There is a linguistic aspect to the current pandemic that has not been highlighted in the media’s tedious and tortuous reporting on how ordinary people are coping with the plague, to wit: “private language” in the family, i. e., how members of a family address and speak with each other in moments of intimacy. As a widower living alone, Y-H-B has become quintessentially aware of the importance of being able to converse on intimate terms––specifically, hypocoristically–– with another human being.
That such private languages exist is well known but seldom taken into account by professional linguists when describing speakers’ disparate/discontinuous lexica. Here is an example of such items in discourse as recreated by Y-H-B from typical exchanges by the three members of his immediate family when they lived together thirty years ago:
Conversation between A, daughter of Ma and Mi, and her parents (circa 1990, i.e., when A was 22). NB: A and Mi both speak Japanese (but not Ma).
A: “Moomar [one of A’s hypocorisms (pet names) for her mother], where’s my pencil? Did you see my pencil?”
Ma: “No, I dilbet [= “didn’t”] see it. Pooyin [Mi’s pet name], did you see Gebu’s [A’s pet name] pencil?”
Mi: “Wasn’t that George’s [Ma’s brother’s] joke about Ramaz [a Hebrew day school in Manhattan] students asking each other for pencils in class? ‘Do you have a pencil? No, I don’t have a pencil’ [spoken with a Heder-ish intonation]?”
A: “But I really do need a pencil. Calbet you see that, Mooyin [Ma’s other pet name]?”
Ma: “Of course, I do, Gebufin [variant of Gebu]. I’ll help you find one. Puffin [= Pooyin] will, too, wolbet [= “won’t”] you, Puffin?”
Mi: “Mochiron [Japanese for ‘certainly’], Mumpkin [yet another pet name for Ma].
A: Ooops, I have to go now. Gutentio [invented word based on “goodbye”].
Ma: Booves [totally invented word].
Mi: Booviator [totally invented word].
(und so weiter)
One cannot overestimate the psychic value of such linguistically intimate exchanges when considering the maintenance of one’s mental health, particularly during times of extreme crisis such as one is experiencing globally in 2020.