Friday, August 20, 2010

Real Counting!

Grace has been doing something like counting for months now, with numbers going up into the twenties, but tonight Grace did her first confirmable real counting. Here's the interaction:
We're looking at a drawing of a funny man I drew (this is a game we play -- draw something funny then name what's wrong with the picture). This particular man had 6 arms.
Grace: What's funny about the man?
Me: What do you think?
Grace: I not know.
Me: How many arms does he have.
Grace: 4!
Me: Count them.
Grace: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6! He have 6 arms!
Counting is of course a poem and an algorithm (point to one item at a time while reciting the poem without repeating), and I've often wondered if to Grace it was merely a poem and a gesture (point to items while repeating the poem until bored). Tonight, Grace very clearly was using the algorithm correctly. As an extra bonus, I got to see that she hadn't actually memorized the appearance of 6 items as a unit -- her immediate fuzzy-math brain answered "4!" and only after counting did she arrive at the actual number (with dice games and things I've often been convinced that she was memorizing the number-of-dots as shapes rather than as a group of objects she counted).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Words

I'm always amazed that other parents can report the first words their children spoke. How on earth can you be sure?

At any rate, I can report that Clara's first words that I'm positive were words -- used and understood, with clear meaning, etc. -- were an emphatic "AAAH DAAAAA" (all done) at the end of dinner the other night. Clara also did the appropriate gestures for "All Done" (a sort of clapping that K must have picked up from daycare babysign and then a wild waving that Clara has added to make it sure we know she's done). The "Ahh Daa" was spoken first, clearly -- the gestures were only really added when I paused to marvel at the clarity of the words rather than getting her out of her high chair -- ah, the frustration!

This is assuming that the first word must be spoken. If not, then I have a clear first word from this past weekend (earlier still): "clap." I asked Clara to clap, for once not clapping myself or gesturing but merely saying the word, and she immediately began clapping. I tried out some other words and quickly found that she seemed to also know "wave" and "dance."

I realize that it can be hard to know for sure whether she knows these words since, understandably, her patience with being told what to do and doing it does wear thin rather quickly.

Other contenders for first-word (i.e. other things we think we've heard her say) include: "Clara" and "Hello."

How I know what counts as first, I know not, but I can definitely say that Clara is using language now -- let the fun begin!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More Gracese: overtransivitizing

Here are a few more sentences I wanted to blog about before I forgot them, mostly for their charm, but also for their grammatical interest:

Grace, asking me to toss her in the air: Daddy, will you jump me


Grace, hearing me drop something: What did you just fall down

In both of these cases, Grace has transivitized a verb according to the standard English pattern, except that Standard English doesn't transivitize either of these verbs in just this way.

Here's the standard pattern Grace is working from:

VerbIntransitive FormTransitive Form
To XTo cause (Y) to X
OpenThe box opensShe opens the box
StopHe stops at the sign.She stops traffic.
SitShe sits downShe sits the doll down
TripHe trips over the rug.She trips him.
Move over
I'll move over for you
I'll move this over for you

For any students of Spanish following, the same pattern applies in Spanish, with a "se" marking the intransitive forms.
VerbIntransitpattern.pattern.ive FormTransitive Form
To XTo cause (Y) to X
AbrirLa caja se abreElla abre la caja.
PararSe para al señalElla para el tráfico.
Se sienta.Sienta la muñeca.

Not too long ago I read a nice description of which verbs accept the transitivizing pattern and which do not in a popular linguistics book. Alas, I can't recall which book at the moment, nor can I really recall just how strongly predictive the explanation given is.

Grace extended this pattern to two cases where it doesn't belong. In the case of "fall down", there simply is no transitive form of "fall." I suspect that this is part of a relatively clear pattern.

In the case of "jump", there are a couple of transitive uses, but neither of them mean "to cause to jump." Instead, they mean "to jump (at)" or (in checkers) "to jump (over)", with the transitive form basically eliding a preposition. If I think of other verbs similar to "jump" in meaning, I can see some similar transitive uses: skip (vt = to skip over), hop (vt = hop on, as in a train), or in other cases no transitive form available (prance, leap).

Thinking of verbs of motion, there are some neat patterns -- flip, turn, and spin all follow the transivitizing pattern, for example, whereas skip, hop and jump do not -- but it's still a bit hard for me to see what the proper pattern is.

Here's a rough chart of some verbs in the family...
Follow patternHas idiomatic transitiveHas no transitive form
flip, turn, spin, twist
hop, skip, jump
leap, prance,
Move (over)
land, fly

take off, soar
crash, trip

fall, stumble
break, hurt, heal

get better, get worse

Laying it out this way, it's hard to believe there is a pattern underlying it (though I imagine there is, at least of a sort). At any rate, I don't envy Grace the job of sorting it all out.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Adjectives and more unexpected ambiguity

Tonight Grace and I had the following interaction while reading a story about a girl saving pennies in a penny jar:
Me (reading): "She put all the shiny coins in the jar."
Grace (responding): But not the dark ones.
It took me a second to figure out what she meant, but it did occur to me that given the structure "all the ADJ NOUN", her assumption that ADJ was restrictive was not a bad one. Only given the (false) assumption that all coins are shiny and the knowledge that shininess is not a good criterion for sorting coins when saving money is the correct reading, in which "shiny" serves as descriptive embellishment, obvious.

All of this reminds me a bit of teaching adjective order in Spanish. One common example given is "La blanca nieve." The explanation of this word-order is that adjectives providing an extra flourish of description can be preposed, whereas adjectives playing the more typical function of restricting the set of nouns being described are postposed.

When you try to explain this in terms of emphasis, it gets quite confusing, because whether "La blanca nieve" calls more or less attention to the word "blanca" depends on your frame of reference ("blanca" is extraneous information, but the fact it's being mentioned at all given its obviousness serves to emphasize it).

Of course, in both the case of the "shiny coin" and "la blanca nieve", it seems that contextual knowledge -- about the importance of shininess in coins and whiteness in snow -- plays a much more important role than grammatical patterns.