CULTURE SPOT - The Stranger Language of Children

Scene from the NETFLIX series Stranger Things
By StoryPaul

As a kid who grew up in the 1980s, I can tell you. Things were very different.  In fact, they were a little strange. First, it was the pre-internet world, so you couldn't Google your way out of trouble. Gadgets were large and clunky. Music was epic and enjoyed with friends. And friendship did not require that really strange thing called... Facebook.

So when Netflix released its new sci-fi mystery show Stranger Things which takes place in the 1980s, I knew they had me.

The Story
A group of friends investigates the disappearance of one its members near a suspicious government facility. While searching for clues, they find evidence of a strange creature with a big appetite that lurks in the forest. But most importantly, they also meet Eleven, a young girl with special powers who escaped from the government lab. Naturally, Eleven and the boys join forces to find the missing boy, fight the bad men from the government and deal with the creature.

The Language
Stranger Things - created by The Duffer Brothers - is a non-stop 8-hour epic ride with obvious references to the works of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and writer Stephen King during that strange decade. But if I had to pinpoint its greatest achievement, I would say it has nothing to do with science fiction and mystery. In fact, I would say the greatest achievement of the writers is how they depict the way children speak. They nailed it!

The Scene: "You look pretty"
As a sample of what I mean, WATCH the following scene. Then, READ the copy of the transcript. Situation: The boys argue about whether their missing friend Will is still alive. To find out, they agree to invite Eleven to collaborate with them on a mission outside of the house. -- Pay attention to:
  • how they interrupt each other
  • how they speak in fragments, single words, not always completing sentences
  • how they mostly use simple vocabulary

Scene Transcript

(Radio frequencies tuning) (Indistinct whimpering) 
Mike: We keep losing the signal, but you heard it, right? 
Lucas: Yeah, I heard a baby. 
Mike: What? 
Lucas: Mike, you obviously tapped into a baby monitor. It's probably the Blackburns' next door. 
Mike: Uh, did that sound like a baby to you? That was Will! 
Lucas: Mike... 
Mike: Lucas, you don't understand. He spoke last night. Words! He was singing that weird song he loves. Even El heard him! 
Lucas: Oh, well, if the weirdo heard him, then I guess... 
Dustin: Are you sure you're on the right channel? 
Mike: I don't think it's about that. I think, somehow, she's channeling him. 
Dustin: Like... like Professor X. Yeah. 
Lucas: Are you actually believing this crap
Mike: I don't know, I mean... Do you remember when Will fell off his bike and broke his finger? He sounded a lot like that. 
Lucas: Did you guys not see what I saw? They pulled Will's body out of the water. He's dead! 
Dustin: Well, maybe it's his ghost. Maybe he's haunting us. 
Mike: It's not his ghost. 
Lucas: So how do you know that? 
Mike: I just do! 
Lucas: Then what was in that water? 
Mike: I don't know! All I know is Will is alive. Will is alive! He's out there somewhere. All we have to do is find him. (Static crackling on radio) This isn't gonna work. We need to get El to a stronger radio.
Dustin: Mr. Clarke's Heathkit ham shack.
Mike: Yeah. 
Lucas: The Heathkit's at school. There is no way we're gonna get the weirdo in there without anyone noticing. I mean... look at her.

(after Eleven's makeover)
Dustin: Wow. She looks... 
Mike: Pretty. Good. You look pretty good. 
Eleven: (whispers) Pretty.

If you like good storytelling, and you have a chance, don't miss Stranger Things. Seamless storytelling, impeccable acting, mystery of the highest order and a very realistic depiction of the strange language of children.

  1. Using the collocation believes that, describe what each of the boys believes about their friend Will.
  2. When Lucas says, "You're not actually believing this crap", he's using present continuous with a stative verb like believe. Normally, you're not supposed to do that, but why is it OK in this case?
  3. How do the boys plan to take Eleven to school without anyone noticing?
  4. Compare the difference in meaning when Mike says that Eleven looks "pretty"to when he says that she looks "pretty good". (What part of speech is the word "pretty" in each case?)
  5. What do you know about the 1980s?
See what the strangeness is all about.


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