tooken by the senses taker

The 12/5/17 One Big Happy, which came by in my comics feed a few days ago:


Three things here: Ruthie’s eggcornish reshaping of the unfamiliar word census (ending in /s/) as the familiar senses (ending in /z/); her tooken as the PSP of the verb take; and (in the last panel) her use of take ‘tolerate, stand, endure’ (here with the modal can of ability and also negation; and with the pronominal object this).

census > senses. Another in Ruthie’s great series of such reshapings (of the unfamiliar into something familiar that’s phonologically similar), what we might think of as Ruthian familiarifications.

tooken. As it happens, I’m the tooken guy. From 1970, believe it or not, in a little paper that appeared in two very obscure places:

Arnold M. Zwicky, A double regularity in the acquisition of English verb morphology. Papers in Linguistics (Linguistic Research, Inc., Edmonton AB) 3.3.411-8 (1970). Also in OSU WPL 4.142-8 (1970).

I have now made the OSU WPL version available as a separate posting on this blog: 1/3/18 “A double regularity”. The paper is about one piece of my daughter Elizabeth’s acquisition of English verbal morphology.]

[A personal digression. The first person to “like” this posting on Facebook was my stepson Kit, who, like Elizabeth, has a place in obscure literature on child language acquisition, as the child Christopher in early editions of the Language Files textbook from Ohio State, with data collected by his father, my guy Jacques. Christopher’s moment of fame was as the fwee door dive (< three four five) child — with initial [f] replaced by [d] (a complex replacement of a challenging fricative by a stop), but initial [f] nevertheless available as a replacement for the even more challenging fricative [θ].]

The burden of my tooken paper was that Elizabeth had acquired two generalizations about English verb morphology:

(1) PSP is identical to PST.

(2) PSP has the suffix /n/.

The first of these is a default identity, of very wide applicability in English (an identity of a type I later explored under the label rule of referral (or referral rule). The second is a generalization about a subset of verbs in English; Elizabeth had acquired the knowledge that take is a verb in this subset. She had also acquired the very specific piece of knowledge that the PST of take is — surprise! — took (not the regular taked). If all of these things are simultaneously true, you expect the PSP of take to be tooken.

Well, Elizabeth expected that, and she stuck to her beautiful form tooken for some time, though eventually abandoning it for the less beautiful taken (for which (2) but not (1) holds). Kids are (implicit) generalization-lovers, so it’s no surprise that others have taken the road to tooken along with Elizabeth (and the fictional Ruthie).

I can’t take this. A use of take ‘tolerate, stand, endure’ that has (a) an affinity for occurring in the scope of both modal elements — can / be able to, will / be going to, must / have to — and negation (these together in can’t) and (b) an affinity for occurring with objects like it, this, and that referring vaguely to the context of speech.

The NOAD subentry has one example of this use, with both the (a) elements, but with a specific-reference direct object:

verb take:  tolerate, stand: I can’t take the humidity.

With such a direct object, the verb is pretty clearly not a NPI (negative polarity item):

I can take the heat in Florida (but I can’t take the humidity).

But the modality element seems to be essential:

??I take the heat in Florida (but I don’t take the humidity).

With a vague-reference direct object, the facts are less clear. The relevant subentry in OED3 (Sept. 2015) under the verb take:

P5. Phrases with (chiefly non-referential) it or an indefinite pronoun or clause as object. d. to take it. (a) Usually with can or be able: to endure punishment, affliction, or torment. [1827 will take it, like a saint; 1861 can take it [a flogging] like a bullock; 1914  I value everything that shows the quiet unmelodramatic power to stand and take it in your people [conveying ‘power in your people to take it’]; 1942 If the storm is to renew itself, London will be ready, London will not flinch, London can take it again; 1952 I just couldn’t take it; 1976 Britain can take it; 1986 One must take it like a man. Which means that one must take it like a woman — i.e. without complaint; 2005 I just can’t take it any longer]

Ruthie’s usage, with vague-referential this as direct object, does, however, seem to want both its modal and its negation.

Negated modal versions of this use of take have been enshrined in popular music, in two songs with the title “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. First, The Who in the rock opera Tommy (1969):

(#2) You can listen to it here

We’re not gonna take it
Never did and never will
We’re not gonna take it
Gonna break it, gonna shake it,
Let’s forget it better still

And second, Twisted Sister, on their 1984 album  Stay Hungry:

(#3) You can watch the video here

We’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
We’re not gonna take it anymore

Verse 1:
We’ve got the right to choose and
There ain’t no way we’ll lose it
This is our life, this is our song
We’ll fight the powers that be just
Don’t pick our destiny ’cause
You don’t know us, you don’t belong


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