ConceptChildren acquire language by unconsciously analysing patterns
Barbara’s mother didn’t teach her daughter the past tense suffix (“Barbara, will you please add an –ed suffix to put that verb into the past tense!”).
Instead, Barbara worked it out on her own, on the basis of experience, using analogy to construct new knowledge. In the examples we’ve looked at, she came up with the novel verb forms ringed and drinked having heard other phonological forms ending with the same set of endings, which she associated with certain verbal meanings and time references.
In DepthOf course she wasn’t aware of the complex set of cognitive routines that her mind was engaged in. Children do analogical and other kinds of complex analysis as a natural, unconscious process, and it is one of the major ways in which they learn general patterns from multiple experiences on their way to adulthood.
ActivityTo appreciate what Barbara was doing, look at the diagram in Fig. 3.4. This is an example of an ‘IQ test’ question, given to adults to see how well they can do deliberately what all (normal) children do involuntarily. See if you can:
a) provide the missing pattern (in the space on the bottom-right)
b) state a rule which describes the pattern (in other words, the regularity of the first two rows)
c) identify the parallel with what Barbara was doing in overgeneralising the verbs ring and drink
- a) Here is the solution:
- b) Here’s our best attempt at an explicit and accessible expression of the rule:
o IN ANY SHAPE WHICH IS DIVIDED INTO FOUR EQUAL PARTS, FILL IN THE PARTS CLOCKWISE, SUCCESSIVELY STARTING FROM '9 O'CLOCK' (OR 'DUE WEST')
c) You worked out how to complete the third row on the basis of analogy with the pattern you detected on the first and second rows. This is a similar process to what Barbara did to produce drinked, as the following figure illustrates (although of course she had more than two sets of previous experiences to base her solution on):