I Thinked I Telled You Before

When I tell people that I am a revisionist about English they often think I am joking (I had a very interesting discussion with a grade school teacher who came to look at my old apartment as I was moving to my new apartment). I often say that in English we form the past tense by adding an ‘-ed’ marker to the relevant verb; these other conjugations are the remnants of other languages. If we respect English on its own terms we will form the past tense in the way that the rules of English tell us to do so (and, by the way, the way a lot of our students already do). Well, here is a very interesting (but old) report on the regularity with which irregular verbs are regularized in English. In just 36,000 years I’ll be saying “I amed right!”

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One thought on “I Thinked I Telled You Before

  1. But will the verb “be” first be regularized to lose its distinctive first person form? Maybe you’ll end up saying “I beed right!”. I seem to recall having heard some toddlers using “beed”.

    It is an Interesting article. I think that languages will retain their quirks, though. The problem is that people seem to have an innate desire to use language to recognize people who are culturally similar to themselves, and, even more importantly, those who are culturally dissimilar. The old idea of the Shibboleth.

    I’m not saying I like the idea of cultural discrimination, but I think that it is something that people cling to. I think we lose irregularities in the less commonly used words, as suggested in the article, because those irregularities are more trouble than they are worth. Uncommon words are not so useful as cultural markers.

    The article alludes to the cultural content of irregularity in its antepenultimate paragraph.

    On the other hand, perhaps someone will figure out how to enhance language-related neuroplasticity, so that use of language as an aid to cultural discrimination no longer works.

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