Mommy why did he DIS it appear

September 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

On interesting errors in children’s speech, Steven Pinker presents a fine example (@10:40) in this fine doc from BBC TV series ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ (1995):
.. a child says in response to some butler removing food from the table “Mommy mommy why did he dis it appear”

Now on where that came from, the child seems to have arrived at this brew by performing
3 kinds of analysis/operations

-> chopping speech stream into words – too zealous – the child imagined that disappear (which she/he must have heard used) was two words and so stuck another word in between them

-> figuring out part of speech category – the child guessed ‘appear’ to be a particle, like away in “blow it away”

-> figuring out that verbs come in two flavors (transitive and intransitive) – disappear is intransitive ( a book can disappear but you can’t disappear a book) but lots of other verbs can go both ways (butter can melt, you can melt the butter) so the child has taken the rule that converts an intransitive verb to a transitive and over-applied it to disappear

mmm wait but I thought the 2nd analysis took appear to be a particle and dis is already chopped away according to the first analysis, and probably considered as meaning something like “making it not” or “not make/undo”

so the child is saying something like “Mommy why did he (~not make) it appear” …NO ..its more like

Mommy why did he (melt/vanish/DIS) it (away/APPEAR)…nice




Smell of …

September 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Whilst browsing through a review of Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals by Eric Korn published in London Review of Books, (Vol. 20 No. 23 · 26 November 1998) came across this nice passage:

Darwin’s books can be classified by smell. A Naturalist’s Voyage smells of the rainforest, the barnacle books smell of formalin, the (strangely neglected) botany books like Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species smell of the greenhouse, the earthworm book reeks of the compost heap and Darwin’s Thinking Path at Down in autumn. Expression smells of the North Downs, and a man out walking his dog and his stick, chatting with pigeon fanciers, racing men and the occasional zookeeper, teaplanter or missionary on leave. How many miles from Down to Selborne? About three score and ten if you avoid the M25. A journey from 18th-century squire-naturalist to scientific biologist, and back again.

Quick thoughts on two other works to classify by smell:
Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations – Goods rotting in a decrepit warehouse
Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory – …what one’s mind would impose on a scene where Grace Kelly lets slip a fart …a hurried quick interlacing of an unpleasant drift….

“It smells terrible in here.’

Well, what do you expect? The human body, when confined, produces certain odors which we tend to forget in this age of deodorants and other perversions. Actually, I find the atmosphere of this room rather comforting. Schiller needed the scent of apples rotting in his desk in order to write. I, too, have my needs.” ― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

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