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...?


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.