06 October 2012

Failure to generalise.

Since I moved here, I've been frequently corrected on an annoying little error in my French: I keep saying J'habite en Corté instead of J'habite à Corté.  It's a tiny little thing, but it indicates a fundamental flaw in my internal model of the language.

But earlier today, as I came down off a mountain, I was thinking about this.  OK, so the simple explanation is interference from Spanish (vivo en Corte/Corti)  But didn't we do this in high school?  Didn't we do this lots in high school.  When I thought about the placenames of me and my classmates -- Stirling, Denny, Banknock, Alloa etc -- yes, I thought of the sentence correctly: à Stirling, à Denny, etc.

Why were these ones correct in my head, but not Corte?  If the Spanish interference was overwriting my French, why hadn't it made *j'habite en Stirling sound right to me? 

This would have to indicate a failure to generalise on my part -- that I had learned by rote, not by meaning.  This was the first phrase I was ever taught with the word à in it, so there simply wasn't the support for me to understand the whole structure, so I memorised it as sounds, just as I do the words to songs in languages I don't speak.

But something else caught the back of my head.  Maybe the reason I was confused was because of the exceptions, like... aha!  Countries.  There are no exceptions at the town level -- it's a stable rule.   But in my school, we got towns and countries thrown at us at the same time, which made the stable rule seem unstable and arbitrary, leading to a failure to generalise.

Or, to put it another way, perhaps I generalised that the preposition was arbitrary...?

2 comments:

GerdaLena said...

Couldn't it simply be because of the corsican "stò in Corti"?

Nìall Beag said...

Nope. My French is far, far stronger than my Corsican.