Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Three Word Sentences

Lila's language has been exploding for a month or two now, which means she is now in one of my favorite phases linguistically. I have to try to pay attention this time: somehow with both Grace and Clara, I went from counting words to expecting them to use basically the full grammar system of English without really noticing what happened in the interim. And I mean that pretty completely. Clara, at 3, already commands the English equivalent of what my Spanish students still struggle with as Seniors. The other day a friend commented after hearing her use the pluperfect progressive and I realized I wasn't even noticing new structures any more, and hadn't been for ages -- I expect the grammatical structure to be pretty much complete already, with only the predictable lapses in irregular forms left for cuteness.

Anyway, Lila is very much in the early sentence phase, and what's fun is that a huge number of her utterances fall into 3 word sentences that basically look like the top of the tree diagrams my middle school English teacher had me learning. Do you remember those diagrams? If you never did them, here's a guide.

This was the basic structure of all sentences. Understanding that diagram meant you could write complete sentences, meant you would always be able to identify a fragment or a run-on, meant you could pretty much parse anything you wanted to. Here's what's kind of neat about Lila's speech right now: she has near total respect for the basic SVO word order in English, but complete flexibility about what kinds of words can fill the verb slot. So her diagrams look more like this:
Here's a list of some typical sentences:
SentenceStandard EnglishComments
Mamma hep meHelp me, mommy.The present tense can work as commands like this in Spanish, but not usually in English.
Dadda up me, no mamma up meDaddy should carry me, not mommyPrepositions can be verbs. Also, she can string these puppies together!
Dadda oh no bookDadda knocked over the bookExclamations can be verbs
Mama book meRead me a book, mommyNouns can be verbs
Dada mma* meDaddy kissed mePhysical actions can be verbs too!
Dada may-meh meDaddy carried me to the basement!Places can be verbs!
Baby doll oh no mihBaby doll spilled the milkThere can be subjects other than mom and dad
*actual kissing sound, not a word.

She of course also has some sentences without objects, like these ones:

SentenceStandard EnglishComments
Dadda book oh no!Daddy's book fell overNote a proto-genitive here
Mamma memehMommy basementNote a proto-locative here

Well, there's a list of sentences so far. I'll do my best to listen out for other emerging structures as she rounds the corner towards her 2nd birthday this summer. I believe she is sometimes varying the SVO structure I presented here -- I think I've heard her use VOS appropriately to put emphasis on the subject, suggesting she may already understand the underlying Theme/Rheme structure, but I'm not certain enough of any examples to write them down. I'll keep my ears out!

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