Analytic languages and their function. (7)

A. Katz amnfn at
Tue May 30 05:19:39 UTC 2006

Speculation about what beginning speakers "mean" by words they use was
initiated by Steve Long earlier in this thread when he questioned whether
the use of inflectional morphology by Turkish children in the one word
stage was really to be taken as inflection.

If every word uttered is to be taken for its conventional meaning, then
there is no point in asking that question. Accusative case is accusative
case, and never mind what the child was using it for.

If it is appropriate to question the function played by case marking
morphology in the communicative behavior of beginning speakers, it is
equally appropriate to question whether a conventional noun is really a
noun in the usage of a particular child.

The real problem in trying to maintain an intelligent, sustainable
discussion of this issue is to remember that the point of view of the
speaker may be very different from our own and that deviations from
convention are not necessarily manipulative acts.

An adult crying "fire" in order to attract attention, when he knows full
well the conventional meaning of the term "fire" is being manipulative. A
child who has no idea what the conventional meaning of "mama" is, and
who may not have realized yet that every person has a mother, nor that
what we call someone depends on our relationship with that person, nor
for that matter, that mama is a noun rather than a verb, is not
being manipulative, when using "mama" as a general summoning device.

I think the same problem of not paying attention to the speaker's context
may also be at the base of some of the misunderstandings about pidgins.
Take this sentence from p.514 of Hock's PRINCIPLES OF HISTORICAL
LINGUISTICS (Mouton 1991):

(9) Number two cop catch him pass finish.
    `The subordinate official received the letter.'

We tend to think of pidgins as using only substantive words, with hardly
any function words at all. And if we take every English word in (9) for
its standard dictionary meaning, that would be true. But isn't it clear
that the word "him" is serving as an indicator that the verb "catch" has
an object "pass"? Isn't it equally obvious that the word "finish" is
marking completive aspect?

Is the pidgin speaker being "manipulative" when using English substantives
as unconventional grammatical markers?


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

More information about the Funknet mailing list