3.2.1 Rules as Patterns in the Mind (Part 1)



Children 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 Depth

Of 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.


activity  Activity

To 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
  • Figure 3.4: An example of an IQ test item to be answered through analogical reasoning

    [Source: adapted from Jirah]