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





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