Study Guide

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh Language and Communication

By A. A. Milne

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Language and Communication

"Don't you know what "ther" means?" 

"Ah, yes, now I do," I said quickly; and I hope you do too, because it's all the explanation you are going to get. (Winnie-the-Pooh.1.7-8)

Well, this is pretty much it in a nutshell. Milne doesn't always explain what he or his characters <em>mean</em> with their idiosyncratic language, but he leaves it up to us to interpret it. So, what do <em>you </em>think "ther" means?

He said to himself: "That buzzing-noise means something. You don't get a buzzing-noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something." (Winnie-the-Pooh.1.27)

Pooh represents a young child in many ways, and here he's showing us what it's like to be a kid trying to understand lots of grown-up talk. All that noise has got mean something, right? 

He said, "Silly old Bear," in such a loving voice that everybody felt quite hopeful again. (Winnie-the-Pooh.2.53)

Tone makes a difference, doesn't it? 

"Well, then," said Owl, "we write out this notice, and we put it up all over the forest." (Winnie-the-Pooh.4.47)

<em>Winnie-the-Pooh</em> shows us the value of literacy over and over and over again. In this case, when a problem arises, the first thing Owl can think of is <em>writing </em>a solution. For young readers, the intended audience of this book, seeing so many characters relying on reading and writing is a great motivator. 

They began to talk in a friendly way about this and that, and Piglet said, "If you see what I mean, Pooh," and Pooh said, "It's just what I think myself, Piglet," and Piglet said, "But on the other hand, Pooh, we must remember," and Pooh said, "Quite true, Piglet, although I had forgotten it for the moment." (Winnie-the-Pooh.5.9)

Milne's characters are highly aware of what conversations are <em>supposed </em>to sound like, so once in a while they just speak to each other in stock phrases like these. Now imagine this is Christopher Robin, putting words in his toys' mouths. Doesn't it sound like your kids playing? It's an exercise in conversational language—conventional aspects of social interaction that end up being pretty important.

"We say '<em>Aha!' </em>so that Kanga knows that we<em> </em>know where Baby Roo is.'<em>Aha!' </em>means 'We'll tell you where Baby Roo is, if you promise to go away from the Forest and never come back.'" (Winnie-the-Pooh.7.27)

This time, Rabbit is pretty explicit about all the meaning that can be packed into a single word. How much of that meaning do you think Kanga would actually get, though?

Sometimes it seemed to him [Pooh] that it did mean what Rabbit said, and sometimes it seemed to him that it didn't. (Winnie-the-Pooh.7.28)

This is all about Pooh practicing Rabbit's "Aha!" The word is exactly the same, but the way Pooh says it keeps changing. What's amazing is how saying it over and over again transforms it into something else, maybe even into utter nonsense 

"I could call this place Poohandpiglet Corner if Pooh Corner didn't sound better, which it does, being smaller and more like a corner." (House.1.38)

True to the modernism of his time, Milne shows us how important form is. Even though the first name may be more appropriate in terms of its content, the second sounds better and shorter, so that form prevails. 

"He will say it again," said Pooh, "and I shall go on humming. And that will Upset him. Because when you say 'Ho-ho!' twice, in a gloating sort of way, and the other person only hums, you suddenly find, just as you begin to say it the third time-that-well-, you find—:

"What?" "That it isn't," said Pooh. "Isn't what?" Pooh knew what he meant, but, being a Bear of Very Little Brain, couldn't think of the words. (House.3.64-68)

You know what he means, don't you? 

He had to make up a Pooh song about the old one [Owl's old house]. Because he had promised Piglet days and days ago that he would, and whenever he and Piglet had met since, Piglet didn't actually say anything, but you knew at once why he didn't; and if anybody mentioned Hums or Trees or String or Storms-in-the-Night, Piglet's nose went all pink at the tip and he talked about something quite different in a hurried sort of way. (House.9.3)

So here's where Milne shows us that communication doesn't require any language or sound at all. He's been leaving things simple and even unfinished up to this point, but now he lets us into Pooh's and Piglet's world of body language. All those telepathic conversations people have in sitcoms? This is just like that. 

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh Language and Communication Study Group

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