We’ve been eating osso bucco more often lately. Lillian loves the bone marrow – she’ll eat the marrow out of as many bones as she can get onto her plate. Then, she’ll stack the bones into a tower, and use the serving spoon to ladle the juices from the stew into the tower, filling it to the top. Of course then it gradually runs out, but she keeps topping it up until her plate starts to fill with “soup”.
At the zoo today she picked up a feather. On the way out we stopped at the playground. She wanted to have a go on a rocking horse, but what to do with the feather?
“I’m putting the feather on the seat. I’m going to sit on it.”
“Why are you going to sit on it?
“Because I would lose it. If I didn’t sit on it”
Technically, “If I didn’t sit on it, I would lose it.” is what philosophers call a “counterfactual conditional” – an “if…then” statement asserting a connection (in this case a causal connection) between states of affairs that do not actually exist. To assert the counterfactual she has to use the subjunctive tense (…didn’t…would…). Justifying an action by means of a counterfactual conditional is a sophisticated cognitive/linguistic performance. It emerges in a child’s thinking and speaking gradually, as she uses gradually more articulated expressions to relate imagined things to actual things. Lillian’s been doing this sort of thing for a while, but today it just jumped out at me as a crystal-clear example.