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A shared destiny

Children who can say every word in English apart from one or two evidently hard words like hippopotamus would seem not to have a great deal more to learn about the pronunciation of the language. Most children reach this point between six and a half eight and a half years old. Carol Chomsky (1969) shows that even at ten many children are not sure about how to understand “Ask your friend what to feed the cat.” Some individuals never learn this. But the overwhelming majority do. And between five and ten there is a gradual convergence on a fully developed grammar. For most children, sometime after the fifth birthday. there is an increasingly conscious awareness of this. So toy animals are imagined speaking in a babyish way: “I say: Me live in countryside. Me underground. Me run faster than fox.”  But even with this self-awareness, the grammar is limited in various ways.

Between one clause into another

“It needs to undo the knot” In English the ‘logical subject’ of undo needs to be pronounced, as in “It needs someone to undo the knot”)

“I’m going to tell my animals what they want for their breakfast. What do you want elephant? I want burnt toast.” Here tell is used instead of ask. The meanings of the two words are confused.

Pronouncing that when it should remain unpronounced

“Whatever he sees that I want, he copies”

“I want whatever book that Frank has… I want the book that Frank has”

Extending noun-phrases

“It’s on a too high shelf”

“It’s my first balsa wood model I’ve ever done”

“My starfish has got a chopped off leg.”

“I can’t cut out lots of shapes of ones that are together”

Connecting noun phrases

“Are you Joe and me’s mummy?”

“It was longer than the kitchen onto the living room together”


“No fat people are not allowed in here

“There were two of the same sort and one of not the same sort”

Movement by ‘pied piping’

“Which model do you think  I made with Joe is the best?”

“Look how big stone we’ve found.”

“I’ll tell you who’s going to be me of my plastic pets: Panda.”

Copying so

“So when I grow up I know a way so it doesn’t hurt my ears”

Getting thins the wrong way round

“I wish he could be my boss. I want him to do what I say.”

“I dressed my badger in the clothes that I don’t fit”

Although it is impossible to determine whether the errors listed above were trivial and accidental errors like those of fully competent adult speakers, the rate of these errors suggests otherwise. They are exactly consistent with the controlled experimental observations of Carol Chomsky. But as the awareness of grmmar grows, there is a subtle change in what is left unpronounced.

“I couldn’t eat that sausage. Neither could you.”

Here the whole phrase “eat that sausage” is unpronounced.