How Should We Correct Grammer?

“How come you have eyes in the side of you?”

asked Daisy when I requested she stop playing and eat.

“How come I have eyes in the side of my head?” I replied, automatically rephrasing the idiom. It is an automatic response for many teachers and parents. We hear the mistake and correct it by modelling.

She generalizes and gives verbs an -ed ending;

“Did you know I growed it from my apple tree?’

‘We slided down the big hill. It was so fun. “.

This adding of -ed brings back Chomsky’s theory of children sorting and organising rules for language in their head. I have not explained to Daisy that she needs to add an ‘-ed’ to some verbs to make them into past tense. She has made this connection and is over applying the rule.

Pinker (1999) gives a reason for this over application of rules “children lack the blocking principle and have to learn it” . As adults we know the past of ‘to grow’ is grew and therefore we block ‘growed’ just as we know the past of ‘to slide’ is slid so we block ‘slided’. Daisy has not yet learned this blocking ability and is using her understanding of general grammatical rules to use past tense.

Only through “negative evidence” as stated by Pinker (1999) can children understand they are using bad grammar. Daisy usually gets the sentence repeated back to her correctly and the conversation moves on rather than a direct frown or correction. However as the conversation below shows she either chooses to ignore my correction or does not notice it.

“Do you know who weared this?” asked Daisy.

‘Who wore it? I respond

“Who weared it before me? You!” answered Daisy.

In this situation Daisy was wearing a dress I had as a child and seemed quite proud of the fact (or she was mesmerized that I once fitted into it!).

I had assumed my attempts to correct her, were helping her language development but it seems she has to make these mistakes, thus gaining the experience to block ‘growed’, ‘slided’ and ‘weared’.

This explains why the mistakes seem to be getting more frequent. Daisy needs time to learn how to block and remember what she has to block

“The cure for overgeneralization is living longer, hearing irregulars more often, and consolidating them in memory, improving their irretrievability.” (Pinker, 1999, p.198) .

The term “fingerprints of learning” being all over the sentence allows teachers and parents to relax about their children’s over generalisations and not feel the need to jump to correct at every opportunity. I try not to ‘jump’ to correct but it is ingrained after so many years of teaching and not parenting; it is automatic. I need to relax and let her understand the rules of speech at her own speed (as I write this, I take a deep breath).

What do you think?

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