Tag Archives: linguistics

In which I am sentimental about diagramming sentences

Enjoyable op-ed in the Times about the history of the soon-to-be-lost art:

By the latter half of the 19th century, chalkboards had become increasingly common in classrooms; for students, the impact of watching a sentence take shape on that large surface as a comprehensible, often elegant, and sometimes downright ingenious drawing must have been significant. It’s hard to believe anyone but the most dedicated pedant could have actually enjoyed parsing, but plenty of students — including me — loved diagramming.

Me too.  It’s funny:  I don’t have any feeling at all that today’s students need to learn the pencil-and-paper algorithm for long division or square root extraction.  But the vanishing of sentence diagrams makes me sad.  Presumably if I were a linguist instead of a mathematician I’d feel the opposite.

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Kids aw hawd to ustan

CJ, like most kids his age, pronounces “r” as “w.”  I was investigating this a bit and found the following interesting page which lists the various phonological shifts young kids undergo as they learn to speak.  A lot of these are things CJ does and which I’d never consciously noticed!  (e.g. “weak syllable deletion”, in which “telephone” becomes “teffone.”)  The r/w issue is called “gliding of  liquids.”  Did you know that people typically can’t pronounce “th” as in “thing” until they’re eight and a half years old?

This kind of thing always reminds me of a bit of comic business in The Mosquito Coast about a guy in Massachusetts with a speech impediment and a wife named Cheryl, who he calls “Shovel.”  The Mosquito Coast is a great, great, great novel, by the way!  Not sure everyone is aware of this.

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