Analytic languages and their function. (4)

A. Katz amnfn at
Mon May 29 18:18:27 UTC 2006

Lise Menn wrote:

>First: Children learning English and other languages often have a mix
>of longer unanalyzed phrases, words + 'fillers', and single words.

Yes. And sometimes unanalyzed phrases stand for whole propositions, from
which names for participants are identified only later in the development
of the child's speech. In such cases, the unanalyzed phrase describes the
whole event holisitically.

>Secondly, having a modest amount of inflectional morphology (say a 2-
>way marking of person or case distinction) is not tantamount to
>having a full grammar - NOR is it the same as having a totally
>monomorphemic language.  Children who use accusative case for things
>they are throwing or eating and nominative case for someone who is
>doing something do have a case contrast - but it's very restricted -
>and it may be almost completely predictable by the animacy of the
>noun (nominatives animate,  accusatives inanimate), as early pronoun
>use may be in English.  It does not make sense to be dichotomous
>here, to say 'either there's a grammar or there's no grammar'.


>Third: What does it mean to say that a child who says 'dog' is or is
>not using a noun?  If she is pointing to a dog, you can say that
>she's referring to a concrete object.  Whether that is sufficient for
>it to be a noun is going to depend on your theory of grammar.

Sometimes children don't use "Mommy" to name a concrete object. Sometimes
they use it to mean "come here!" I have anecdotal evidence.

When my daughter was 18 months old, we were living in Taiwan. I spoke
Hebrew to her, and her nanny spoke Mandarin. When my daughter wanted one
of us to come help her with something, she would call out: "Mama! Mama!"
It didn't matter if it was the nanny who was there or me. She called for
both of us the same way. (She learned to do this by observing the nanny's

However, she did not use "Mama" to refer to either of us. If I showed her
a picture of the nanny, she would point at it and say "A Yi" (which is how
the nanny referred to herself: Auntie.) If my daughter saw a picture of
me, she would point and say "Ani". "Ani" is the Hebrew 1st person
nominative pronoun. I referred to myself in first person, so my daughter
used the first person pronoun to refer to me, too.

It doesn't matter what the nanny or I originally thought "Mama" meant. It
doesn't matter that most people use that word as a nominal or participant
reference. For my daughter, it was the way to summon help. It was not a
way to refer to anyone, because she never pointed at any person and said

Regardless of their derivation, words mean only what they are used for by
the particular speaker at a particular place and time. That was my point.



Dr. Aya Katz, Inverted-A, Inc, P.O. Box 267, Licking, MO
65542 USA
(417) 457-6652 (573) 247-0055

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