word order (was Re: Random DWJ discovery of the day)

Robyn Starkey rohina at shaw.ca
Tue Apr 5 20:00:36 EDT 2005


> No, this is the crux of my point. I am making the (admittedely 
> provocative) claim that 'It is I' is NOT part of English, in the sense 
> that it is not (pace Philip Belben) part of the language that *any* 
> English speaking child acquires as his or her native language.

Nonsense. I learnt to say it, my child learnt to say it; both of us are 
native speakers. I learned this phrase exactly as I learned the rest of 
my language.

> I am not denying that it is a part of English as that term is normally 
> understood, or that some children may be taught to use the form quite 
> early.
> But that word 'taught' is crucial. Children in the normal course of 
> things are not taught their language. They learn it - and there is a 
> lot of evidence that it makes very little difference whether or not 
> those around them attempt to teach them, correct their mistakes, or 
> talk to them at all.
> 'Good' grammar, on the other hand, like reading and writing, is 
> largely taught. Some children may have the capacity and motivation to 
> begin acquiring these skills for themselves: but they are utterly 
> different skills from learning (natural) language, because they are in 
> a big sense arbitrary in a way that (natural) language is not.

I don't think this is a valid distinction. When do children, according 
to this "theory" stop acquiring language? Before they go to school? I 
would suggest that language acquisition lasts an awfully long time. I 
mean, I acquire language still; not with the frequency I did as a child, 
true, but children who are learning to read at school are actively 
acquiring language.

> I am claiming that in 'It is I' is not part of any natural variety of 
> English because there is no rule that will produce it, that is 
> deduceable from the evidence available to an English-speaking child. 
> (Actually I have to admit a caveat here - children may learn this 
> particular sentence as a chunk - an idiom, if you will - and thereby 
> not have to analyse it or apply a rule).

So if there are circumstances in which it is learnt, then how can you 
say no child ever acquires it?

Robyn

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