Friday, October 20, 2006

language change & irregular verbs

In a stunning goal-line stand, a few resistant irregular verbs are proving that no matter how relentlessly the English language tries to regularize and simplify its verb system (over the past thousand years or so), some of these are going to hold out and not change. These irregular forms are maddening, especially for our non-native learners who try to make sense of a confusing system. But the resistance proves a certain point- as we get down to only 150 verbs or so, the most common of these can't change, because they're used too frequently. Verbs like weave/wove/woven can go, no problem, and become weave/weaved/weaved- why not? Everyone will understand it, and we don't use it often enough for it to even matter. I don't have 9,999 pieces of evidence to prove you wrong. But try to change come/came/come? go/went/gone? No way. Because you know that regularization of thesewould be wrong; because you've not only memorized the irregular forms but taught yourself to use them, and used them many times, thus establishing your resistance to a new pattern.

You will hear kids using go/goed/goed, which always draws a smile from the indulgent (linguist) parent, but this only proves that at this point of the kid's development, mastering the newly-learned rule is more important than using the evidence one has received to date most effectively.

It's a kind of echo of the functional load theory, mentioned a couple of posts down. If all verbs were equal, these would have succumbed hundreds of years ago. It's almost like we have to stop using them in order to truly clean them up and make them fit in with the rest of their classmates. But as the last of the irregulars change, slowly but surely, these remaining few have dug in their heels: not going anywhere. over my dead body you will. want a piece-a-me?



Post a Comment

<< Home