Mei's Early Language

my daughter Mei

I recently posted about my daughter Mei's pronunciation. Now I'd like to say a few things about her developing grammar before it changes too much and she starts sounding just like the rest of us. I tried to record a video of us playing with some animal cards this morning, but it cut off after only two minutes. (Maybe that's how PhotoBooth works; I don't really know.) Rather than wait until I can get another video, I'll just fill you in on a few things I've noticed so far. I'll be generalizing about Mei's language between the ages of 2;7 and 2;10.

First off, there isn't much distinction between words like "I", "I'm", and "my". Sometimes, sequences like "am I" get thrown in there too. There is also confusion between subject and object forms, though not so much for the first person singular. (Actually, the first person singular forms have become pretty much adult by now. She progressed through them too fast for me to keep a good record.) The forms I've listed below probably aren't used 100% of the time to cover the meanings I list, but (except for the ones listed in parentheses) I've noticed them to be the most likely forms to be chosen for these meanings during this time period.

myI(me)myI'mam I
weweusourwe're(are we)
youyouyouryou'reare you
itit(its)it's(is it)
sheshehershe's(is she)
hehehimhishe's(is he)
they'rethey(them)theirthey'reare they

Notice that standard English doesn't distinguish these forms perfectly (two uses of "you", "it", and "her"). This is especially true if you ignore spelling and just think about the spoken language ("your"/"you're", "its"/"it's", "their"/"they're", etc.). And colloquial speech mushes them together even more (copula dropping, especially with "are we" and "are you"). These five columns differ from each other only slightly in meaning. You might even say its more of a difference in function than in meaning. So no wonder they're getting lumped together.

I listed the copula forms above, but I didn't list anything with "do"/"does". Mei distinguishes those two forms from each other pretty well, but she confuses them with their copula equivalents. For example, today Mei asked, "Do you my mom?" and then corrected it to "Are you my mom?" She's getting pretty good with this sort of question, but she used to do a lot of repetition as you can she in the following examples I had the foresight to jot down while they lasted.

  • Is this is mine?
  • Are these are good?
  • Are these are her stuffs?
  • Are one of those red things are for dolls?
  • You think the brown one is a horse? Is the brown one is a horse?
  • What is this is?
  • Are the clothes are clean? Are the clothes are a little bit clean? Are they're a little bit clean? Are they're clean? They're are clean, Daddy!
  • Do my blanket is clean too? Is my blanket is clean too?
  • Do you rice is warm?
  • Is that was a booger?
  • Is the door makes music for us?

Notice those last few don't actually repeat anything. It looks like the "is" and "do" are just question markers with no real meaning. But look at these next couple.

  • This is was in my hair.
  • The one straw is goes right there?

This sort of double-verbing is still extremely common in Mei's language and was actually the thing that prompted me to start recording these forms in the first place. At least for a couple of months, "are was" equaled "were" for Mei. So the first verb seems to be for subject agreement and the next carries the tense. She also uses "is"/"does" and "are"/"do" with modals (like "can") and even with full verbs sometimes.

The negative marker seems to precede any auxiliaries, as you can see in the following gems. It might actually replace the subject-agreement "is" you see in the previous example.

  • It not was raining in there; I just went peepee.
  • I not was being rowdy; I was being Mei!

This next example involves a different sort of repetition. She does this a lot with phrasal verbs (like "stick out"), but I've only actually written down one so far. Notice that "out" could go in either position in standard English (so long as it only occurs once).

  • I sticking out my tongue out!

Another big pattern involves apparent splitting of things that shouldn't be split for questions and relative phrases (resulting quite often in stranded determiners).

  • What is it your? ... Is it your... birthday?
  • What is that one is a?
  • What that one is a?
  • What this is a?
  • What I a?
  • What she a?
  • That's the poopoo I went. These are the poopoo I went.

She's going to hate me later for posting some of these, but they're just too cute! I mean... enlightening. For science.

One more thing I've noticed (and it would be pretty confusing if I hadn't) is that Mei uses the word "so" to mean both "so" and (much more often) "because". Recently, she started answering most "why" questions with "Cuz I love you," (copied from her mom), but that's about the only place she uses "cuz" so far. I noticed today she started to say "so" in that sentence but hesitantly corrected herself. She's learning!

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At March 7, 2009 1:52 AM , Blogger Jonesy said...
Here's a bit more language from my daughter. On the surface, these data seem to support the copy theory of movement. What's interesting is that it's often not whole words that get copied/moved.

So it don't will be cold outside.
I will not will be cold.
I don't will do it.
I don't was eating the chalk.

I taked off those panties off again.
This box really is has fabric in it!

What is it a? I think what it is a.
Do you know what color is this chalk is? Pink.
At July 28, 2009 1:49 PM , Blogger Jonesy said...
Most of the oddities in Mei's grammar have worked themselves out by now, but she still forms questions with an inappropriate little word like `a` hanging on the end sometimes. Earlier today she asked something like, "What was that the time when?"

It makes perfect sense of course. You'd answer like, "That was the time when we went to the beach," or something. But for some reason, adults never form questions this way. Not English-speaking adults anyway. It'd be interesting to look at this cross-linguistically.

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