I do belive I’ve gotten to the bottom of what it is about some child avatars (not all, but definitely some) that drives me bonkers. It’s the speech. It’s not so much the affectation of the way I talk to my cat when I’m half-awake; it’s how badly it’s done.
Here’s just one example. One day I went into a public place and there was a little girl avatar there who greeted me by saying, “Hebbo.” Who the hell says “hebbo”?! I admit I’m not a parent (I’m an aunt of 10, however, of a wide variety of ages) nor am I in child care for a living (though I was a mentor of developmentally disabled kids while in high school), but I have never heard any child replace “L” sounds with “B” sounds.
I think when people with child avatars pour on the baby-talk thick and heavy, they believe that if they don’t, we’ll forget that they’re kids. The fact that you come up to chest-height on me and have a pacifier (still? At your age? Do your parents WANT you to have horrible teeth?) REALLY is sufficient reminder, thanks.
In the book “How to Write an Uncommonly Good Novel,” one of the authors warns of the dangers of writing dialects in dialogue. It makes it difficult for the reader to maintain the pace of the story if she has to take twice as long to figure out what is being said. It can come off sounding racist if done poorly. One of the rare exceptions to the rule is Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; all the narration is Huck’s own slurred, uneducated speech, and Jim’s dialect makes him sound even less educated. That even an urchin and an escaped slave can “get” what truly makes one a decent human being is a huge part of the point of the novel. It should be interesting to note that Huck Finn received much criticism when it was published; not so much because of its themes or (at least at time of publication) the use of the n-word, but rather because of its course language:
The Concord (Mass.) Public Library committee has decided to exclude Mark Twain’s latest book from the library. One member of the committee says that, while he does not wish to call it immoral, he thinks it contains but little humor, and that of a very coarse type. He regards it as the veriest trash. The library and the other members of the committee entertain similar views, characterizing it as rough, coarse, and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people. –The Boston Transcript, 1885
So, what How To Write… essentially says is, unless you’re Mark Friggin’ Twain, don’t write dialects. And even if you ARE Mark Friggin’ Twain, be prepared to meet with opposition.
I know that when I chat in SL, I very rarely type to sound like the way I talk (If I did, I could all but remove the “R” key from my laptop keyboard). But, if you do insist on doing so, I have one humble request to make:
DO IT RIGHT.
Most children don’t say “Me no want ____”. That’s how Cookie Monster talks, not how his audience talks. In fact, the complete absence of “I” in conversation is ridiculously exaggerated by many kid avatars in SL. Kids say “I”. They say “I’m hungry,” “I’m thirsty”, “I have to pee.” They also have manners; they say “Can I have” instead of “Me want”.
If you really have to replace letters to sound more kid-like, again, do it right. Replace “th” with “f” and “v”, replace “L” with “w” or sometimes “y”. I met another avatar once who said, “I fibe years old.” Really? Then you’re developmentally disabled then. Five-year-olds can make “v” sounds. And they get the verb “to be” by that age too (and not “Me bez five” either!). Afraid that “I’m five years old” just sounds too “adult” for your suspension of disbelief? Then try “I’m this many *holds up five fingers*”.
I’m willing to guess that part of what annoys so many people about child avatars in Second Life is the communication barrier. They don’t want to figure out what you’re trying to say in double the time it takes anyone else, wading through w’s and z’s and horrendous grammar that would make a LOLcat raise its eyebrows. Stupid is not cute. Don’t be stupid. Really listen to how real children talk.
Pweeeeze. I begz yous. When you go the route of talking like an idiot, instead of like a kid, you’re causing people to look ill upon ALL child avatars.