Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Spanish Plurals in Gracese

One of my favorite features of Grace's language right now is a simple rule that she has that, it seems to me, is the same as the rule for forming plurals in Spanish. My guess is that this is a rule of syllables rather than a rule of grammar per se, which is interesting because of what it seems to imply about Grace's perception of English (or does it? Truthfully, I have no idea).

Grace's rule is as follows:
- If a word ends with a consonant and you need to add an "s", you add "[iz]" (normal spelling=eeze).
- If a word ends with a vowel and you need to add an "s", you add "z" alone (this is the standard English rule).

The result is some pretty adorable sentences, such as the following, which I heard (it seems) several thousand times last night:

[no, mo bʊkiz] (Nooo, mo' bookies) - No, more books!

The explanation that comes to mind right away is that Grace has a similar template for syllables as, e.g., Spanish and Italian, where a syllable can consist of [CONSONANT + VOWEL + CONSONANT], with both consonants being optional. Of course, in standard English, as many as 4 consanants can stack up, as in "sixths" ([sIksθs]).

I have no idea if this is the "right" explanation. If it is, it's consistent with other consonant reductions in her speech, which I think are pretty universal to toddler speech, such as:

stuck -> tut (reduction + duplication)
spinning -> tinning

It's hard to know whether she *hears* "stuck" as "stuck" but then says "tuck", or whether she hears "stuck" as "tuck" in the first place (or as "tut"). It's hard to believe that she could hear books" as "bookies", though.

Another complication: I'm pretty sure she says the following:
[næns] for "dance" (standard: [dæns]).

That would imply that maybe her syllable template prohibits a stop to be part of a consonant cluster, but allows clusters with nasals (and probably liquids etc).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why it's hard to say you're "fluent"

Here are some things Grace can say, at 2, that I don't know how to say in Spanish, in spite of years speaking and teaching the language:

* Jellyfish
* Reindeer
* Futon

Okay, that's my whole list for now, but the point is, vocabulary comes in strange ways. There are probably hundreds of words your average Spanish-speaking four or five year old knows that I don't know, even though I am basically fully conversant and of course have all of the educated vocabulary five year olds don't have. Words for plants and animals (which, oddly, seem so much important in toddlerdom than adulthood), words for parts of cultural rituals, and on.