One of my college English profs claimed kids don’t screw up grammar nearly as much as adult representations of kidspeak would have us believe. She was extremely knowledgeable in linguistics, and I believe her perspective represented cited studies in addition to her own observations.
I really wish she had gotten her hands on my kids when they were learning to speak. Because they both regularly spout stereotypical examples of children’s language.
It isn’t so much that their grammar is bad (though it is) as it is that they just make up words that don’t fit at all when they can’t figure out what to put in a sentence. This prof pointed out that it’s common for kids to struggle with irregular verbs (who wouldn’t – irregular is the right word to describe them, since they’re messy as all get-out). But usually, the first time they say “losed” for “lost” and you correct them, they thereafter process the exception and move on. Caroline and Sam, however, still say “losed” and, when corrected, promptly modify the word to “loseded”, both adding the unnecessary (but logical) ‘ed’ along with a random ‘d’ to break up the syllables or something. They also do a full out double ‘ed’ ending for a lot of mistaken past tenses: “shooteded”, “biteded” and, my personal favorite, “bleededed”. As in, “Mama, I hurt myself today in school and it bleededed everywhere.”
Madame Syntax wishes to register a complaint! She did not sign on for kids who cannot even understand the concepts behind some of the weird stuff in our admittedly strange language.
And that doesn’t even get into the pet peeve zone, where all my grammar alarms just blare. I know far too many educated people, including Caroline’s school teachers who use “lay” for “lie”. They say, “Why don’t you go lay down over there”. Or “I’m going to go lay out”. Madame Syntax demands a noun between “lay” and “down”. And she wishes to follow “lay out” with “my clothes for tomorrow” because otherwise the speaker should close the gap between “lay” and out” to make a tacky reference to the viewing of a deceased person’s body prior to the funeral. When you strip down to a bikini and stretch out in the sun, if you are also going to “lay out”, Madame Syntax will be sure to send your family a card of condolence, as well as adding red ink to the draft of your obituary. The best way to remember this rule is that people lie down and they lay down objects. if you’re going to do something yourself, right now, in the present tense, the term is “lie”. If you are going to put something down, then the term is “lay”. So, I lie down, but I lay down the books. However, it is correct to say “Yesterday, I lay out in the sun, because the past tense of ‘lie’ is ‘lay’. And the past tense of lay is laid. So “yesterday, I laid down my ice water in the sun, and wasn’t that a mistake!”. Or possibly, “I may lie out in the sun after I lay down this book.” And “Yesterday, I lay out in the sun after I laid down my book”. Head exploding yet? I do understand why some of this stuff is hard, but for pity’s sake, consider my sanity people!
The kids, of course, look at me like I’m crazy when I correct them. They can already sense Madame Syntax coming and turn off their ears at her approach. And what’s worse is that this passive aggressive defense is slowly breaking Madame Syntax down. Not only have I started to talk like my children, adding random bizarre past tense extensions to any number of verbs, but I have also started to type like they talk.
Words like “exspecially” often leave me baffled, even when the spellcheck demons at MSWord underline them with a red squiggly line. “What’s wrong with that?” I’ll think. And this is made worse by my large vocabulary that does often defy Microsoft. So I have to consider those red underlines. Is it really misspelled? Has Microsoft just failed to admit that it’s right, or have the children struck again? Am I, in fact accidentally messing up the language when I prefer my additions to be deliberate and thoughtful?
These are not the things that keep me awake at this hour. But damn they give Madame Syntax nightmares when I lay down my books and lie down at night.