Transcript: Steven Pinker on "Words and Rules" | Mar 04, 2006

Steven stands behind a podium and gives a speech. The podium is wide with light and dark blue panels with the Carleton University logo painted in white letters just below the microphone.

Steven's clean-shaven, in his early forties with shaggy gray and white hair. He's wearing a pinstriped suit with a white shirt and stripped green tie. A caption reads "Steven Pinker. Professor of Psychology Harvard University."
The caption changes to "Words and Rules."

Steven says I'M GOING TO

BE TALKING ABOUT LANGUAGE THIS

EVENING.

LANGUAGE COMES SO NATURALLY TO

US THAT IT'S EASY TO FORGET

WHAT A STRANGE AND MIRACULOUS

GIFT IT IS.

BUT THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE

GOING TO BE DOING FOR THE NEXT

HOUR.

WHICH IS

LISTENING TO A GUY MAKE NOISE

AS HE EXHALES.

[Some chuckle]



Steven continues NOW WHY WOULD

YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT?

NOT BECAUSE I CAN CLAIM THAT

THE SOUNDS ARE PARTICULARLY

MELLIFLUOUS.

BUT IT'S BECAUSE I'VE PACKED

INFORMATION INTO THE PRECISE

SEQUENCE OF HISSES AND HUMS AND

SQUEAKS AND POPS THAT I'LL BE

MAKING OVER THE NEXT HOUR THAT

YOU CAN DECODE, ALLOWING ME TO

IMPLANT IDEAS INTO YOUR HEAD.

NOW, OVER THE NEXT HOUR THE

IDEAS THAT I HOPE TO IMPLANT

ARE ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR

ABILITY ITSELF, LANGUAGE.

BUT WITH A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT

SEQUENCE OF HISSES AND POPS I

COULD BE CAUSING YOU TO THINK

THOUGHTS ABOUT AN UNLIMITED

RANGE OF TOPICS.

ANYTHING FROM THEORIES OF THE

ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE, TO THE

LATEST TWISTS AND TURNS IN YOUR

FAVOURITE, SOAP OPERA.

THIS IS WHAT I THINK IS THE

MIRACLE OF LANGUAGE.

IT'S VAST, EXPRESSIVE POWER.

AND I THINK THE FUNDAMENTAL

QUESTION IN UNDERSTANDING

LANGUAGE IS FIGURING OUT WHAT

THE TRICK IS.

WHAT IS THE TRICK BEHIND OUR

ABILITY TO FILL EACH OTHER'S

HEADS WITH SO MANY DIFFERENT

KINDS OF IDEAS?

AND THE POINT OF THE LECTURE

AND OF THE BOOK, IN WHICH ITS

BASED IS THAT THERE IS NOT ONE

TRICK BUT TWO, AND BOTH OF THEM

WERE IDENTIFED ABOUT A HUNDRED

YEARS AGO BY EUROPEAN

LINGUISTS.


A PowerPoint slide shows a text under the title "Two Tricks Behind the Vast Expressive Power of Language." The text reads "1. Memorized words (Saussure: the "arbitrary sign"). An entry in the mental dictionary." Below a small picture shows Donald Duck and a text reads "Duck. Sound: "duk."

Steven continues THE FIRST IS THE PRINCIPLE OF

THE MEMORIZED WORD, WHAT

FERDINAND DE SAUSSURE CALLED

THE ARBITRARY SIGN.

THE WORD DUCK FOR EXAMPLE

DOESN'T LOOK LIKE A DUCK OR

WALK LIKE A DUCK OR QUACK LIKE

A DUCK.

BUT I CAN USE IT TO GET YOU TO

THINK THE THOUGHT OF A DUCK,

BECAUSE ALL OF US AT SOME POINT

IN OUR LIVES HAVE MEMORIZED AN

ASSOCIATION BETWEEN THAT SOUND

AND THAT IDEA.

THAT MEANS SOMETHING HAS TO

HAVE BEEN STORED IN MEMORY TO

RECORD THE ASSOCIATION AND IN

SIMPLIFIED FORM IT MIGHT LOOK

SOMETHING LIKE THIS.

AN ENTRY IN THE MENTAL

DICTIONARY WOULD CONSIST OF A

LABEL FOR THE WORD ITSELF.

SOME KIND OF REPRESENTATION OF

ITS SOUND AND THEN SOME KIND OF

REPRESENTATION OF ITS MEANING.

NOW SIMPLE

THOUGH IT IS, WORD, WORDS HAVE

A NUMBER OF ADVANTAGES.

SINCE HUMAN MEMORY IS

CAPACIOUS, THERE ARE A LARGE

NUMBER OF CONCEPTS THAT WE CAN

EXPRESS USING WORDS.

IT'S BEEN ESTIMATED THAT A

TYPICAL, HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE

KNOWS ON THE ORDER OF 60,000

DISTINCT WORDS, WHICH MAKES UP,

WORKS OUT TO A RATE OF LEARNING

THEM OF ONE EVERY TWO HOURS

STARTING AT THE AGE OF ONE.

ALSO THE BRAIN IS WELL,

EQUIPPED TO, TO USE WORDS.

GIVEN A THOUGHT IT TAKES LESS

THEN A QUARTER OF A SECOND TO

RETREIVE THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR

HOW TO PRONOUNCE IT.

AND GIVEN A SOUND OF A WORD

COMING INTO A BRAIN THROUGH THE

EARS IT TAKES LESS THEN A

QUARTER OF A SECOND TO REGISTER

ITS MEANING.

BUT WORDS HAVE A NUMBER OF

DISADVANTAGES AS WELL.

FOR ONE YOU'RE STUCK WITH A

FINITE NUMBER OF PREDETERMINED

CONCEPTS.

THOSE FOR WHICH YOUR LANGUAGE

HAS ALREADY ALLOCATED WORDS.

AND ALSO, WORDS ARE SLAVES TO

MEMORY.

IF YOU'RE THE ONLY ONE WHO

KNOWS A WORD, YOU MAY AS WELL

NOT KNOW IT ALL.

THEY'RE USEFUL ONLY IN SO FAR

AS EVERYONE IN THE COMMUNITY

HAS MEMORIZED THE SAME

PAIRINGS.

WELL, THAT BRINGS ME TO THE

SECOND TRICK BEHIND LANGUAGE.

COMBINATORIAL GRAMMAR, WHAT

WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT CALLED THE

INFINITE USE OF FINITE MEDIA.

THE ABILITY TO USE A FINITE SET

OF RULES TO COMBINE WORDS INTO

PHRASES AND SENTENCES, IN WHICH

THE MEANING OF THE COMBINATION

CAN BE COMPUTED FROM THE

MEANINGS OF THE INVIDUAL

WORDS AND THE WAY THAT THEY'RE

ARRANGED.

THAT TOO REQUIRES THAT

SOMETHING IS STORED IN THE

BRAIN IN ORDER TO ALLOW THE

SPEAKER AND THE HEARER TO ORDER

WORDS IN A CONSISTENT PATTERN.

IN ITS SIMPLIFIED FORM A COUPLE

OF RULES OF ENGLISH MIGHT LOOK

AS FOLLOWS.

A SENTENCE IN ENGLISH IS

COMPOSED OF A NOUN PHRAS THE

SUBJECT, FOLLOWED BY A VERB

PHRASE, THE PREDICATE.

THE VERB PHRASE IN TURN IS, CAN

BE DECOMPOSED INTO A VERB,

FOLLOWED BY A NOUN PHRASE.

THE OBJECT FOLLOWED BY A

SENTENCE, THE COMPLIMENT.


A PowerPoint slide shows a text under the title "The Second Trick Behind Language." The text reads "Combinatorial grammar (Humboldt: "the infinite use of finite media")." Below a figure titled "Some rules of grammar" shows the breakdown of sentences into noun phrases and verb phrases and the breakdown of verb phrases into verbs, noun phrases and sentences.

He continues AGAIN, EVEN THOUGH THESE ARE

SIMPLE GADGETS THEY CONFER A

LOT OF EXPRESSIVE POWER ON THE

PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEM.

AND THE POWER COMES FROM THE

FACT THAT THE RULES ARE COUCHED

IN TERMS OF SYMBOLS, WHICH ARE

CROSS-REFERENCED TO CROSS THE

RULES.

SO THE SAME, VERB PHRASE SYMBOL

THAT'S AT THE RIGHT HAND SIDE

OF THE SENTENCE RULE IS THE

LABEL FOR A RULE OF ITS OWN.

THAT MEANS THAT YOU CAN STICK

ONE, ONE KIND OF PHRASE INSIDE

ANOTHER.

THE WORDS THEMSELVES HAVE

SYMBOLS THAT ARE ATTACHED TO

THEM AND THEY CAN BE PLUGGED

INTO THE APPROPRIATE SLOTS,

ALLOWING YOU TO USE THIS FINITE

SET OF RULES, BUT GENERATE

NOVEL COMBINATIONS AND EXPRESS

NOVEL THOUGHTS.

THE ADVANTAGES OF COMBINATORIAL

GRAMMAR ARE THAT BY COMBINING

SYMBOLS YOU CAN EXPRESS NEW

CONCEPTS, ONES THAT YOUR

LANGUAGE HASN'T STUCK A LABEL

ON BEFOREHAND.

THERE'S A CLICHE IN JOURNALISM

THAT WHEN A DOG BITES A MAN

THAT ISN'T NEWS.

BUT WHEN A MAN BITES A DOG THAT

IS NEWS.

THE BEAUTY OF GRAMMAR IS THAT

IT ALLOWS US TO CONVEY NEWS BY

REARRANGING A FIXED SET OF

WORDS IN NEW COMBINATIONS.

ALSO BECAUSE OUR KNOWLEDGE OF

GRAMMAR IS COUCHED IN ABSTRACT

SYMBOLS LIKE, NOUN AND VERB AND

SENTENCE, THE SAME RULES THAT

ALLOW YOU TO TALK ABOUT A DOG

BITING A MAN ALSO ALLOW YOU TO

TALK ABOUT A BIG BANG CREATING

A UNIVERSE OR ANY OTHER SUBJECT

MATTER.

BECAUSE GRAMMAR IS A

COMBINATORIAL SYSTEM THE NUMBER

OF COMBINATIONS AND HENCE THE

NUMBER OF THOUGHTS THAT YOU CAN

EXPRESS, GROWS EXPEDENTIALLY

WITH THE LENGTH OF A SENTENCE.

IF THERE ARE 10,000 NOUNS THAT

YOU CAN CHOOSE FROM TO BEGIN

THE SENTENCE, THEN THERE'S A

MENU OF 4,000 VERBS WITH WHICH

TO CONTINUE IT YOU ALREADY HAVE

40,000,000 DIFFERENT WAYS TO

BEGIN A SENTENCE, AND YOU'RE

ONLY TWO WORDS INTO IT THE

NUMBER OF COMBINATIONS EXPLODES

FROM THERE.

THE PSYCHOLOGIST GEORGE MILLER

IN THE 1950S, ESTIMATED THAT

THE NUMBER OF DIFFERENT,

MEANINGFUL AND GRAMMATICAL

SENTENCES THAT A TYPICAL PERSON

CAN UNDERSTAND OR PRODUCE OF 20

WORDS OR FEWER IS A HUNDRED

MILLION, TRILLION, A LOT OF

DIFFERENT THOUGHTS.

FINALLY, THE NUMBER OF THOUGHTS

THAT ARE EXPRESSABLE VIA

GRAMMAR IS NOT JUST HUMONGOUS

BUT IN A TECHNICAL SENSE IS

INFINITE, THANKS TO A TRICK OF

COMBINATORIAL SYSTEMS KNOWN AS

RECURSION.

REMEMBER THAT A, A SENTENCE

CONTAINS A VERB PHRASE AND A

VERB PHRASE IN TURN CONTAINS A

SENTENCE --

THAT MEANS

THAT A SENTENCE CAN CONTAIN A

SENTENCE, WHICH CAN CONTAIN A

SENTENCE INSIDE A SENTENCE

INSIDE A SENTENCE, AD

INFINITUM, MEANING THAT YOU CAN

GENERATE AN INFINITE NUMBER OF

SENTENCES WITH THIS FINITE SET

OF RULES.

NOW THIS

ISN'T A TRIVIAL OR BANAL

OBSERVATION, BECAUSE THERE

ACTUALLY IS A CLAIM OUT THERE

IN THE LITERATURE THAT THERE IS

A WORLD'S LONGEST SENTENCE.

NOW WHO WOULD MAKE SUCH A

CLAIM?

WELL, WHO ELSE?

"THE GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD

RECORDS."

WORLD'S

LONGEST SENTENCE, YOU COULD

LOOK IT UP IN GUINNESS.

IT'S 1,300 WORDS LONG AND IT

COMES FROM A NOVEL BY WILLIAM

FAULKNER.

[Audience laughs]



Steven continues WHICH SHOULD

COME AS NO SURPRISE TO THOSE OF

YOU WHO'VE READ THE NOVELS OF

WILLIAM FAULKNER.

WELL, THEY, I

WON'T REPEAT ALL, 1,300 WORDS.

I'LL JUST SHOW YOU HOW THE

SENTENCE BEGINS.

THEY BOTH BORE IT AS THOUGH IN

DELIBERATE, FLAGELLANT

EXALTATION AND IT RUNS ON FROM

THERE.

[Audience laughs]



Steven says HOWEVER I

WOULD LIKE TO INFORM YOU THAT

IN FACT THIS IS NOT THE WORLD'S

LONGEST SENTENCE.

AND I'VE BEEN TEMPTED TO

ACHIEVE IMMORTALITY BY

SUBMITTING THE FOLLOWING,

RECORD BREAKER TO GUINNESS.

FAULKNER WROTE --

THEY BOTH

BORE IT AS THOUGH IN

DELIBERATE, FLAGELLANT

EXALTATION.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues BUT ALAS, I

REALIZED THAT THIS WOULD NOT BE

IMMORTALITY.

BUT ONLY THE PROVERBIAL 15

MINUTES OF FAME, BECAUSE THEN

NOW ANY ONE OF YOU COULD SUBMIT

A RECORD BREAKER, SUCH AS

GUINNESS NOTED THAT FAULKNER

WROTE, OR PINKER MENTIONED THAT

GUINNESS NOTED THAT FAULKNER

WROTE.

OR WHO CARES

THAT PINKER MENTIONED THAT

GUINNESS NOTED THAT FAULKNER

WROTE, DOT, DOT, DOT.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues WELL,

GRAMMAR'S A WONDERFUL THING

ALLOWING US TO GET, CONVEY AN

INFINITE NUMBER OF NOVEL IDEAS

WITH A FINITE SET OF WORDS.

WHICH LEADS TO THE QUESTION,

ARE, THERE ANY DISADVANTAGES TO

GRAMMAR?

AND IN FACT THERE ARE, AND

THEY'RE BEST APPRECIATED BY

TRYING TO IMAGINE WHAT A

LANGUAGE WOULD LOOK LIKE IF IT

HAD NOTHING BUT GRAMMATICAL

RULES.

IF IT DID AWAY WITH THE

ONEROUS, TASK OF MEMORIZING

TENS OF THOUSANDS OF ARBITARY,

SOUND MEANING PAIRINGS.

WELL, IN FACT WE DON'T HAVE TO

IMAGINE SUCH A LANGUAGE.

IT'S BEEN IMAGINED FOR US,

BECAUSE DURING THE

ENLIGHTENMENT THERE WERE A

NUMBER OF THEORETICIANS WHO

CAME UP WITH PERFECT LANGUAGES,

ONES THAT DIDN'T REQUIRE THE

GRUNT WORK OF MEMORIZING ALL,

THOSE, ARBITRARY WORDS.

THE MOST FAMOUS IS THE

ANALYTICAL LANGUAGE OF JOHN

WILKENS, WHO WROTE WE SHOULD BY

LEARNING THE NAMES OF THINGS BE

INSTRUCTED LIKEWISE IN THEIR

NATURES.

AND WILKENS' LANGUAGE WAS THE

SUBJECT OF A WONDERFUL ESSAY BY

JORGE DELUIS FORGES AND ALSO

COVERED IN A BOOK BY UMBERTO

ECO CALLED "IN SEARCH OF THE

PERFECT LANGUAGE."

HERE'S HOW IT WORKED.

IN THE ANALYTICAL LANGUAGE JOHN

WILKENS, ZITA MET DOG.

BUT YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO MEMORIZE

THAT FACT, YOU COULD DEDUCE IT,

BECAUSE WILKENS DIVIDED THE

UNIVERSE INTO 40 ONTOLOGICAL

CATEGORIES AND ASSIGNED EACH

ONE OF THEM A LETTER OF THE

ALPHABET.

SO ZED FOR EXAMPLE STOOD FOR

ANIMAL, I STOOD FOR QUADRAPED,

T FOR RAPACIOUS, TERRESTRIAL

EUROPEAN CANINE --

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues AND "A"

PINPOINTED THE SPECIES.

SIMILARLY, ADABA WAS A PORTION

OF THE FIRST, TERRESTRIAL

ELEMENT AKA FLAME.

AND KOBA WAS A CONSANGUINEOUS

RELATION OF DIRECT ASCENDANT TO

WHICH A FATHER.

NOW NEEDLESS TO SAY, THIS

LANGUAGE DID NOT CATCH ON.

AND HERE WE

ARE HUNDREDS OF YEARS LATER

STILL MEMORIZING TENS OF

THOUSANDS OF WORDS, AND I THINK

IT'S OBVIOUS WHY.

A LANGUAGE LIKE WILKENS WOULD

REQUIRE COMPLEX, MENTAL

COMPUTATION FOR EVERY WORD.

EVERY TIME SOMEONE OPENS HIS

MOUTH AND BLURTS OUT A WORD

YOU'VE GOT TO PLAY A GAME OF 20

QUESTIONS AS YOU WORK YOUR WAY

THROUGH THE VOWELS AND

CONSONANTS.

ALSO, THE COMBINATORIAL POWER

IS OVERKILL FOR MOST EVERY DAY

CONCEPTS.

WE SELDOM HAVE TO REFER TO A

PIECE OF A FATHER, OR A FIRE

WITH FOUR LEGS AND SO A

LANGUAGE THAT GAVE US WORDS TO

REFER TO THOSE THINGS IS REALLY

GIVING US MORE EXPRESSIVE POWER

THEN WE NEED.

IT SUGGESTS THAT REAL, HUMAN

LANGUAGES TRY TO GET THE

ADVANTAGES OF BOTH SYSTEMS.

WE'VE GOT WORDS FOR COMMON

ENTITIES, FOR THE DOGS AND THE

DUCKS AND THE MEN AND SO ON,

FOR WHICH THE PSYCHOLOGICAL

MECHANISM IS MEMORY.

AND WE HAVE GRAMMATICAL RULES

FOR THE NOVEL COMBINATIONS OF

ENTITIES, FOR THE MEN BITING

DOGS AND THE BIG BANGS CREATING

UNIVERSES, FOR WHICH THE

PSYCHOLOGICAL MECHANISM IS A

SYMBOL CONCATENATION, A KIND OF

ONLINE COMPUTATION.

WELL, HOW WOULD YOU TEST THIS

PROPOSAL FOR THE DESIGN OF

HUMAN LANGUAGES?

IDEALLY, YOU WOULD FIND SOME

PART OF LANGUAGE WHERE THE WORD

SYSTEM AND THE RULE SYSTEM

EXPRESS THE SAME IDEAS, BUT

THEY WOULD STILL BE

PSYCHOLOGICALLY AND PERHAPS

EVEN NEUROLOGICALLY

DISTINGUISHABLE.

WELL, THE POINT OF THIS LECTURE

AND OF THE BOOK BY THE SAME

TITLE IS THAT THERE IS SUCH AN

AREA IN LANGUAGE, SOMETHING

THAT YOU MIGHT DIMLY REMEMBER

FROM LANGUAGE CLASSES AS

REGULAR AND IRREGULAR FORMS.

JUST A LITTLE, REFRESHER

COURSE, ENGLISH, VERBS IN

ENGLISH AND MANY OTHER

LANGUAGES COME IN TWO FLAVOURS.

YOU HAVE REGULAR VERBS SUCH AS

WALK, WALKED, JOG, JOGGED AND

KISS, KISSED, WHICH FORM THEIR

PASTENSE IN A PREDICTABLE WAY.

TAKE THE VERB, STICK AN E-D ON

THE END AND YOU HAVE THE

PASTENSE FORM.

THIS IS AN OPEN, ENDED CLASS.

THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF

EXISTING, REGULAR VERBS IN

ENGLISH.

NEW ONES ARE BEING ADDED TO THE

LANGUAGE ALL THE TIME.

FOR EXAMPLE, WHEN THE VERB TO

FAX CAME INTO COMMON PARLANCE

ABOUT 15 YEARS AGO, YOU DIDN'T

HAVE TO GO TO THE DICTIONARY TO

LOOK UP ITS PASTENSE FORM.

YOU KNEW INSTINCT,

INSTINCTIVELY THAT IT HAD TO BE

FAXED.

SIMILARLY, FOR OTHER WORDS THAT

HAVE RECENTLY ENTERED THE

LANGUAGE, LIKE TO SPAM, TO

SNORF, TO MUNG, TO MOSH, TO

DISS, EVERYONE KNOWS THAT THE

PASTENSE FORMS ARE SPAMMED,

SNORFED, MUNGED, MOSHED AND

DISSED.

EVEN CHILDREN KNOW THIS.

IF YOU BRING A FOUR-YEAR OLD

INTO THE LAB AND SAY HERE IS A

MAN WHO KNOWS HOW TO WUG.

HE DID THE SAME THING

YESTERDAY, CHILDREN WILL SAY --

HE WUGGED,

EVEN THOUGH THEY NEVER

MEMORIZED THAT WORD BEFORE

BECAUSE IT WAS INVENTED ON THE

SPOT.

AND IN FACT, ALL OF CHILDREN IN

A SENSE GO THROUGH AN

EXPERIMENT LIKE THAT BECAUSE --

BECAUSE KIDS

GO THROUGH A STAGE IN WHICH

THEY MAKE ERRORS LIKE WE HOLDED

THE BABY RABBITS, OR THE

ALLIGATOR GOED KERPLUNK, OR SHE

BRINGED THE CAT HOME, WHERE

THEY ARE ALSO CREATING REGULAR

FORMS THAT, THAT THEY COULDN'T

SIMPLY HAVE MEMORIZED FROM

THEIR PARENTS.

THIS BRINGS ME TO THE SECOND

FLAVOUR OF VERB IN ENGLISH, THE

IRREGULAR VERBS.

VERBS LIKE BRING, BROUGHT, HIT,

HIT, GO WENT, SING, SANG,

SLEEP, SLEPT, MAKE, MADE, RING,

RANG AND FLY, FLEW.

THE IRREGULAR VERBS CONTRAST

WITH THE REGULARS IN EVERY WAY

IMAGINABLE.

IN CONTRAST TO THE MONOTONOUS

PREDICTABILITY OF THE REGULAR

VERBS, VERB AFTER VERB FORMING

THE PASTENSE IN THE SAME WAY,

THE IRREGULARS ARE QUIRKY AND

UNPREDICTABLE.

THE PAST OF SINK IS SANK.

BUT THE PAST OF CLING IS NOT

CLANG, IT'S CLUNG.

THE PAST OF THINK IS NEITHER

THANK NOR THUNK, BUT IS THOUGHT

AND THE PAST OF BLINK IS

NEITHER BLANK NOR BLUNK, NOR

BLOT BUT IS REGULAR, BLINKED.

ALSO, IT'S A

CLOSED CLASS.

THERE ARE ONLY ABOUT 165

IRREGULAR VERBS IN MODERN

ENGLISH AND THERE HAVEN'T BEEN

ANY, RECENT NEW ONES.

THIS LEADS TO A SIMPLE, THEORY.

IRREGULAR FORMS ARE WORDS THAT

WE MEMORIZE JUST LIKE WE

MEMORIZE ANY OTHER WORDS.

WE'VE GOT THE VERB, RING.

WE'VE GOT THE VERB, BROUGHT.

WE LEARN THEM SEPARATELY AND WE

CONNECT THEM BECAUSE BROUGHT IS

THE PASTENSE OF BRING.

WHEREAS FOR REGULAR VERBS YOU

DON'T HAVE TO MEMORIZE THE

PASTENSE FORM, YOU JUST HAVE TO

STORE THE STEM OF THE VERB

ITSELF.

AND WHEN YOU NEED A PASTENSE

FORM YOU CREATE IT BY A RULE,

THEN YOU CAN THROW IT AWAY

BECAUSE THE NEXT TIME YOU NEED

IT YOU CAN FORM IT ALL OVER

AGAIN.

THE INTERACTION IS ALSO,

STRAIGHTFORWARD BETWEEN THESE

TWO SYSTEMS.

IF A WORD CAN PROVIDE ITS OWN

PASTENSE FROM MEMORY THE RULE

IS BLOCKED.

THAT'S WHY WE GROWNUPS DON'T

SAY THINGS LIKE TAKED AND

BRINGED AND HOLDED.

ELSEWHERE OR BY DEFAULT THE

RULE APPLIES, THAT IS IF MEMORY

COMES UP EMPTY HANDED WE CAN

ALWAYS FALL BACK ON THE RULE,

AND THAT'S WHY BOTH ADULTS AND

CHILDREN CAN SAY THINGS LIKE

SPAMMED AND DISSED AND WUGGED

AND SO ON.

WELL, THIS IS A SIMPLE THEORY

AND I COULD, IF THAT'S ALL

THERE WERE TO IT I COULD END

THE TALK RIGHT NOW AND THE BOOK

WOULD END AFTER ITS FIRST

CHAPTER.

BUT IN FACT THERE IS A

COMPLICATION TO THIS STORY.

THE COMPLICATION IS THAT THE

IRREGULAR VERBS ARE SHOT

THROUGH WITH PATTERNS.

FOR, THE VERBS COME IN

FAMILIES, LIKE KEEP, KEPT,

SLEEP, SLEPT, FEEL, FELT,

DREAM, DREAMT, WEAR, WORE,

BEAR, BORE, TEAR, TORE, SWEAR,

SWORE, STRING, STRUNG, SWING,

SWUNG, STING, STUNG, FLING,

FLUNG.

AND THESE

PATTERNS AREN'T JUST

REDUNDANCIES THAT RUN THROUGH

MEMORY.

BUT THEY ARE OCCASIONALLY

EXTRACTED AND ACTIVELY

GENERALIZED BY REAL SPEAKERS.

CHILDREN EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE

WILL MAKE ERRORS LIKE BRANG IS

THE PAST OF BRING, OR BITE,

BOTE, OR WIPE, WOPE.

IN THE HISTORY OF THE LANGUAGE

THERE HAVE BEEN A COUPLE OF

ADDITIONS TO THE LANGUAGE ON

THE IRREGULAR SIDE.

FOR EXAMPLE QUIT AND CAUGHT ARE

ONLY ABOUT 200 YEARS OLD.

JANE AUSTIN USED QUITTED IN HER

NOVELS AND GEORGE WASHINGTON

USED CATCHED IN CORRESPONDENCE.

AND THE MOST RECENT IRREGULAR

SNUCK, SNEAKED INTO THE

LANGUAGE ONLY ABOUT A HUNDRED

YEARS AGO AND IS STILL

CONSIDERED KIND OF CUTESY OR

SLANG AMONG PEOPLE OVER THE AGE

OF 50, EVEN THOUGH IT'S

UNEXCEPTIONABLE TO PEOPLE UNDER

THE AGE OF 50.

UM, IN DIFFERENT DIALECTS IN

ENGLISH THIS IS ESPECIALLY

OBVIOUS.

IN NON-STANDARD FORMS OF

ENGLISH YOU HAVE FORMS, LIKE

DRAG, DRUG, CLIMB, CLUMB OR ONE

THAT WAS USED BY PRESIDENT

CLINTON A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO

WHEN HE SAID, WHEN THE

REPUBLICANS SAW MY BUDGET THEY

SWOLE UP AND DIED.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues AND, YES, HE

REALLY SAID IT.

AND AS, I'M, I'M TRAINED AS AN

EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGIST,

WHICH MEANS THAT I'M NOT

ALLOWED TO ACCEPT ANYTHING AS A

FACT UNTIL IT'S BEEN

DEMONSTRATED IN THE LABORATORY

ON RATS OR SOPHOMORES.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues BUT NO ONE TO

MY KNOWLEDGE HAS TESTED

IRREGULAR VERBS IN, IN RATS.

BUT IF YOU BRING A GROUP OF

SOPHOMORES INTO THE LAB AND YOU

SAY WHAT IS THE PASTENSE OF TO

SPLING?

A LARGE NUMBER OF THEM WILL SAY

SPLANG OR SPLUNG.

NOW THE MASTER OF THIS PROCESS

WAS THE LINGUIST AND BASEBALL

PITCHER, AND LATER RADIO

ANNOUNCER DIZZY DEAN WHO ONCE

GAVE THE FOLLOWING PLAY BY PLAY

OF A BASEBALL GAME.

THE PITCHER WOUND UP AND FLANG

THE BALL AT THE BATTER.

THE BATTER SWANG AND MISSED.

THE PITCHER FLANG THE BALL

AGAIN AND THIS TIME THE BATTER

CONNECTED.

HE HIT A HIGH FLY RIGHT TO THE

CENTERFIELDER.

THE CENTERFIELDER WAS ALL SET

TO CATCH THE BALL, BUT AT THE

LAST MINUTE HIS EYES WERE

BLOUND BY THE SIGHT AND HE

DROPPED IT.

SO THE

QUESTION IS HOW CAN WE EXPLAIN

THE DIZZY DEAN THAT'S PRESENT

IN ALL OF US?

AND THERE HAVE BEEN TWO

ALTERNATIVES TO THE SIMPLE,

WORDS AND RULES THEORY, EACH OF

WHICH TAKES ONE OF THESE

SYSTEMS AND TRIES TO STRETCH IT

TO ACCOUNT FOR THE PHENOMENA

ORDINARILY EXPLAINED BY THE

OTHER.

ACCORDING TO THE THEORY OF

GENERATIVE PHONOLOGY PROPOSED

BY MY COLLEAGUES, NOAM CHOMSKY

AND MORRIS HOLLY, RULES RULE.

NOT ONLY IS THERE A RULE THAT

ADDS E-D TO REGULAR VERBS, BUT

THERE'S A FAMILY OF RULES THAT

FIDDLES WITH VOWELS AND

CONSONANTS TO GENERATE THE

IRREGULARS.

FOR EXAMPLE THE RULE THAT

CHANGES IH, TO UH, TO GIVE YOU

FORMS LIKE STRING, STRUNG.

THE PROBLEM FOR THE THEORY AS I

SEE IT IS HOW YOU TARGET THE

RIGHT VERBS.

HOW DO YOU GET THE RULE TO

APPLY TO STRING AND TO STING

AND TO FLING?

BUT NOT TO APPLY TO YIELD, FIB,

FAB, OR WISH, WASH OR FISH,

FASH AND SO ON.

THERE ARE TWO ALTERNATIVES AND

NEITHER OF THEM REALLY WORKS.

ONE OF THEM

IS TO STIPULATE THE VERBS IN A

LIST.

TO SAY THAT THE IH, UH RULE

APPLIES ONLY TO THE FOLLOWING

14 VERBS.

THE PROBLEM THERE IS WHY ARE

THOSE VERBS SO SIMILAR?

WHY DO THEY

ALL BEGIN IN A CONSONANT

CLUSTER AND END IN A SOUND LIKE

EN?

THAT'S AN UNEXPLAINED

COINCIDENCE IF THESE WERE JUST

AN ARIBTRARY LAUNDRY LIST.

THE OTHER ALTERNATIVE IS TO TRY

TO DISTILL OUT THE COMMON

PATTERN OF ALL THESE VERBS AND

TO ATTACH THAT AS A CONDITION

TO THE RULE.

SUCH AS, CHANGE IH TO AH, ONLY

IF THE IH OCCURS IN THE CONTEXT

OF A CONSONANT AND A CONSONANT

BEFORE IT.

AND THE ING SOUND, A VELAR

NASAL CONSONANT AT THE END.

THE PROBLEM IS THAT NO SUCH

CONDITIONS, WORK.

NONE, NONE OF THEM PERFECTLY

DELINEATE THE CLASS.

A RULE LIKE THIS MAKES ERRORS

OF OMISSION.

IT, SORRY, ERROR OF, ERRORS OF,

ERRORS OF COMISSION.

IT INCLUDES BRING, WHOSE

PASTENSE IS NOT BRUNG BUT

BROUGHT.

AND SPRING WHOSE PAST IS NOT

SPRUNG BUT SPRANG.

AND IT ALSO MAKES ERROR OF

OMISSION.

IT LEAVES OUT STICK, WHICH

REALLY SHOULD HAVE THE RULE

APPLY TO IT BECAUSE STICK ENDS

IN A CONSONANT THAT'S VELAR BUT

NOT NASAL AND IT ALSO EXCLUDES

SPIN, WHICH SHOULD HAVE THE

RULE TO APPLY TO IT, BECAUSE IT

ENDS IN A CONSONANT THAT'S

NASAL, BUT NOT VELAR.

BOTH OF THEM MISSED BY A

WHISKER, BY A DIFFERENT WHISKER

AND IT SHOWS THAT A CLASS OF

IRREGULAR VERBS IS A FAMILY

RESEMBLANCE CATEGORY IN THE

SENSE OF LUDWIG VICHTENSTEIN OR

ELEANOR ROSCH, THAT IS CATEGORY

THAT DOESN'T HAVE A STRICT

DEFINITION THAT PERFECTLY

CAPTURES ALL THE MEMBERS.

BUT RATHER THE MEMBERS HANG

TOGETHER BY VARIOUS PARTIAL,

SIMILARITIES.

THAT LEADS TO SOMETHING

COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

THE THEORY OF ARTIFICAL, NEURO

NETWORKS OR CONNECTIONISM

ACCORDING TO WHICH THERE ARE NO

RULES.

THERE ARE JUST ANALOGIES FROM

MEMORY.

THE DIFFERENCE IS THAT MEMORY

IS IN THE FORM OF A KIND OF

NEURO NETWORK CALLED A PATTERN

ASSOCIATOR.

THE TRICK BEHIND A PATTERN

ASSOCIATOR IS INSTEAD OF

LINKING A WORD TO A WORD YOU

LINK THE BITS OF A WORD, ITS

SOUNDS TO THE BITS OF ANOTHER

WORD.

SO THE NETWORK WOULD LOOK

SOMETHING LIKE THIS.

YOU'VE GOT A BUNCH OF UNITS

THAT STAND FOR THE BITS OF

SOUND IN THE VERB.

SO THAT MIGHT STAND FOR A VOWEL

BETWEEN TWO CONSONANTS, OR A

STOPPED CONSONANT AT THE END OF

A WORD.

AND YOU REPRESENT A WORD BY

DISSOLVING IT INTO ITS SOUNDS

AND TURNING ON A SUBSET OF

THESE NOTES CORRESPONDING TO

THE SOUNDS OF THE WORD.

THERE'S A BANK OF IDENTICAL

UNITS THAT STAND FOR THE

PASTENSE FORM.

THAT'S THE OUTPUT.

EVERY, INPUT IS CONNECTED TO

EVERY OUTPUT.

THE MODEL IS TRAINED BY PAIRS

LIKE, STRING, STRUNG, FLING,

FLUNG, WALK, WALKED, TALK,

TALKED.

IT MEMORIZES ASSOCIATIONS

BETWEEN SOUNDS IN THE STEM AND

SOUNDS IN THE PASTENSE FORM AND

IT SUPER, IMPOSES THEM ACROSS

SIMILAR WORDS, BECAUSE SIMILAR

WORDS LITERALLY OVERLAP IN

THEIR REPRESENTATIONAL REAL

ESTATE.

SO ANYTHING THAT'S ASSOCIATED

WITH THE SOUNDED ONE WORD

AUTOMATICALLY IS ASSOCIATED

WITH THE SAME SOUND IN ANOTHER

WORD BECAUSE THOSE SOUNDS ARE

LITERALLY REPRESENTED BY THE

SAME HARDWARE.

AS A RESULT THE PATTERN

ASSOCIATOR CAN MEMORIZE SEVERAL

HUNDRED WORDS AND CAN

GENERALIZE TO SOME NEW WORDS.

THE PROBLEM HERE IS HOW IT

GENERALIZES.

THAT IS DOES IT GENERALIZE THE

WAY PEOPLE DO?

AND THE ANSWER IS THAT IT DOES

NOT.

THE PROBLEM IS THAT A PATTERN

ASSOCIATOR GENERALIZES TO NEW

WORDS THAT ARE SIMILAR TO OLD

WORDS.

AND THAT WORKS FOR IRREGULAR

PATTERNS WHERE THE MODEL AND

PEOPLE DO MORE OR LESS THE SAME

THING.

IF YOU ASK PEOPLE WHAT'S THE

PASTENSE OF CLING?

THEY'LL SAY CLUNG AND SO WILL

THE MODEL AND LIKE, LIKEWISE

WHAT'S THE PASTENSE OF SPLING?

BOTH PEOPLE AND THE MODEL WILL

GENERALIZE TO SPLUNG BECAUSE IT

OVERLAPS WITH CLING, CLUNG.

IT ALSO WORKS FOR SOME REGULAR

VERBS.

THOSE THAT ARE HIGHLY SIMILAR

TO ONES THAT ARE ALREADY

FAMILIAR OR TRAINED ON.

SO BOTH PEOPLE AND THE PATTERN

ASSOCIATOR MODEL KNOW THAT THE

PAST OF, CAN GUESS THAT THE

PAST OF TO CLIP IS CLIPPED,

BECAUSE CLIP IS SIMILAR TO

FLIP, TRIP, SLIP, CLIP, NIP,

WHIP, ZIP, SIP AND SO ON AND SO

THE ASSOCIATIONS ATTACHED TO

ONE CAN TRANSFER TO THE NEW

ONE.

THE PROBLEM IS WHAT DO YOU DO

WITH A NEW WORD THAT'S NOT

SIMILAR TO AN OLD WORD, SUCH AS

TO PLOMPH?

WHICH DOESN'T RHYME WITH

ANYTHING IN ENGLISH AND INDEED

IS BARELY PHONOLOGICALLY LEGAL.

UM, HERE PEOPLE HAVE NO TROUBLE

GIVING YOU A PASTENSE FORM.

BUT THE PATTERN ASSOCIATOR

CAN'T.

YOU ASK THEM WHAT'S THE

PASTENSE OF TO PLOMPH?

PEOPLE SAY PLOMPHED.

THE BEST THE MODEL CAN COME UP

WITH WAS BRO.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues LIKEWISE,

TRILBED AS OPPOSED TO TRILILT.

SNEEGED YOU GET LITHLOGE AND

FRILLED YOU GET FRIZZLED.

WHAT'S GOING

ON HERE, THE PROBLEM IS THE

PATTERN ASSOCIATOR MEMORY LACKS

THE ELEMENTARY COMPUTATIONAL

GADGET KNOWN AS A SYMBOL OR A

VARIABLE, SUCH AS AN X IN

ALGEBRA OR VERB IN GRAMMAR.

THAT IS SOMETHING THAT STANDS

FOR AN ENTIRE CLASS.

SO IF YOU COME UP WITH, AGAINST

A NEW MEMBER OF THE CLASS THAT

ISN'T ANYTHING LIKE YOU'VE SEEN

BEFORE, IT STILL CAN ENTER INTO

THE RULE.

IN CONTRAST, SINCE ALL THE

PATTERN ASSOCIATOR CAN DO IS

ASSOCIATE SOUNDS WITH SOUNDS.

IF YOU THEN CONFRONT IT WITH

NEW SOUNDS THAT ARE UNLIKE

ANYTHING IT HAS BEEN TRAINED

ON, THE BEST IT CAN DO IS COUGH

UP A HAIRBALL OF BITS AND

PIECES THAT ARE THE CLOSEST

THAT IT CAN FIND TO THE THINGS

THAT IT HAS BEEN TRAINED ON.

WELL, THIS SUGGESTS THAT WE GO

BACK TO THE WORDS AND RULES

THEORY BUT WITH A TWIST.

I'M GONNA SHOW YOU THAT

IRREGULARS ARE WORDS STORED IN

MEMORY.

THE TWIST IS THAT HUMAN MEMORY

IS NOT JUST A LIST OF SLOTS OR

A LIST OF PIGEONHOLES, BUT IS

PARTLY ASSOCIATIVE.

THAT IS, HUMAN MEMORY LINKS

SOUNDS TO SOUNDS AS WELL AS

WORDS TO WORDS AND IS THEREFORE

PARTLY CAPTURED BY A PATTERN

ASSOCIATOR MEMORY.

THIS EXPLAINS

WHY PEOPLE GENERALIZE IRREGULAR

PATTERNS TO SIMILAR WORDS.

BUT WE STILL NEED A RULE FOR

THE REGULARS I'LL SHOW YOU, TO

EXPLAIN HOW PEOPLE CAN

GENERALIZE THE REGULAR PATTERN

TO ANY WORD WHETHER IT'S

SIMILAR OR DISSIMILAR --

FAMILIAR OR

UNFAMILIAR.

AND THIS THEORY WILL PREDICT A

WIDE VARIETY OF FACTS ABOUT

LANGUAGE AND HOW IT'S USED BY

THE SIMPLE PREDICTION THAT

PEOPLE WILL APPLY THE REGULAR

PATTERN WHENEVER MEMORY FAILS

FOR ANY REASON THAT MEMORY

FAILS.

THAT'LL HELP EXPLAIN WHERE

REGULAR AND IRREGULAR FORMS

COME FROM IN THE HISTORY OF A

LANGUAGE, THE LOGIC BEHIND

APPARENT GRAMMATICAL QUIRKS,

THE USE AND MISUSE OF RULES BY

CHILDREN, WHERE LANGUAGE

RESIDES IN THE BRAIN AND HOW

AND WHY LANGUAGES DIFFER.

SO LET ME START WITH REGULAR

FORMS COME FROM AND I'M GONNA

START WITH AS EVIDENCE THE

STATISTICAL STRUCTURE OF THE

ENGLISH LANGUAGE.

HERE'S A TOP TEN LIST.

THE TOP TEN VERBS IN ENGLISH IN

ORDER OF FREQUENCY, FREQUENCY

MEASURED AS NUMBER OF

OCCURENCES IN A MILLION WORDS

OF SPEECH.


A PowerPoint shows a text under the title "Where do Regular Forms Come From?" Below, a list numbered from 1 to 10 shows the words "be, have, do, say, make, go, take, come, see, get" ordered respectively and the number of frequency per million of each verb. The frequencies are 39,175; 12,458; 4,367; 2,765; 2,312; 1,844; 1,575; 1,561; 1,513; 1,486 respectively.

Steven continues THEY ARE BE, HAVE, DO, SAY, MAKE, GO, TAKE, COME, SEE, GET.
NOTICE THAT ALL TEN OF THEM ARE

IRREGULAR.

BE, WAS, HAVE, HAD, DO, DID,

SAY, SAID, MAKE, MADE, GO,

WENT, TAKE, TOOK, COME, CAME,

SEE, SAW, AND GET, GOT.

NOW THERE CAN'T BE A BOTTOM TEN

LIST FOR FREQUENCY IN ENGLISH,

BECAUSE THE LOWEST FREQUENCY

THAT YOU CAN MEASURE IN A

MILLION WORDS OF TEXT, IS ONE

IN A MILLION, ONE OCCURENCE.

AND IT TURNS OUT THAT THERE IS

A 788-WAY TIE FOR LAST PLACE.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues BUT I'LL GIVE

YOU THE FIRST TEN OF THOSE IN

ALPHABETICAL ORDER.

ABATE, ABBREVIATE, ABHOR,

ABLATE, ABRIDGE, ABBREGATE,

ACLIMATIZE, ACULTURATE, ADMIX,

ADULTERATE.

NOTICE THAT ALL TEN OF THESE

ARE REGULAR.

ABATE, ABATED, ABBREVIATE,

ABBREVIATED AND SO ON.

THERE'S A MASSIVE CORRELATION

IN ENGLISH AND MOST OTHER

LANGUAGES BETWEEN FREQUENCY AND

IRREGULARITY.

THE WORDS THAT YOU USE IN

ALMOST EVERY OTHER SENTENCE

TEND TO BE IRREGULAR.

AND THERE'S A STRAIGHT, FORWARD

PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPLANATION AS TO

WHY.

IRREGULARS DEPEND ON MEMORY

BECAUSE THEY ARE UNPREDICTABLE,

AND YOU'VE GOT TO LEARN, THEM

ONE BY ONE.

MEMORY DEPENDS ON FREQUENCY.

THE MORE OFTEN YOU HEAR

SOMETHING THE BETTER YOU

REMEMBER IT.

IF A WORD EVER DECLINES IN

POPULARITY, IT MAY NOT BE

MEMORIZED UNIFORMLY BY A

GENERATION OF CHILDREN.

IF IT ISN'T, THEN PEOPLE WILL

DEFAULT TO THE REGULAR E-D,

CONVERTING THE VERB FROM

IRREGULAR TO REGULAR FOR THEM

AND FOR ALL, SUBSEQUENT

GENERATIONS.

AND INDEED THERE IS EVIDENCE

THAT HAS HAPPENED IN THE

HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH

LANGUAGE.

OLD AND MIDDLE ENGLISH HAD MORE

THEN TWICE AS MANY IRREGULAR

VERBS AS WE FIND TODAY.

IF CHAUCER WERE HERE IN THIS

ROOM HE WOULD TELL YOU THAT THE

PASTENSE OF TO CLEAVE IS CLOVE,

LIKEWISE, BIDE, BODE, CHIDE,

CHID, CROW, CREW, GRIPE, GROPE,

WRITHE, WROTHE, AND MANY

OTHERS.

THE LINGUIST JOAN BIBBY, HAS

DOCUMENTED THAT THE COMMON

VERBS IN CHAUCER'S TIME STAYED

IRREGULAR.

IT'S THE RARER ONES THAT HAVE

SLIPPED OVER TO THE REGULAR

SIDE, JUST AS YOU WOULD PREDICT

BASED ON HOW HUMAN MEMORY

WORKS.

AND IN FACT THIS ISN'T JUST A,

AN ANCIENT BIT OF HISTORY BUT

YOU CAN FEEL THIS PROCESS

HAPPENING TODAY.

WHERE THE REMAINING INFREQUENT,

IRREGULAR VERBS ARE SOUNDING A

BIT STRANGE AND YOU CAN FEEL

THEM PASSING OUT OF THE

LANGUAGE BEFORE OUR EARS.

SO FOR EXAMPLE, IF I ASK YOU TO

COMPLETE THIS SEQUENCE, I

STRIDE, I STRODE, I HAVE

STRIDDEN THAT DOESN'T SOUND

QUITE RIGHT, DOES IT?

BUT I HAVE STRIDED ISN'T SO HOT

EITHER.

LIKEWISE FOR VERBS LIKE SMITE,

SMOTE, SLAY, SLEW, BID, BADE,

FORSAKE, FORSOOK, THEY ALL HAVE

A KIND OF BOOKISH OR ARCHAIC OR

RISCHECHAIS SENSE, AND ONE CAN

PREDICT THAT IN ANOTHER COUPLE

OF HUNDRED YEARS THEY WILL HAVE

GONE THE WAY OF CHIDE, CHID AND

ABIDE, ABODE.

IN CONTRAST, INFREQUENT REGULAR

VERBS ALWAYS SOUND FINE.

IF I ASK YOU TO COMPLETE THIS

SENTENCE, I ABBREGATE, I

ABBREGATED, I HAVE ABBREGATED,

THEN THERE'S NO PROBLEM EVEN

THOUGH THE FREQUENCY OF

ABBREGATED IS THE SAME AS THE

FREQUENCY OF FORSOOK.

NOW YOU MIGHT SAY WELL, OKAY

IT'S GRANTED THAT SMOTE ISN'T A

VERY COMMON FORM.

BUT IT'S KIND OF CHEATING CAUSE

IT'S NOT LIKE I GO AROUND THE

VERB TO SMITE EVERY DAY EITHER.

BUT IN FACT YOU CAN SHOW THAT

AN IRREGULAR THAT'S LOW IN

FREQUENCY CAN SOUND STRANGE

EVEN IF THE VERB ITSELF IS

FAMILIAR, AND IT'S JUST THE

PASTENSE FORM THAT'S RARE.

YOU CAN SHOW THIS BY POINTING

TO IDIOMS OR CLICHES WHERE THE

VERB IS USED ALMOST ENTIRELY IN

THE PRESENTENSE THEN YOU SEE

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FORCE IT

FOR THE FIRST TIME INTO THE

PASTENSE.

SO TAKE FOR EXAMPLE THE VERB TO

FOREGO.

IT'S NOT A TERRIBLY, COMMON

VERB BUT IT HAS A CERTAIN

LIVELINESS IN SARCASTIC

EXPRESSIONS LIKE FOREGO THE

PLEASURE OF.

AS IN THE SENTENCE YOU'LL

EXCUSE ME IF I FOREGO THE

PLEASURE OF TCHING THE VIDEO

OF YOUR WIFE GIVING BIRTH.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues BUT NOW WHAT

HAPPENS WHEN YOU, IF YOU FORCE

IT INTO THE PASTENSE?

YOU GET, LAST NIGHT I FOREWENT

THE PLEASURE OF WATCHING HERB'S

VACATION SLIDES, WHICH SOUNDS

RATHER PECULIAR.

LIKEWISE, I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE

BEARS THAT GUY, THAT'S FINE.

BUT I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE BORE

THAT GUY IS ALMOST

UNINTELLIGBLE.

YOU MIGHT SAY I DIG THE DOORS,

MAN, BUT IN THE 60'S YOUR

MOTHER AND I DUG THE DOORS SON

SOUNDS RATHER STRANGE.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues AND HERE'S

ANOTHER EXAMPLE THAT I CLIPPED

OUT OF THE COMIC PAGES.


A comic appears on the projector showing two young men in conversation as they walk down the street.

Steven continues ONE TEENAGER SAYS TO THE OTHER,

THIS WEEK TOTALLY BIT.

BIT?

OKAY, THIS WEEK, BITE IT.

HMM, THAT CAN'T BE RIGHT

EITHER.

THIS WEEK HAS TOTALLY BITTEN?

ALMOST, BUT NOT QUITE.

BACK ON MONDAY, I DIDN'T KNOW

THIS WEEK WAS GOING TO BITE SO

BAD.

I HATE CONJUGATING IRREGULAR

VULGARITIES.

[Audience laughs]

The caption changes to "Carleton University. November 13, 2000."

Steven says NOTE HOWEVER

THAT THERE'S NO PROBLEM

CONJUGATING REGULAR

VULGARITIES.

SO IF THE

FIRST TEEN JUST SAID THIS WEEK

TOTALLY SUCKED, WHICH IS A

SYNONYM FOR TO BITE, NAMELY TO

BE BAD, THERE'D BE NO BASIS FOR

THIS STRIP.

AND INDEED IN GENERAL AN

INFREQUENT REGULAR SOUNDS AS

GOOD OR AS BAD AS THE VERB

ITSELF.

I DON'T KNOW

HOW SHE COPES WITH HIM HAS THE

SAME FREQUENCY PROFILE AS I

DON'T KNOW HOW SHE BEARS HIM.

PUT IN THE PASTENSE, I DON'T

KNOW HOW SHE COPED WITH HIM, NO

PROBLEM.

SHE DOESN'T SUFFER FOOLS

GLADLY, A CLICHE.

NONE OF THEM EVER SUFFERED

FOOLS GLADLY, TWIST THE CLICHE

INTO THE PASTENSE AND YOU DON'T

HAVE A PROBLEM.

THE EXPLANATION IS STRAIGHT,

FORWARD.

AN IRREGULAR VERB IS TWO WORDS

STORED IN MEMORY, BEAR AND

BORE.

ONE OF THEM CAN BE FAINT AND

INDISTINCT, WHILE THE OTHER ONE

IS NICE AND STRONG DEPENDING ON

HOW OFTEN YOU'VE HEARD EITHER

ONE, AND THAT'S, THEY CAN PART

COMPANY BECAUSE THEY'RE

SEPARATE ENTRIES IN MEMORY.

IN CONTRAST, THEY'RE, YOU DON'T

NEED SEPARATE ENTRIES IN MEMORY

FOR COPE AND COPED, ALL YOU

HAVE TO DO IS STORE COPE.

WHEN YOU NEED COPED YOU SIMPLY

CREATE IT ON THE FLY USING THE

RULE AND THEREFORE THE PASTENSE

FORM NECESSARILY INHERITS

WHATEVER SENSE OF FAMILIARITY

OR UNFAMILIARITY HAD ACCRUED TO

THE VERB ITSELF.

WELL, THAT HELPS TO EXPLAIN

WHERE REGULARS COME FROM.

BUT HOW DID WE GET ALL THOSE

IRREGULAR VERBS TO BEGIN WITH?

WELL, BY SYMMETRICAL LOGIC IF

IRREGULARS DEPEND ON MEMORY,

AND ARE VULNERABLE IN, WHENEVER

HUMAN MEMORY IS FRAGILE,

CONVERSELY IF REGULARS DEPEND

ON RULES THEY SHOULD BE

VULNERABLE WHENEVER THE

ACQUISITION OF RULES IS

FRAGILE.

THE GENERAL ANSWER THEN IS THAT

IRREGULAR FORMS ARE THE FOSSILS

OF DEAD RULES.

RULES THAT DIED IN THE HISTORY

OF THE LANGUAGE BECAUSE THEY

BECAME TOO COMPLICATED OR

OBSCURE FOR CHILDREN TO FIGURE

OUT.

AND IN FACT MOST OF OUR

IRREGULAR VOWEL CHANGE PATTERNS

CAME FROM PROCESSES THAT WERE

THOUGHT TO HAVE BEEN RULES.

INPRODO, INDO-EUROPEAN, THE

LANGUAGE SPOKEN BY AN EXPANSIVE

TRIBE MORE THEN 5,000 YEARS AGO

THAT ENDED UP GIVING ITS

LANGUAGES TO MOST OF EUROPE AND

WESTERN ASIA.

SO FOR EXAMPLE, INPRODO, INDO-

EUROPEAN, THERE WAS A RULE THAT

WOULD TURN SANK INTO SUNK.

WHICH IS THE ANCESTOR OF OUR

SINK, SUNK AND ANOTHER ONE THAT

WOULD TURN BEAR INTO BORE.

THE ANCESTOR OF OUR, BEAR,

BORE.

UM, WELL HOW DID THE IRREGULAR

FORMS ARISE?

I'M GONNA WALK YOU THROUGH A

MORE, RECENT EXAMPLE WHERE YOU

CAN SEE THE PROCESSES IN SLOW

MOTION, IN MUCH MORE

TRANSPARENTLY.

SO, IN THE MIDDLE ENGLISH

PERIOD THERE WAS A, AN ANCESTOR

OF OUR PASTENSE RULE THAT ADDED

AN E-D TO VERBS.

BUT IN THOSE DAYS PEOPLE WERE

KIND OF INTO PHONETIC SPELLING,

AND WORDS REFLECTED, WORD

SPELLINGS REFLECTED THEIR

PRONOUNCIATIONS MUCH MORE THEN

THEY DO TODAY.

SO THE T IN, IT'S PRONOUNCED IN

THE END OF KEPT WAS ACTUALLY

SPELLED WITH A T.

AND ALSO WHAT WE NOW SPELL K-E-

E-P, KAPE, KEEP IS PRONOUNCED

NOW USED TO BE PRONOUNCED THAT

AS IT WAS SPELLED, KEP.

UM, THERE'S ANOTHER RULE THAT

WAS ACTIVE AT THE TIME.

A VOWEL, SHORTENING RULE THAT

THE WAY IT WORKED WAS WHENEVER

YOU HUNG SOME EXTRA STUFF ON

THE END OF A WORD YOU WOULD

CRUNCH OR SHRINK THE VOWEL TO

COMPENSATE.

AND THE REASON IS THAT IN

GENERAL A SYLLABLE IS A UNIT OF

TIMING IN SPEECH, SO IF YOU

GLOM SOME EXTRA STUFF AT THE

END, MANY LANGUAGES WILL SQUISH

THE WHOLE WORD IN ONE WAY OR

ANOTHER TO KEEP IT WITHIN ONE

BEAT OF THE SPEECH METRONOME.

THE VOWEL SHORTENING RULE

APPLIED ACROSS THE ENGLISH

LANGUAGE AT THE TIME.

IT GENERATED THE ANCESTORS OF

SLEEP, SLEPT, CREEP, CREPT,

FEEL, FELT, MEAN, MEANT.

AND ALSO IN THE NOUN SYSTEM

FORMS LIKE SHEP, SHEPHERD,

CHRIST, CHRISTMAS, DEEP, DEPTH,

FIVE, FIFTH AND MANY OTHERS.

THEN IN THE 15TH CENTURY, A

STRANGE REVOLUTION TOOK PLACE

IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE CALLED

THE GREAT, VOWEL SHIFT WHERE

PEOPLE STARTED TO CHANGE THEIR

PRONOUNCIATION OF THE LONG

VOWELS.

WHAT USED TO BE AY WAS NOW IE,

WHAT USED TO BE IE, WAS NOW I

AND SO ON.

AS A RESULT WHAT USED TO BE KEP

AND KEPT NO LONGER SOUNDED

RELATED, BUT HAD TO BE

MEMORIZED INDIVIDUALLY BECAUSE

NOW THEY WERE KEEP AND KEPT.

WHICH INSTEAD OF BEING LONG AND

SHORT VERSIONS OF THE SAME

VOWEL WERE NOW TWO

QUALITATIVELY DIFFERENT VOWELS.

THE SHORTENING RULE DIED

BECAUSE KIDS HAD NO WAY OF

FIGURING OUT HOW IT WORKED.

THERE WAS NO RHYME OR REASON TO

IT ANYMORE.

AND AS THE RESULT THAT NEW

VERBS THAT ENTERED ENGLISH

AFTER THE GREAT, VOWEL SHIFT NO

LONGER UNDERWENT SHORTENING AND

NO LONGER WERE IRREGULAR.

WORDS LIKE PEEP, PEEPED, SEEP,

SEEPED, STEEP, STEEPED, AND SO

ON.

THE IRREGULARS WERE FORMED WHEN

AS THE LAST GASP OF A RULE THAT

DIED AROUND THAT TIME.

WELL, I'M GONNA SWITCH NOW TO

ANOTHER CURIOUSITY OF ENGLISH,

WHICH IS WHY IRREGULAR WORDS

SOMETIMES SHOW UP WITH REGULAR

FORMS.

A PROBLEM THAT'S LONG PUZZLED

WORD WATCHERS AND VERBIVORES

AND OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE

CURIOUS ABOUT OUR LANGUAGE.

FOR EXAMPLE, YOU MIGHT SAY ALL

MY DAUGHTER'S FRIENDS ARE

LOWLIFES.

NOT ALL MY DAUGHTER'S FRIENDS

ARE LOWLIVES, EVEN THOUGH THE

USUAL IRREGULAR PLURAL OF LIFE

IS LIVES.

YOU MIGHT SAY I'M SICK OF

DEALING WITH ALL THE MICKEY

MOUSES IN THIS ORGANIZATION,

NOT ALL THE MICKEY MICE.

EVER SINCE

THE SONY WALKMAN WAS INTRODUCED

20 YEARS AGO NO ONE HAS REALLY

BEEN SURE OF ITS PLURAL.

MOST PEOPLE ARE A BIT SQUEAMISH

ABOUT REFERRING TO SEVERAL OF

THEM AS WALKMEN.

AND THE OWNER OF THIS STORE WAS

SO CONFIDENT IN THE REGULAR

PLURAL THAT HE ACTUALLY BENT IT

INTO THE GLASS TUBING OF A NEON

SIGN.

LET ME GIVE YOU, ONE OTHER

EXAMPLE ALSO FROM THE FUNNY

PAGES.

THIS IS, CONCERNS TWO BOYS WHO

ARE WARMING THE BENCH IN A

LITTLE LEAGUE GAME AND HAVE A

LOT OF TIME ON THEIR HANDS TO

PONDER THE MYSTERIES OF

BASEBALL.


A comic appears on the projector showing two young men dressed in baseball uniforms who chat by the fields.

Steven continues ONE OF THEM SAYS WHY IS HOME

PLATE CALLED THAT WHEN IT

DOESN'T EVEN RESEMBLE A PLATE?

AND WHY DO THEY CALL IT A

STRIKE WHEN YOU'VE ACTUALLY

MISSED THE BALL AND HAVEN'T HIT

ANYTHING AT ALL?

PLUS WHY DOES A BASEBALL

MANAGER WEAR A UNIFORM WHEN HE

NEVER PLAYS?

AND WHY DO THEY SAY AHEM, A

BATTER FLIED OUT INSTEAD OF

FLEW OUT?

INDEED, THOSE OF YOU WHO KNOW

BASEBALL LINGO KNOW THAT NO,

MERE MORTAL HAS EVER FLOWN OUT

TO CENTERFIELD.

WELL, THESE,

YOU CAN FIND THESE PUZZLES IN THE SUNDAY

NEWSPAPER LANGUAGE COLUMNS AND

IN THE GRAMMAR BOOKS, AND

PEOPLE HAVE BEEN FLOUNDERING

FOR AN EXPLANATION FOR DECADES.

WHAT IT SHOWS

IS THAT SOUND ALONE CAN'T BE

THE ONLY INPUT INTO THE

INFLECTION PROCESS, BECAUSE THE

SAME SOUND CAN GO IN ONE END OF

THE BOX LIKE FLY AND COME OUT

THE OTHER END OF THE BOX EITHER

AS FLEW OR AS FLIED.

THAT MEANS THERE MUST BE SOME

OTHER INPUT TELLING THE BOX,

WHICH IT SHOULD BE.

THE QUESTION IS WHAT IS THAT

EXTRA INPUT?

AND THE MOST COMMON THEORY IS

THAT IT MUST BE MEANING.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

THAT IF YOU STRETCH THE MEANING

OF A WORD YOU WEAKEN THE

ASSOCIATIONS TO THE PASTENSE

FORM.

LET'S SAY THERE WAS A BANK OF

UNITS FOR MEANING AS WELL AS

THE UNITS FOR SOUND.

AND AS YOU DILUTE THE

ASSOCIATIONS PEOPLE WILL REVERT

TO THE REGULAR.

THE QUESTION IS, DOES

STRETCHING THE MEANING OF A

WORD WEAKEN ITS LINKS TO ITS

IRREGULAR FORMS?

AND THE ANSWER IS NO.

THAT IN FACT 99 PERCENT OF THE TIME

WHEN YOU CHANGE A WORD'S

MEANING YOU LEAVE THE IRREGULAR

FORMS ALONE.

FOR EXAMPLE THE WORD, A NOUN

LIKE A CHESSMAN, WHICH IS A

METAPHOR ON A MAN, DOESN'T HAVE

THE PLURAL CHESSMANS EVEN

THOUGH YOU'VE STRETCHED THE

MEANING CONSIDERABLY TO THAT

LITTLE PIECE OF PLASTIC OR

WOOD.

IT'S CHESSMEN, JUST LIKE MAN

AND MEN.

SIMILARLY FOR METAPHORS LIKE

STRAWMEN, SNOWMEN, SAWTEETH,

GOD'S CHILDREN ALL OF THEM

STRETCH THE MEANING BEYOND

RECOGNITION.

BUT NONETHELESS THEY KEEP THE

IRREGULAR PLURAL.

IN THE VERB SYSTEM IT'S EVEN

MORE EXTREME.

AS PEOPLE WHO LEARN ENGLISH AS

A SECOND LANGUAGE COME TO

REALIZE, ENGLISH HAS LITERALLY

HUNDREDS OF IDIOMS LIKE TO

CATCH A COLD, WHICH DON'T

REALLY HAVE ANYTHING IN COMMON

WITH THE ORDINARY MEANING OF

SAY, TO CATCH.

NONETHELESS, THE PASTENSE FORM

IS CAUGHT A COLD, NOT CATCHED A

COLD.

SIMILARLY YOU HAVE CUT A DEAL,

NOT CUTTED A DEAL.

TOOK A LEAK, BOUGHT THE FARM,

HIT THE FAN, BLEW HIM OFF, CAME

OFF WELL, PUT OUT, WENT NUTS,

GOT A LIFE, HAD A COW, ON AND

ON AND ON.

[Audience laughs]



Steven continues CHANGING THE

MEANING DOES NOT CHANGE THE

PASTENSE FORM.

THE CORRECT THEORY IS THAT THE

EXTRA INPUT IS GRAMMATICAL

STRUCTURE.

LET ME EXPLAIN WHAT THAT MEANS.

REMEMBER THAT THE WHOLE POINT

OF GRAMMAR IS TO ALLOW YOU TO

COMPUTE THE PROPERTIES OF A NEW

WORD FROM THE PROPERTIES OF OLD

WORDS AND THE WAY THAT THEY'RE

ARRANGED.

NOW HERE'S THE WAY YOU, THE,

RULES OF GRAMMAR ORDINARILY

ALLOW YOU TO CREATE NEW WORDS

FROM OLD WORDS.

TAKE FOR EXAMPLE OVER-EAT.

START OUT WITH THE ORDINARY

WORD EAT WITH ITS SOUND, ITS

MEANING, AND ITS IRREGULAR

PASTENSE FORM ATE, STORED IN

MEMORY.

THEN YOU CONCATENATE IT WITH

THE PREFIX OVER TO GIVE YOU

OVER-EAT.

THE QUESTION IS NOW WHAT DO YOU

DO WITH THE, WITH THIS

COMBINATION?

IN NOTATION, WHY DO YOU STAY UP

HERE IN THIS EMPTY SLOT?

THE ALGORHYTHM IS STRAIGHT,

FORWARD.

YOU LOOK AT A SPECIAL POSITION

IN THE WORD, KNOWN IS THE HEAD,

WHICH IS THE RIGHT MOST ELEMENT

AND YOU COPY EVERYTHING STORED

IN MEMORY WITH THE HEAD ALONG

THIS DATA PIPELINE AND IT ENDS

UP OVER HERE.

SO WHAT KIND OF A WORD IS OVER-

EAT?

WELL, IT'S A VERB BECAUSE EAT

IS A VERB AND THE VERBHOOD GETS

COPIED UPSTAIRS.

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF OVER-

EAT?

IT'S A KIND OF EATING, EATING

TOO MUCH, AND THAT'S BECAUSE

THE MEANING OF EAT GETS COPIED

OUT ALONG THIS PATHWAY.

FINALLY, WHAT'S THE PASTENSE OF

OVER-EAT?

IT'S OVER-ATE, BECAUSE THE PAST

OF EAT IS ATE AND THAT GETS

COPIED UP.

LET ME, WALK YOU THROUGH

ANOTHER EXAMPLE.

START OUT WITH THE NOUN MAN.

JOIN IT TO THE VERB WORK, TO

COME UP WITH THE NEW WORD

WORKMAN.

HOW DO YOU COMPUTE HOW IT

SHOULD BE USED IN A SENTENCE?

WELL, IT'S A, YOU LOOK AT THE

RIGHT, MOST ELEMENT, THE HEAD.

YOU COPY ITS PROPERTIES UP

ALONG THIS PATHWAY.

A WORKMAN IS A NOUN, BECAUSE

MAN IS A NOUN.

THAT GETS COPIED UP.

A WORKMAN IS A KIND OF MAN.

A MAN WHO WORKS BECAUSE M-A-N

MEANS MAN, AND SO THAT GETS

COPIED UP.

FINALLY, WHAT'S THE PLURAL OF

WORKMAN?

IT'S WORKMEN BECAUSE THE PLURAL

OF MAN IS MEN AND THAT GETS

COPIED UP.

HERE IS THE FINAL PUNCHLINE.

SOME WORDS HAVE TO OPT OUT AT

THIS SCHEME.

THEY CAN'T BE ALLOWED TO GET

THEIR PROPERTIES FROM THEIR

RIGHT MOST, ELEMENT.

THE USUAL PATHWAY HAS TO BE

BLOCKED.

IF IT IS BLOCKED, ANY IRREGULAR

FORM IS TRAPPED DOWN HERE IN

MEMORY.

IT HAS NO WAY OF BUBBLING UP TO

THE WORD AS A WHOLE.

THE REGULAR RULE THEN STEPS IN

AS THE DEFAULT AND IT SWITCHES

FROM IRREGULAR TO REGULAR.

AND THAT WILL EXPLAIN ALL OF

THESE PUZZLES STARTING WITH A

LOWLIFE.

WHAT IS A LOWLIFE?

IT'S NOT A KIND OF LIFE, THE

WAY A WORKMAN IS A KIND OF MAN

OR OVER-EATING IS A KIND OF

EATING.

RATHER IT'S A KIND OF PERSON,

NAMELY A PERSON WHO HAS OR

LEADS A LOW LIFE.

THAT MEANS THAT WHEN YOU FORM

THE WORD OUT OF LIFE AND LOW

YOU'VE GOT TO BLOCK THE PATHWAY

TO GET THE VERB, THE NOUN TO

MEAN WHAT YOU WANT IT TO MEAN.

WITH THE PATHWAY BLOCKED,

THERE'S NO WAY FOR LIVES TO BE

INHERITED BY THE WORD AS A

WHOLE AND YOU HAVE TO DEFAULT

TO THE REGULAR AND YOU GET

LOWLIFES.

THIS ISN'T JUST A FANCY

COMPLICATED EXPLANATION COOKED

UP FOR ONE EXAMPLE.

BUT IT HAPPENS WHENEVER YOU

HAVE A VERB FROM THIS FAMILY

WHERE THE MEANING OF THE NOUN I

MEAN, WHERE THE MEANING OF THE

NOUN IS NOT SIMPLY OF THE

MEANING OF THE LITTLE NOUN

INSIDE IT.

STILL LIFE, PLURAL STILL LIFES,

NOT STILL LIVES BECAUSE IT'S

NOT A KIND OF LIFE.

SABERTOOTHS NOT A KIND OF

TOOTH, BUT A KIND OF CAT.

FLATFOOTS, NOT A KIND OF FOOT

BUT A KIND OF POLICEMAN AND

FINALLY WE HAVE THE EXPLANATION

FOR WALKMANS, WHICH OF COURSE

IS NOT A KIND OF MAN.

IT'S NOT CLEAR EXACTLY HOW YOU

WOULD DERIVE WALKMAN FROM THE

MEANING OF WALK AND THE MEANING

OF MAN.

BUT IT DOESN'T REALLY MATTER

BECAUSE THIS WAS COINED AS A

JAPANESE PRODUCT NAME WHERE

THEY JUST USE ENGLISH WORDS FOR

THE STATUS OR, OR CACHE AND

DON'T REALLY CARE HOW IT'S PUT

TOGETHER.

BUT THE SONY CORPORATION

NONETHELESS, DOES HAVE AN

OFFICIAL ANSWER TO THE QUESTION

OF WHAT IS THE CORRECT PLURAL

OF WALKMAN?

IT IS WALKMAN BRAND PERSONAL

STEREOS.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues IN THE

INTERESTS OF TRADEMARK

PROTECTION THEY DON'T WANT

THEIR BRAND NAME TO TURN INTO A

NOUN.

AH, AND THIS HELPS EXPLAIN THE

MICKEY MOUSES WHERE THE CRUCIAL

THING IS THAT THIS IS A NOUN

THAT COMES FROM A NAME, IN

OTHER WORDS AN EPINEM.

SO YOU START OFF WITH THE

ENGLISH WORD FOR MOUSCULAS,

NAMELY MOUSE.

IN THE 1920S WALT DISNEY

CONVERTED THAT NOUN INTO A NAME

BY JOINING IT WITH THE NAME

MICKEY.

THEN IN ORDINARY SLANG THE NAME

MICKEY MOUSE GOT CONVERTED BACK

INTO A NOUN, A MICKEY MOUSE

REFERRING TO A

SIMPLETON.

NOW IN ORDER FOR THE WORD TO BE

PUT TOGETHER IN THIS RATHER

ROUND ABOUT WAY, YOU HAVE TO

HAVE BLOCKED THE PATHWAY OVER

HERE TO TURN A NOUN INTO A NAME

CAUSE ORDINARILY NOUNS JUST

GIVE, RISE TO STILL, MORE

NOUNS.

AND YOU HAVE TO BLOCK IT A

SECOND TIME TO TURN A NAME BACK

INTO A NAME, CAUSE ORDINARILY

OLD NAMES GIVE YOU NEW NAMES.

THAT MEANS THAT MICE, IS

TRAPPED HERE HAS NO WAY OF

WORKING ITS WAY UP.

AND TO FORM THE PLURAL, PEOPLE

HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO USE THE

REGULAR RULE GIVING U-S.

AGAIN, THIS ISN'T JUST AD HOC

TO ONE EXAMPLE BUT IT WORKS

WHENEVER YOU PLURALIZE A NAME.

THIS ACCOUNTS FOR A, AN ANCIENT

CANADIAN MYSTERY, WHICH IS WHY,

WHEN IN TORONTO WHEN SIX HOCKEY

PLAYERS EACH ONE OF THEM A

MAPLE LEAF SKATE ONTO THE ICE,

THEY ARE CALLED THE MAPLE LEAFS

INSTEAD OF THE MAPLE LEAVES.

AGAIN, THE IRREGULAR, THE

REGULARIZED PLURAL IS SEWED

RIGHT ONTO THEIR JERSIES.

RENAULT USED TO MAKE A CAR

CALLED THE ELF.

BUT WHEN THERE WERE A WHOLE

BUNCH OF THEM ON THE CAR LOT,

THEY WEREN'T A HORDE OF ELVES

BUT A BUNCH OF ELFS.

YOU MIGHT SAY MICHAEL KEATON

STARRED IN THE FIRST TWO

BATMANS, NOT BATMEN.

AND YOU'VE ALL HEARD OF THE

AMERICAN CHEF JULIA CHILD?

WELL, LET'S SAY YOU WERE GONNA

HAVE JULIA CHILD AND HER

HUSBAND OVER HER DINNER.

YOU'D SAY THE CHILDS ARE

REALLY, GREAT COOKS, NOT THE

CHILDREN ARE REALLY, GREAT

COOKS.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues FINALLY WE

GET TO FLYING OUT, AND HERE THE

EXPLANATION IS GIVEN BY THE

LATE, LAMENTED, CALVIN IN

CONVERSATION WITH HIS PET

TIGER, HOBBES.


A comic appears on the projector under the title "Flied out: verb from a noun." The Bill Watterson "Calvin and Hobbes" comic shows a young boy and a tiger having a conversation outside in the snow.

Steven continues CALVIN ONE DAY SAID I LIKE TO

VERB WORDS.

WHAT?

I, I TAKE NOUNS AND ADJECTIVES

AND I USE THEM AS VERBS.

REMEMBER WHEN ACCESS WAS A

THING?

NOW IT'S SOMETHING YOU DO.

IT GOT VERBED.

VERBING WEIRDS LANGUAGE.

[Audience laughing]



Steven says MAYBE WE CAN

EVENTUALLY MAKE LANGUAGE A

COMPLETE IMPEDIMENT TO

UNDERSTANDING.

[Audience laughing]



Steven says WELL, IN FACT

VERBING DOESN'T REALLY WEIRD

LANGUAGE ALL, THAT MUCH CAUSE

WE DO IT ALL THE TIME.

AND AN EXAMPLE IS THE BASEBALL

TERM TO FLY OUT.

IT STARTED OUT WITH THE

ORDINARY ENGLISH VERB TO FLY,

MEANING TO SLIP THE SURLY BONDS

OF EARTH.

IN BASEBALL TERMINOLOGY THAT

GOT, THAT GOT CONVERTED INTO A

NOUN.

A FLY, AS IN A POP FLY OR A FLY

BALL, NAMELY A BALL HIT ON A

CONSPICUOUSLY PARABOLIC

TRAJECTORY.

THAT NOUN THEN GOT VERBED INTO

TO FLY OR TO FLY OUT, MEANING

TO MAKE AN OUT BY HITTING, BY

HITTING A FLY.

IN ORDER TO GET THAT THE

BARRIER HAS TO BE ERECTED TO

CONVERT A VERB INTO A NOUN,

BECAUSE ORDINARY, ORDINARLY

VERBS GIVE RISE TO VERBS NOT

NOUNS.

LIKEWISE NOUNS ORDINARLY GIVE

YOU STILL MORE NOUNS AND SO YOU

HAVE TO BLOCK THE PATHWAY TO

TURN IT BACK INTO A VERB.

OKAY, SO WE HAVE A FLUENT FLOWN

TRAP DOWN HERE WITH NO WAY OF

ESCAPING FROM MEMORY TO FORM

THE NEW WORD AND THEREFORE THE

SPEAKER IS FORCED TO BY DEFAULT

TO ADD E-D TO GET THE PASTENSE

FORM FLIED.

AND AGAIN THAT APPLIES TO A

RANGE OF EXAMPLES.

SO IF ONE OF THE MAPLE LEAFS

NEARLY DECAPITATES AN OPPOSING

PLAYER AND IS SENT TO THE

PENALTY BOX FOR TWO MINUTES FOR

HIGH STICKING, WE SAY THAT HE

HAS HIGH STICKED THE GOALIE,

NOT HIGH STUCK THE GOALIE.

[Audience laughs]



Steven continues LIKEWISE, YOU

MIGHT SAY VENTURA GRANDSTANDED

TO THE AUDIENCE, NOT GRANDSTOOD

BECAUSE IT'S A NOUN, A VERB

FROM A NOUN PLAY TO THE

GRANDSTAND.

AND POWELL RINGED THE CITY WITH

ARTILLARY, NOT RANG OR RUNG

BECAUSE THIS VERSION OF THE

VERB TO RING MEANS FORM A RING

AROUND, AGAIN IT'S BEEN VERBED.

UM, NOW I'M GONNA SWITCH TO

CHILDHOOD, AND I'M GONNA

ILLUSTRATE A PHENOMENON HERE

WITH THE HELP OF MY FRIEND

AARON.

AND I HOPE THE, THE SOUND WILL

WORK HERE.

IT MIGHT TAKE A MINUTE TO CUE

UP.

HERE WE GO.


The project shows a clip of some people interacting.

A male voice says LOOKS OUTSIDE AND HE FINDS A

PAD AND A PENCIL IN THE STREET.

SO HE PICKS UP THE PENCIL AND

HE DECIDES TO DRAW A PICTURE OF

A POPEYE.

AND HE WALKS OVER TO ELMO'S

HOUSE AND HE GIVES THE PICTURE

TO ELMO.

AND ELMO SAYS GREAT.

I LOVE PICTURES.

I'LL GIVE THIS TO A FRIEND OF

MINE.

SO HE WALKS OVER TO ADAM'S

HOUSE AND HE STICKS THE PICTURE

ON ADAM'S HEAD.

THAT'S THE STORY.

THE WHOLE LINE IN THE STORY --

WON'T EVEN PASS -- STINKS?

WE'LL SEE HOW AARON HANDLES THE

IRREGULAR VERBS.


Then a little boy talks.

He says AND TOOK IT OUT OF

THE -- AND HE GAVE IT TO, AND

HE, AND HE THEN HE...

The clip ends.


Steven says OKAY, THIS IS

THE PHENOMENON OF OVER,

GENERALIZATION IN CHILDREN

WHERE THEY WILL STICK THE

REGULAR E-D ONTO IRREGULAR

VERBS LIKE DRAW AND STICK.

AND I THINK IT SUBMITS TO A

SIMPLE, EXPLANATION, WHICH IS

THAT CHILDREN'S MEMORY

RETRIEVAL IS LESS, RELIABLE

THEN ADULTS.

NOT NECESSARILY BECAUSE KIDS

HAVE A BAD MEMORY, BUT JUST

BECAUSE THEY HAVEN'T LIVED AS

LONG AS YOU OR I, HAVE.

AND SO IF YOU'RE THREE YEARS

OLD FOR EXAMPLE, YOU SIMPLY

HAVEN'T HEARD STUCK OR DREW AS

OFTEN AS YOU OR I, HAVE.

EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE YOU MIGHT

FAIL TO COUGH IT UP FROM MEMORY

QUICKLY ENOUGH.

IF THE CHILD FAILS TO RETRIEVE

AN IRREGULAR AND THE CHILD HAS

THE RULE, THE CHILD CAN APPLY

THE RULE TO THE IRREGULAR

GIVING RISE TO AN ERROR LIKE

DRAWED OR STICKED.

WHAT'S THE EVIDENCE?

WELL, EVIDENCE THAT WEAK MEMORY

IS A FACTOR, COMES FROM THE

FACT THAT THE LESS OFTEN A

PARENT USES AN IRREGULAR VERB

IN THE PRESENCE OF THEIR CHILD

THE MORE

OFTEN THE CHILD WILL MAKE AN

ERROR ON IT.

THIS HAPPENED IN 19 OF THE 19

CHILDREN THAT WE'VE LOOKED AT.

EVIDENCE THAT ACQUIRING THE

RULE IS THE GREAT LIMITING STEP

COMES FROM

THE PHENOMEN THAT'S LONG BEEN

NOTED IN CHILD PSYCHOLOGY

TEXTBOOKS, WHICH IS THAT THE

ERRORS WITH IRREGULAR FORMS

DON'T APPEAR RIGHT AWAY.

THAT THERE'S A, WHAT'S CALLED

U-SHAPED DEVELOPMENT, WHERE THE

CHILD SEEMS TO GET WORSE BEFORE

GETTING BETTER.

SO HERE'S A GRAPH OF ONE CHILD.

NOT THE ONE, IN THE VIDEO BUT

ANOTHER ONE WE'VE STUDIED WHERE

EACH DOT, IS A MONTH.

THIS TRACKS THE CHILD FROM THE

AGE OF TWO TO THE AGE OF FIVE.

THIS IS PERCENTAGE OF IRREGULAR

PASTENSE FORMS THAT ARE

CORRECT.

AND YOU CAN SEE HERE THAT FOR

EIGHT MONTHS IN A ROW THIS BOY

NEVER MADE AN ERROR LIKE

STICKED OR DRAWED.


The projector shows a line graph under the title "Irregular Past Forms Correct." The Y column says "Age." Next to the line, a text reads "Regular pasts obligatory context."

Steven continues HE MADE THE FIRST ONE JUST

BEFORE HIS THIRD BIRTHDAY AND

CONTINUED TO MAKE THEM AT A

SLOW, AT A SMALL BUT STEADY

RATE FOR SEVERAL YEARS

THEREAFTER.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THIS POINT?

WHY DOES A CHILD WAKE UP ONE

MORNING AND START TO SAY

STICKED AND DRAWED?

WELL, YOU CAN FIGURE IT OUT

WHEN YOU LOOK AT WHAT THE CHILD

WAS DOING WITH REGULAR VERBS

OVER THE SAME INTERVAL, NAMELY

IS THE CHILD CORRECTLY SAYING

YESTERDAY WE WALKED?

OR IS HE LEAVING OFF THE E-D

AND SAYING YESTERDAY WE WALK.

WELL, IF YOU PLOT THEM ON THE

SAME AXIS YOU SEE THAT THE

CHILD GOES FROM LEAVING OFF THE

ENDING WHERE MORE OFTEN THEN

PROVIDING IT, TO PROVIDING IT

MORE OFTEN THEN LEAVING IT OUT,

AND THE TRANSITION IS EXACTLY

THE POINT AT WHICH, THE FIRST

ERROR WITH THE IRREGULAR VERBS

APPEARS.

BASICALLY, BEFORE THIS PERIOD

OF TIME IF, IF STUCK DIDN'T POP

UP FROM MEMORY QUICKLY ENOUGH

THE CHILD BASICALLY HAD NO

CHOICE BUT JUST TO SAY STICK.

AFTER THE POINT THE CHILD HAS

ACQUIRED THE RULE AND THEREFORE

CAN FILL IN THE VACUUM BY

ADDING E-D TO THE FORM.

SO THIS GRAPH CATCHES A CHILD

IN THE ACT OF ACQUIRING A RULE,

WHICH IS MANIFESTED BOTH IN

BETTER PERFORMANCE WHERE THE

RULE SHOULD APPLY AND SLIGHTLY

WORSE PERFORMANCE WHERE THE

RULE SHOULD NOT APPLY.

NOW THE NEXT KIND OF EVIDENCE

COMES FROM WHAT HAPPENS WHEN

ONE OF THESE TWO SYSTEMS IN THE

BRAIN IS DIRECTLY DAMAGED BY A,

A BRAIN DAMAGE OR DISEASE.

THE PREDICTION IS THAT DAMAGE

TO THE SYSTEM FOR MEMORY FOR

WORDS SHOULD HURT THE

IRREGULARS BECAUSE THEY'RE

STORED LIKE WORDS.

DAMAGE TO THE SYSTEM FOR

GRAMMATICAL COMPUTATION SHOULD

HURT THE REGULARS, WHICH ARE

COMPUTED LIKE THE REST OF

GRAMMAR.

IN THE FIRST KIND OF PATIENT

THAT MY COLLEAGUES AND I LOOKED

AT HAD A SYMPTOM CALLED ANOMIA,

CAUSED BY DAMAGE TO THE

POSTERIOR PART OF THE LEFT AREA

NEAR THE SYLVIAN FISSURE,

APPROXIMATELY HERE, WHICH WAS

OFTEN RESULTS IN A SYMPTON

LEAVING THE PATIENT WITH

DIFFICULTY IN RETRIEVING WORDS.

SO THEY WILL USE THING AND

STUFF AND GUY AND HAVE TROUBLE

SLOTTING WORDS INTO THEIR

SENTENCES QUICKLY ENOUGH.

BUT THEY CAN OFTEN BE QUITE

FLUENT AND SPEAK IN GRAMMATICAL

SENTENCES.

THE PREDICTION, WHICH WAS BORNE

OUT IS THAT THEY SHOULD FIND

IRREGULARS HARDER THEN

REGULARS, BECAUSE IRREGULARS

DEPEND ON THE WORD MEMORY

SYSTEM, WHICH HAS HERE HAS BEEN

COMPROMISED.

THEY SHOULD MAKE REGULARIZATION

ERRORS LIKE STICKED AND DRAWED,

JUST LIKE CHILDREN DO, WHICH

THEY DO A CERTAIN PERCENTAGE OF

THE TIME.

AND SHOULD BE REASONABLY GOOD

AT DOING A WUG TEST.

TODAY I WUG, YESTERDAY I WUGGED

BECAUSE THAT DOES NOT DEPEND ON

LEXICAL MEMORY.

IN CONTRAST, PATIENTS WITH

DAMAGE TO A DIFFERENT BRAIN

PART OF THE BRAIN, MORE

ENTERIOR AREAS IN THE LEFT

HEMISPHERE, OFTEN HAVE A

SYMPTOM CALLED AGRAMMATISM,

WHERE THEY HAVE A GREAT DEAL OF

DIFFICULTY ASSEMBLING WORDS

INTO FLUENT, PHRASES AND

SENTENCES.

AND NONETHELESS HAVE LESS OF A

SEVERE DIFFICULTY IN WORD

FINDING.

THE PREDICTION IS THAT THEY

SHOULD GO THE OTHER WAY.

THEY SHOULD FIND IRREGULARS

EASIER THEN REGULARS, BECAUSE

IRREGULARS DEPEND ON WORD

MEMORY WHICH IS LESS

COMPROMISED AND INDEED THAT

SEEMS TO BE TRUE.

FEWER NO, REGULARIZATION ERRORS

BECAUSE THAT DEPENDS ON THIS

SYSTEM FOR COMBINATION, WHICH

IS NOT FUNCTIONING WELL AND

SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO DO THE

WUG TEST.

WE HAD FOUND A SIMILAR

ASSOCIATION BETWEEN PATIENTS

WITH ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE, WHICH

AS YOU KNOW LEADS TO A SEVERE,

MEMORY, IMPAIRMENT, INCLUDING

MEMORY FOR WORDS AND BY

EXTENSION FOR IRREGULAR FORMS.

IN CONTRAST TO PARKINSON'S

DISEASE, WHICH INVOLVES

DEGENERATION OF A DIFFERENT

BRAIN SYSTEM, WHICH EFFECTS

MOVEMENT AND MORE GENERALLY THE

PLANNING AND EXECUTION OF

MENTAL PROGRAMS INCLUDING THE

PROGRAM FOR STICKING AN E-D

ONTO THE END OF A WORD.

BEFORE I FINISH, I JUST WANT TO

RULE OUT ONE, POSSIBLE

CONFOUNDING FACTOR.

WHICH IS THAT A, A KILLJOY

COULD POINT OUT THAT THERE'S

ONE EXTRA PROPERTY OF REGULAR

WORDS THAT I HAVEN'T

EMPHASIZED, WHICH IS THAT

THEY'RE IN THE MAJORITY IN

ENGLISH.

REMEMBER I SAID EARLIER THAT

ARE THOUSANDS OF REGULAR VERBS,

BUT ONLY 165 IRREGULARS.

SO A SPOILSPORT COULD SAY,

RATHER THEN THERE BEING TWO

DIFFERENT SYSTEMS FOR REGULAR

AND IRREGULAR, IT'S JUST A

MATTER OF DEGREE.

WITH SO MANY REGULAR VERBS THEY

JUST POUND THE PATTERN INTO THE

CHILD'S HEAD DURING CHILDHOOD,

MAKING THE E-D FORM THE MOST

EASY TO GENERALIZE SIMPLY

BECAUSE IT'S BEEN ENCOUNTERED

THE MOST, THE LARGEST NUMBER OF

TIMES.

SO TO REALLY NAIL DOWN THE

CASE, YOU WANT A LANGUAGE THAT

UNCONFOUNDS THESE VARIABLES.

A LANGUAGE WHERE A REGULAR RULE

IN THE SENSE OF A DEFAULT

APPLIES TO A MINORITY OF FORMS.

NOW AT FIRST THIS MIGHT SEEM

LIKE AN OXYMORON, BECAUSE IN

FOREIGN LANGUAGE CLASSES

REGULAR VERBS ARE OFTEN DEFINED

AS THE MAJORITY CASE.

BUT IN THE WAY THAT I'VE BEEN

USING THE WORD, IT'S A

PSYCHOLOGICAL SENSE THAT REFERS

TO THE OPERATION THAT PEOPLE

APPLY AS THE DEFAULT, AND IT

DOESN'T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT HOW

MANY WORDS THERE ARE IN EACH

CLASS.

SO AT LEAST THEORETICALLY IT

SHOULD BE POSSIBLE FOR THERE TO

BE A LANGUAGE IN WHICH THE

REGULAR APPLIES TO A MINORITY

OF FORMS IN THE LANGUAGE.

THE QUESTION IS, DOES SUCH A

LANGUAGE EXIST IN REALITY?

COULD THERE

BE A LANGUAGE THAT'S SO

PERVERSE, SO TWISTED, SO

SADISTIC, THAT IT FORCES

LEARNERS TO MEMORIZE THE

MAJORITY OF CONJUGATIONS AND

DECLENSIONS IN THE LANGUAGE?

WELL, I'M

GONNA READ TO YOU FROM AN ESSAY

BY MARK TWAIN CALLED "DESHREKEN

DEDEUTSCH UND SPRACHA."

[Audience laughs]



Steven continues THE HORRORS

OF THE GERMAN LANGUAGE."

A PERSON WHO HAS NOT STUDIED

GERMAN CAN FORM NO IDEA OF WHAT

A PERPLEXING LANGUAGE IT IS.

ONE IS WASHED ABOUT IN IT

HITHER AND THITHER IN THE MOST

HELPLESS WAY.

AND WHEN AT LAST HE THINKS HE

HAS CAPTURED A RULE, WHICH

OFFERS FIRM GROUND TO TAKE A

REST ON, AMID THE GENERAL RAGE

AND TURMOIL OF THE TEN PARTS OF

SPEECH, HE TURNS OVER THE PAGE

AND READS THAT THE PUPIL MAKE

CAREFUL NOTE OF THE FOLLOWING

EXCEPTIONS.

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues HE RUNS HIS

EYE DOWN AND FINDS THERE ARE

MORE EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE

THEN INSTANCES OF IT, PERFECT.

AND IN FACT GERMAN INDEED IS

TROUBLESOME WITH A LAR, CLASS

OF IRREGULAR VERBS THAT ARE

FORMED BY CHANGING THE VOWEL

AND ADDING E-N.

ANOTHER CLASS OF MIXED VERBS

THAT CHANGES THE VOWEL AND ADDS

T.

AND THEN FINALLY A CLASS THAT

SIMPLY ADDS T, WHICH IS THE

EQUIVALENT OF OUR REGULAR

CLASS.

THE PLURAL SYSTEM IS EVEN,

MORE, HORRIFYING.

THERE ARE FOUR, DIFFERENT

SUFFIXES, E-E-R, E-N, S AND

THEN NO SUFFIX AT ALL.

AND THEN JUST TO KEEP SPEAKERS

ON THEIR TOES SOME OF THEM

UNPREDICTABLY CAN CHANGE THEIR

VOWEL IN A PROCESS KNOWN AS

UMLAUT.

NONETHELESS, GERMAN IS WHAT WE

THINK OF AS THE EXCEPTION THAT

PROVES THE RULE, BECAUSE EVEN

THOUGH ONLY 86 PERCENT OF, A FULL 86 PERCENT

OF ENGLISH VERBS ARE REGULAR,

ONLY 45 PERCENT OF GERMAN VERBS ARE

REGULAR, NONETHELESS

PSYCHOLOGICALLY THEY ACT THE

SAME WAY.

WE APPLY E-D TO RARE VERBS,

SUCH AS BLATED.

IN GERMAN, THE T IS ALSO

APPLIED TO RARE VERBS, THOSE

THAT DON'T, COULDN'T EASILY

HAVE BEEN STORED IN MEMORY.

AS IN SAULDERED.

WE USE IT FOR WEIRD VERBS LIKE

TO PLOMPH, WHICH CAN'T BE

ANALOGIZED TO ANYTHING SIMILAR

IN MEMORY.

LIKEWISE IN OUR EXPERIMENTS,

GERMAN SPEAKERS USED T FOR

WEIRD VERBS AS IN PLOUGH TO

PLOUGHED.

PLOUGHED IS OF COURSE GERMAN

FOR PLOMPH, UM --

[Audience laughing]



Steven continues THERE TOO,

THERE'S NOTHING TO FALL BACK ON

IN MEMORY.

WE USE IT WHEN WE VERB NOUNS,

GIVING RISE TO FLIED OUT.

IN GERMAN YOU CAN VERB THINGS

AS WELL, AND WHEN YOU DO YOU

HAVE TO USE T, AS IN GEHOUST,

HOUSEED.

FINALLY ENGLISH SPEAKING

CHILDREN SAY SINGED.

GERMAN SPEAKING CHILDREN SAY

GESINCT.

THE CONTRAST IS EVEN MORE

STRIKING IN THE PLURAL SYSTEM

WHERE 99.6 PERCENT OF OUR NOUNS ARE

REGULAR.

WHEREAS ONLY SEVEN PERCENT OF

GERMAN NOUNS ARE REGULAR.

NONETHELESS, WE HAVE PLOMPHS,

THEY HAVE PLOUGHS.

WE HAVE THE JULIA CHILDS.

THEY HAVE THOMAS MANN AND HIS

WIFE, THE THOMAS MANNS, NOT THE

THOMAS MENNER, WHICH IS THE

ORDINARY IRREGULAR PLURAL OF

MAN.

WE GO TO SEE BATMANS.

THEY GO TO SEE FAUSTS,

PRODUCTION OF THE PLAY "FASUT."

WE IMPORT ELFS.

THEY EXPORT CADETS AND ENGLISH

SPEAKING CHILDREN SAY MANS.

GERMAN SPEAKING CHILDREN SAY

MUNS, EVEN THOUGH ONLY SEVEN

PERCENT OF THE NOUNS THEY HEAR

END IN AN S.

SO THIS LEADS TO THE FINAL

QUESTION, WHICH IS WHY ENGLISH

AND GERMAN ARE SO SIMILAR IN

GRAMMAR, BUT SO DIFFERENT IN

THEIR STATISTICS.

AND THE ANSWER AGAIN REQUIRES

GOING BACK IN HISTORY.

IN THIS CASE TO PRODO-GERMANIC,

THE ANCESTOR TO BOTH ENGLISH

AND GERMAN SPOKEN MORE THEN

2,000 YEARS AGO.

IN WHICH A MAJORITY OF THE

VERBS WERE WHAT WE WOULD TODAY

CALL IRREGULAR.

BUT EVEN THEN THE ANCESTOR OF

THE E-D SUFFIX APPLIED TO LONE

WORDS.

THAT IS WORDS WITH STRANGE

SOUNDS THAT WERE BORROWED TO

OTHER LANGUAGES AND TO

DERIVATIONS, SUCH AS VERBS

TURNING INTO NOUNS.

IT JUST SO HAPPENED THAT IN THE

PAST 2,000 YEARS IN ENGLISH THE

MAJOR GROWTH AREAS FOR VERBS

WERE LOANS FROM FRENCH AND

LATIN.

THANKS TO 1066 AND ALL, THAT,

AND THEN LATER THE INFLUENCE OF

LATIN FROM THE CHURCH AND THE

RENNAISSANCE.

I'VE ESTIMATED THAT ABOUT 60 PERCENT

OF ENGLISH VERBS ACTUALLY WERE

IMPORTED FROM FRENCH OR LATIN.

AND AS CALVIN POINTED OUT WE

LIKE TO VERB THINGS.

ANOTHER 20 PERCENT OF OUR VERBS

STARTED OUT LIFE AS NOUNS OR

ADJECTIVES.

NOW, ACCORDING TO EVERYTHING

THAT I'VE MENTIONED IN THE TALK

SO FAR, BOTH KINDS OF VERBS HAD

TO BE REGULAR BECAUSE THEY WERE

STRANGE, SOUNDING OR DERIVED

FROM OTHER CATEGORIES.

SO IT'S NOT THE CASE THAT A

MAJORITY OF VERBS IN THE

LANGUAGE WERE REGULAR AND THAT

CAUSED THE SPEAK, THE SPEAKERS

TO USE THE REGULAR AS THE

DEFAULT BECAUSE THEY WERE

POUNDED IN WHEN WE WERE

CHILDREN.

IT'S THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

THAT SPEAKERS OF THE GERMANIC

LANGUAGES HAVE USED THE REGULAR

AS THE DEFAULT FOR THOUSANDS OF

YEARS.

AND THAT'S WHY THE MAJORITY OF

VERBS BECAME REGULAR.

IT'S BECAUSE THE REGULAR VERB,

RULE FOR SEVERAL THOUSAND YEARS

HAS GOTTEN FIRST DIBS ON ALL

THE NEW ARRIVALS INTO THE VERB

CLASS IN THE LANGUAGE.

SO TO CONCLUDE, DESPITE THE

IDENTICAL FUNCTION OF REGULAR

AND IRREGULAR FORMS.

JUST TWO DIFFERENT WAYS OF

TALKING ABOUT THE, SOMETHING

THAT TOOK PLACE IN THE PAST OR

MORE THEN ONE OF SOMETHING, THE

IRREGULARS ARE AVOIDED, AND THE

REGULAR SUFFIX IS APPLIED IN A

VARIETY OF CIRCUMSTANCES, THAT

HAVE NOTHING IN COMMON EXCEPT A

FAILURE OF ACCESS IN

INFORMATION IN MEMORY.

INCLUDING RARE WORDS, WHICH

HAVE LEFT A FAINT TRACE IN

MEMORY AS IN ABBREGATED AND

CHIDED.

DIFFICULT TO ANALAGIZE WORDS

THAT CAN'T, AREN'T SIMILAR TO

ANYTHING IN MEMORY SUCH AS

PLOMPHED AND FROGUED.

WORDS WHOSE ROOTS ARE

INACCESSIBLE BECAUSE OF THEIR

GRAMMATICAL STRUCTURE, SUCH AS

LOW LIFES AND FLIED OUT.

WORDS THAT ARE POORLY RECALLED

BY CHILDREN, SUCH AS BRAKED AND

HOLDED.

AND WORDS THAT ARE POORLY

RECALLED BY PATIENTS WITH

DISORDERS OF WORD RETRIEVAL

SUCH AS ANOMIA AND ALZHEIMER'S

DISEASE.

IT SHOWS THAT REGULAR

INFLECTION MOST BE COMPUTED BY

A MENTAL OPERATION THAT DOES

NOT NEED ACCESS TO MEMORY.

NAMELY A

SYMBOL COMBINATION RULE, WHICH

COULD STEP IN AS THE DEFAULT.

RULES THEREFORE FREE US FROM

THE CONTRAINTS OF MEMORY.

AND FINALLY TO CLOSE THE CIRCLE

TO THE ISSUE I MENTIONED AT THE

VERY OUTSET OF THE TALK, I'D

LIKE TO SUGGEST THAT OUR

GROUP HAS IDENTIFIED DISTINCT

MENTAL MECHANISMS THAT

IMPLEMENT THE TWO PRINCIPLES OF

LANGUAGE, RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS

VAST EXPRESSIVE, POWER.

NAMELY, MEMORY FOR THE

ARBITRARY, SIGN UNDERLYING THE

WORD, AND SYMBOL COMBINATION

FOR THE INFINITE USE OF FINITE

MEDIA UNDERLYING GRAMMATICAL

RULES.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.


[Audience applauding]

Watch: Steven Pinker on "Words and Rules"