[tlhIngan Hol] relative strength of the epithets

SuStel sustel at trimboli.name
Tue Jul 21 09:19:33 PDT 2020

On 7/21/2020 11:38 AM, Will Martin wrote:
> While I agree with the possibility that all you say is right, I don’t 
> accept the authority with which you speak as if your conclusions are 
> final and unquestionable.

I am not speaking with authority. I'm just some guy on an archaic 
Internet mailing list. When they teach you good writing style in school, 
they teach you not to be wishy-washy. I don't claim to be a good writer, 
but aren't you the one who's always complaining about "vague, wittering, 
and indecisive" writing?

> I specifically remember being four years old and being corrected for 
> having said “gooder”. Part of language acquisition is learning the rules,

No. "Language acquisition" is a specific process of the brain which is 
different than "language learning."

A child might obey after being told, usually repeatedly, not to say 
/gooder./ But they ACQUIRED the general superlative-making rule before 
they learned an exception. And most children, when they aren't corrected 
by parents or teachers, will eventually acquire the exceptions too. I 
don't correct my son's grammar, and he DOES say things like /gooder,/ 
and as time goes on he drops them all on his own. This is a natural 
process, not a matter of learning rules.

> from which one concludes that “gooder” ought to be the correct form of 
> the word. Another part of language acquisition is learning the 
> exceptions to the regular rules for word formation. It’s been noted by 
> people with much more authority than I have that irregular forms of 
> words tend to persist among the most commonly used words and dissolve 
> as words are used less often.

That's correct: commonly used irregular forms tend to persist. And why 
are they the most commonly used? Because they're core to the language. 
THEY PREDATE THE RULE. English words like /run/ran, begin/began/begun, 
/and /blow/blew/blown/,//not to mention 
/be/am/is/are/was/were/being/been/ had these forms, or something like 
them, before there was an "add /-d/ to form the past tense" rule. It is 
NATURAL for human brains to think in terms of separate forms for these 
functions. Regular rules came later. Language according to regular rules 
is not how our brains work.

> Stockings are hung by the chimney with care, but men are hanged for 
> murder. My wife finds that distinction extremely important, and she’s 
> right, but given how common execution by hanging has been through many 
> centuries of English and American culture, I strongly suspect that the 
> rarity of modern usage will eventually erase it from the list of 
> irregularities in the language.

Actually, the word /hanged/ is the one that's disappearing, changing to 
/hung/ in all circumstances, even execution. That means the IRREGULAR 
form is the one that's winning out.

Another example is /proved/ or /proven/ as the participle form of 
/prove./ In Britain, they tend to prefer /proved/ (which is also the 
only past tense form), and American style guides clearly advocate 
/proved./ But you can still use /proven/ almost anywhere, even though 
the form is slowly disappearing.

> It may be the case that adults erase irregular words from the vocabulary,

That is not the case. They just learn when to apply the rule and when 
not to. Usually.

> but based on my own memory of my “gooder” moment, it’s quite likely 
> that if a child learns the rules for regular word forms and is not 
> exposed to corrections for an irregular form, that’s a very natural 
> overlap of language acquisition and language evolution, and it 
> explains why less commonly used words become more regular, while very 
> commonly used irregular words do not.

There are all sorts of reasons why less commonly used words might become 
more regular. It's also the case that less commonly used words become 
irregular. Less commonly used words are encountered less commonly, 
therefore the population has less exposure to it and less reason to 
assimilate a particular form. It's the core words, the really basic 
words, in English usually the Germanic words, that have the most 
inertia, and those are much more likely to have irregular forms.

All this is to say that "parents failed to teach children the proper 
rules" is an absurd explanation for language change.


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