Katrina and verb forms

Wednesday evening Katrina was looking at one of her books, one with places for pictures of her when she was one year old and earlier. One of the pictures we put in the book was of her and me. In it, we’re in a pool — she’s sitting on the edge and I’m in the water next to her.

She looked at the picture. “Why amn’t…”, she started, then paused. (Her cadence for “amn’t” was more like that for “aren’t”.) She started again. “Why amn’t…”, she said. (This time her cadence for “amn’t” was closer to that for “isn’t”.) “Why amn’t I…”, she tried again. (The “isn’t”-like version must have sounded a little better to her, but she still seemed to sense that it wasn’t correct. She soldiered on.) “Why amn’t I swimming?”

“Why aren’t you swimming?” I offered.


“Say, ‘Why aren’t I swimming?’” She did.

I thought that was pretty cool. She knew the grammar rule (“put an ‘n’t’ sound at the end of the verb”), but she didn’t know the exception (nor, I might add, how to pronounce it in the absence of the exception). It does seem a little odd at first:

  • “Why are you” versus “why aren’t you”
  • “Why is he” versus “why isn’t he”
  • “Why are they” versus “why aren’t they”
  • “Why am I” versus “why aren’t I” (the exception she didn’t know)

What makes this even cooler is that I was reading The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker at the moment she asked me about the picture. If you find this kind of thing interesting, I highly recommend his books. The Language Instinct was the one that got me hooked.

No comments: