Cartoon diagramming

From Craig Campbell to Barbara Need on Facebook, this Mother Goose and Grimm of 4/22/02:

Sentence diagramming (in particular, a Reed-Kellogg diagram) in the comics.

First, the cartoon character, Tweety Bird. From Wikipedia:

Tweety Bird (also known as Tweety Pie or simply Tweety) is a fictional Yellow Canary in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of animated cartoons. The name “Tweety” is a play on words, as it originally meant “sweetie”, along with “tweet” being a typical English onomatopoeia for the sounds of birds. His characteristics are based on Red Skelton famous “Mean Widdle Kid”.

… Many of Mel Blanc’s characters are known for speech impediments. One of Tweety’s most noticeable is that /s/, /k/, and /g/ are changed to /t/, /d/, or (final s) /θ/; for example, “pussy cat” comes out as “putty tat”, later rendered “puddy tat”, and “sweetie pie” comes out as “tweetie pie”, hence his name. He also has trouble with liquid sounds; as with Elmer Fudd, /l/ and /r/ tend to come out as /w/. In Putty Tat Trouble, he begins the cartoon singing a song about himself, “I’m a tweet wittow biwd in a diwded cage; Tweety’th my name but I don’t know my age. I don’t have to wuwy and dat is dat; I’m tafe in hewe fwom dat ol’ putty tat.” (Translation: “I’m a sweet little bird in a gilded cage…”)

Tweety’s antagonist is Sylvester the cat. On spying Sylvester, Tweety says his

signature lines “I tawt I taw a puddy tat!” and “I did! I did taw a puddy tat!” (Originally “I did! I taw a puddy tat!”, but the extra “did” got inserted somehow). Eventually, someone must have commented on the grammar of “…did taw…”; in later cartoons, Tweety says “I did! I did tee a puddy tat!”.

In a short video:

Tweety’s phonological substitutions are broadly like those in child language acquisition of English: stops for fricatives, bilabial stops preserved, other stops realized as alveolars, l realized as w. And the combination of a tensed verb (saw) with tensed supportive do (did) is also found in children’s acquisition of English.

Note the formula “I did! I did taw a puddy tat!”, which Barbara Need alluded to on Facebook in talking about the diagram on the board: “It is! It is an object.” And so it is.

On sentence diagramming on Language Log:

two 2004 postings about an entry of Kitty Burns Florey on her website, by Bill Poser here and Mark Liberman here, material that she was incorporating in her book in preparation

my reference in 2006, here, to an interview with

Florey, author of Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences (Melville House, 2006), a charming and decidedly non-technical account of Reed-Kellogg sentence diagramming and those who have loved it.  She kept reminding her listeners that she was neither a linguist nor an English teacher, she carefully made no claims about the pedagogical values of sentence diagramming, and she was realistic about change in language (while struggling to recognize what was “technically” or “traditionally” correct).

and in March of this year, Mark Liberman on an interview with Florey about the history of sentence diagramming, here

3 Responses to “Cartoon diagramming”

  1. John Lawler Says:

    That’s a very interesting, and decidedly non-standard, R-K diagram for the complement S, though. Normally I saw a pussycat — never mind the eye dialect — would be on top of a vertical tree growing out of the slot after the DO marker following thought .
    Here, though, the complement S simply starts up with a new subject (I) in that slot, on the same line, as if bracketing its clausehood were irrelevant, compared to positioning its speech order.

    Which is probably, in fact, the case for many speakers, with a quaificational I thought .. main clause.

  2. ktoobusy Says:

    I use this sentence to help my students remember complex sentence structure and punctuation (understood that).

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