'bees' in child lg.

Suzanne E Kemmer kemmer at RUF.RICE.EDU
Tue Apr 8 03:02:13 UTC 1997

I have also noticed small children (nephews/nieces) saying 'bees', in
cases where they were too young for daycare and unlikely
to pick up any AAVE forms.

I don't find it at all surprising, given that kids are
trying to map meanings to gramm. and lexical forms, that
a child might create a formal distinction between
temporary vs. permanent state, or more agentive vs.
less agentive predicate, or whatever the actual distinction turns
out to be, via overregularizing the copula for one of
the semantic categories and not the other. Especially
if the distinction in question were one that many grammars
encode formally (e.g. AAVE).  The lack of a parallel in
the surrounding speech of the family isn't problematic,
since kids do come up with their own distinctions
before learning the conventional ones in their language.

Perhaps the CHILDES database will provide more examples,
with some context.

The suggestion of a connection with the strong/weak
classes is intriguing. I recall Colin Harrison's
suggestion on this list a while back
that strong verbs are typically associated
with motor actions (he was pointing out that
this was not controlled for in the Language paper on
brain imaging and the strong/weak contrast).
That's a somewhat different basis from the pure aktionsart one
suggested; both would bear looking into.

It would be interesting to look
at the question of lexical semantic classes of
the verbs and the contribution of the
regular inflections more generally (i.e. outside
the predicate adjective construction).
For example, why shouldn't kids
learn to associate an inflectional ending on the verb
with agentivity/change, given that
these properties are prototypical in verbs?

If so, we might predict that such inflections would appear first on
verbs with these properties, and only later spread to other kinds of
verbs (we'd have to control for frequency).  A related idea: Maybe
when kids first start overgeneralizing the past tense -ed, they do it
first or most often with agentive/change of state verbs, because they
think the -ed means "carried out an action". In other words, they'd be
more likely to say "She goed" than "she sleeped".

Child language people, does this fit with your observations?


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