The Structure of English: Mysteries of the Lexicon
Saturday, March 20, 2021
9:00 am to 12:00 pm
Prepare to activate your inner linguist to explore English in a way you never have before!
In order to teach a language, it is not enough to know how to speak it – you need to have a conscious knowledge of its structure. Yet most native speakers of English don't know what the 'rules' are any more than English language learners do. And in fact, textbooks may do a good job of describing the regular rules of English, but are baffled by the above questions too. For example, Grammarly gives the rules for comparatives as follows:
- For adjectives that are just one syllable, add -er to the end.
- For two-syllable adjectives not ending in -y and for all three-or-more-syllable adjectives, use the form “more + adjective.”
- For two-syllable adjectives ending in -y, change the -y to -i and add -er.
They claim that there's a rule, but ignore the exceptions! Yet English speakers have intuitions about these words regardless of what the official 'rules' say. Try it! What is the comparative of curt? It should be curter, by the first rule. Uh-oh! And by the second rule, yellower and unhappier should be impossible.
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Dr. Robin Barr holds a PhD in Linguistics from Harvard with concentrations in both Indo-European and psycholinguistics. Her research on morphology involves the relationship between language learning and language change, and she is always happy to hear of new irregular verbs or refinements for wug-tests. Her daughter has been one of her favorite informants, and students are likely to encounter data from her on their problem sets. Prof. Barr is also an avid amateur oboist.