Back from Memorial Day

Two cartoons from yesterday: in Doonesbury, the plants continue to talk; and in One Big Happy, Ruthie runs into the problems of correcting young language learners.

1. Chatty plants. The Memorial Day Doonesbury had Zonker encouraging vegetable (cf. animal) communication (#2 here). And now the plants are getting playful:


The text of “Gunga Din” by Rudyard Kipling (1892) ends:

Tho’ I’ve belted you an’ flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

The first flower to speak in (#1) goes Spanish (Señor Din), and the second takes off on Hamlet’s “Alas, poor Yorick”. Vegetable giggles all around.

2. Errors and errors. Ruthie does her best to get little James in line, by correcting what he says. Often (and famously) with young children, the errors they make are in fact evidence that they have mastered some of the system of a language: the child who used to say threw for the past tense of throw and who probably hasn’t heard throwed as an alternative, nevertheless produces throwed, often quite consistently for some time. Attentive parents are alarmed at such developments, but can be reassured by child language experts, who will tell the parents that kids will return to the correct forms on their own.

James’s error in yesterday’s OBH is something else:


Three features of “I ain’t got no crayon”: (1) ain’t as the negative counterpart of forms of do; (2) got ‘have, possess’; (3) “double negation”, with a negative verb together with nominal negation in no, together conveying an emphatic negative, not a positive. James almost surely learned these features from the models of other speakers (rather than from tacit reasoning about the system of English), and the features are unlikely to pass away on their own (though James might well come to use such features as (1)-(3) in some social contexts but shift to more standard alternatives in other contexts).

Kids tend to be resistant to corrections of errors of either type: they are likely to take the corrections as “the same thing” as what they said and so to miss the (intended) point of the corrections (as in #2), which is that they are supposed to alter the form of what they said.

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