The slippery slide from imitation to make-believe

Ken writes:

Hugh is currently engaging in behaviours that are indeterminate between imitation and make-believe play. Dot has, I believe already mentioned, though not documented, one example: Hugh’s inchoate telephone play.

I'm on my cell
I'm on my cell
I'll be right over
I'll be right over

(sorry about the appalling composition of these photos, but he’s a moving target)
Hugh holds phones, but also tv remotes and similar sized objects, to his ear and babbles –just like he has seen his parents do. Clearly he is imitating us. But perhaps he is playing at talking on the phone.

There are other examples. His babbling is really in full flow now, and it really does sound like he’s speaking in a foreign langauge (aside: we think it sounds like an Australian aborigine language, which is why we’ve taken to calling him Widgimirrawirral). Is he imitating us or playing at talking? When I cook, he likes to sit at my feet with a saucepan and wooden spoon. He sort of stirs the spoon around the pan. Imitating me or pretending to cook?

I charaterise the difference between make-believe and mere imitation as follows. Make-believe doesn’t have to involve imitation and when it does, it is done under the guidance of a conscious idea of what one’s imitating. Imitating is just trying to do what someone else is doing (striving that one’s actions and behaviour resemble those of someone else). In my opinion, it’s indeterminate whether Hugh’s behaviour counts as make-believe, since, because he’s completely pre-verbal, we don’t have any evidence of what’s guiding the behaviour, but we can’t rule out the possibility that something is.

It sure is fun to watch and wonder though!


5 thoughts on “The slippery slide from imitation to make-believe

  1. kenanddot

    @ Helen: It was a joke – he likes to play on slides.

    We’ve just bought him a little toy microwave. He likes to play with it (though he finds it a bit frustrating – he hasn’t quite worked out he needs to push a button to get the door open), but he’s not playing make-believe, or certainly not pretend-cooking: for example, he always puts it on its back so the door opens upwards. But then, he has only rarely seen us use the microwave as it’s on a work-surface above his head.

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