knowledge.

So why would that be?

I can buy that Brenner didn't care enough about her to have long, soul-searching conversations, or even that he deliberately disconnected from her so he could do his nasty little experiments. But she was surrounded at the lab by other adults. No one talked to her? That seems like a deliberate and active choice to achieve some purpose.

Part, I'm sure, was just isolation, meant to keep her connections to a minimum and increase her psychic power, like the tank and the utterly featureless rooms. But kids need things. Food, bathroom breaks, and so on. How did she communicate those needs?

My guess would be that such things were made part of her training. She was encouraged not to talk, to try using her powers to ask for things, by communicating telepathically. Instead of "use your words" when in the childhood phase of pointing and throwing things, she'd have been told not to use words or try vocalizing. "Use your mind, Eleven. That's right. Show me a picture of what you need and you can have it.."

If that's the case, it would make sense the Brenner would see to it that no one else was teaching her to lean on words for communication, either. We see him talking to her in flashbacks... unless he's not actually talking, but connecting on the psychic plane. We don't know what his motivations were. But even if he did literally speak to her, he didn't ask her anything or require verbal responses, and probably discouraged them. Talking was for him, not her.

Those are my initial thoughts on Eleven's muteness. Anyone else have anything?
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From: (Anonymous) Date: February 1st, 2018 09:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd be so thrilled if you started writing Eleven fic! For now, thanks for the meta.

Kids are absolute sponges for language, and you're right to note that Eleven, aside from not having had much opportunity to speak, is coming from such a restricted environment that she isn't going to get very common but not necessarily intuitive nuances like "the school" or eight-fifteen. She obviously has a reasonable foundation for how language works, or else she'd be struggling a lot more than she is; the issue is that what constitutes an everyday word is going to be a lot different for someone raised in such bizarre circumstances.

I also wonder if Eleven could read before being taken in by Hopper. I'm going to guess yes, just because of the twisted paternal relationship Brenner established with her. He obviously didn't take her emotional needs into account, but I think giving her a basic education would have been in line with what we've seen of their dynamic

-Cara
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