On Thomas Thurman’s Facebook page, passed on by Bert Vaux this morning, a linguistics cartoon:

The cartoon alludes to the Wug Test in psycholinguistics.

The bare-bones version, from Wikipedia:

The wug test is an experiment in linguistics, created by Jean Berko Gleason in 1958. It was designed as a way to investigate the acquisition of the plural and other inflectional morphemes in English-speaking children.

A jaunty account from the blog Lingtastic: Odds and Ends from a Linguistics Undergrad (on 10/30/12), with another cartoon:

Hi again! So today I’d like to talk about something called the “Wug Test.” The experiment was invented in the 1950s to test when and how children acquire standard pluralization in English. The child is presented with a drawing of a “wug,”…

The name is fictional to ensure the child has never heard the word, or its plural form, before. The person conducting the experiment will then tell the child that the creature is called a wug. The child will then be shown a picture of two wugs; the researcher will say something along the lines of “Now there are two. There are two…?”

A child with an understanding of normal pluralization rules will quickly complete the sentence with “wugs.”

Interestingly enough, this experiment has also been applied to patients with specific language impairment (SLI). Even adult patients suffering from certain kinds of SLI can experience great difficulty trying to pluralize a word they have never seen before. The mechanics of pluralization provide fascinating insights into how language develops in the brain and how people acquire and master language rules.

Because of the distinctive appearance of the wug and its unusual name, it has since gained a lot more cultural significance in the linguistic community than the original creator probably expected. Many linguists see it as almost a symbol of the field and a testament to a particular brew of quirky humor. Personally, I would be proud to have it represent me.

Here’s Jean on the PBS Nova program “The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers”:

And, from the Linguist List’s Linguist of the Day posting (of 3/19/12) on Jean, this charming photo of her with a really big wug:

There’s an enormous amount of Wuggiana out there, including (of course) t-shirts and mugs, and more joking: Wugs Not Drugs, Uggs or Wugs? (with Australian Uggs boots), etc.


4 Responses to “Wuggiana”

  1. JackH Says:

    There are two wuggen.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I don’t know what Jean does with people (largely technie types) who give sophisticated and playful answers like this one.

      • James C. Says:

        At some point I collected a list of unusual English pluralizations of “wug” by wandering through the department and running the Wug Test on random linguists. I recall: wugren, wugi /wʌgi/, wag /wæg/, wugata, wugae, and wug (∅-plural). Someone had an old overhead slide from a presentation which had a Wug House test, with “This is a wug. This is where the wug lives. What is it called?”. I taped it up on a window in the kitchen, and after a few days it had responses like “Wug Shack” and “Wugwam”. You get some very interesting results from linguists and other wordplay aficionados.

  2. Wugs « Niles's Blog Says:

    […] Some lovely comments on Arnold Zwicky’s blog. […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: