Sunday, February 15, 2009

Logical thinking

I was writing a line:
They had already closen ranks.

It sounded right, but looked wrong. Took me a while to notice that while "broken" is the past participle for "break," and "chosen" the past participle for "choose," the past participle for "close" is ... closed.

I work with a lot of ESL (English as a Second Language) students, and they make these perfectly logical mistakes all the time. You know, why NOT bring brang brung, huh? After all, there's sing sang sung!

Not great thoughts here, only just a gentle admonition to professors everywhere-- only native speakers can be expected to get all the illogical parts of our language right. (English isn't any more illogical than any other language, btw.) So ESL writers shouldn't be overly penalized for these little fluency errors. This sort of mistake does not make them bad writers. Content, sentence construction, thematic unity matter more than whether they write "in" rather than "on" in some idiom.

That said, ESL writers should-- until they are very confident -- ask a native speaker to read over ALOUD every draft to catch those little errors. And the reader doesn't have to be trained in editing. They should be able to catch and help correct most of the little fluency issues, and that will make for an easier read by the target audience.

(But "closen" ought to be a word. :)
Alicia

12 comments:

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

As an interesting sidenote: both of my kids naturally gravitated toward bring brang brung, even though we're a (go figure) highly verbal family.

As you say, that's part of what makes English the lovely language it is.

Edittorrent said...

My kids-- who are theoretically grown-- both say "on accident" rather than "by accident," and I've heard my students (same age) say the same thing. Again, perfectly logical when you have "on purpose."
Alicia

Ian said...

"Brang" should totally be a word too. Like "drinkly," as in "I'm feelin' pretty drinkly now. *burp*"

And for them guys who race automobiles, "brung" is a perfectly normal usage, as in "run whatcha brung," which translates to the non-gearhead as "race whatever vehicle you drove to the event in."

I also think some of the words Blogger uses for verification ought to be canonized into the English language. Mine is "obbitymp," which sounds like a Cockney pronunciation for the temporary hobbit.

JewelTones said...

Oi, this is like "boughten." I have a friend who says that all the time instead of "bought."

But what got me was the suggestion of reading things aloud. I do that with my manuscripts when I'm looking for typos and errors. It's the only way I really catch them. Well, that and reading the manuscript backwards from the last page forward. LOL. That really forces your brain to go by the page and not memory of the story.

JT

Jenny said...

This is very much like what happens to the logically minded child with spelling.

In my years in the computer programming field, I noticed that the very best computer programmers were always terrible spellers. I figured it was because they derived spellings from analogy and rules rather than rote memorization.

Joanna Waugh said...

What about "kneeled" for "knelt" Alicia? As in, "he kneeled down before her..." "Knelt" is the correct verb, right? I've run across this so often, I'm beginning to doubt myself.

Murphy said...

What about texted? This is a word that I can’t get my head around. But the fact that I might have to one of these days, made me think about some of the words that were listed like: bought and boughten and bring and brang. Those words make me think in terms of correct or incorrect, whereas texted is a newly derived word sort of. Well, in that it is an old word applied in a new way to accommodate a recent and specific technological action. So, my question in this regard is: Are we willing to accept our old version of that word to transition from the noun (we all know) to the verb that it is being innovated into? I kind of think we will have more of a problem accepting this than we did accepting new words created for this technology - like email for example. That word came with no preconceived usage rules in place, but text(ed)? I’ll probably always say: “He just sent me a message.”

So, bringing this back to the point of your post - if our language is constantly evolving and transition, and we are still innovating new words to explain a new type of action or occurrence, (even using old words in a new way) how can we imagine that the best native speaker will be able to get it all right? We can’t and that is why editors have to be much more lenient:). Hey, I’m only kidding but it would be nice.:D

And as far as ‘closen’ goes? It could happen. I mean wasn’t it Lewis Carrol who coined the word chortle from the combined words chuckle and snort? Compared to that awkwardly pronounced word - your ‘closen’ rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Jennifer said...

Alicia, what do you think of "snuck"??? In my days on the school paper, my editor would have on a platter the head of anyone who used "snuck" instead of "sneaked" and I find myself correcting my kids (who are still little and amenable--relatively--to being corrected!), but some grammar hounds say snuck is fine. It still sounds "wrong" to me.

Edittorrent said...

Murph, maybe if I keep using "closen" it'll catch on!
Alicia

Edittorrent said...

"Boughten" is a good one-- I grew up in Appalachia, and heard that all the time, and occasionally find myself using it. Sometimes there is a slight or not-so-slight semantic difference, sometimes not. (Like "boughten" was the past participle, distinguished from simple past: She was boughten and paid for.) The -en past participle is quite common and so "boughten" is probably just an old form. You'll get the old forms more in country areas where there isn't as much change as in urban areas, because country folk don't need to communicate much with people who speak different dialects.
Alicia

Edittorrent said...

This might just be the best comment thread ever.

T

Murphy said...

Okay Alicia, and I will even help you out. Every time I feel compelled to use the word 'chortle', I will make a note of it and purposely work in the use of 'closen' somewhere too. If asked, I plan to say that it’s an edgy rendition of two really great words, brilliantly melded together...
Why it’s an ‘Aliciaism’. And who knows? Maybe it will spark a movement!