27 February 2013

When the rule becomes the exception...

It was really cold in my flat this morning, so I grabbed a pile of essays to mark and headed for the university, and reliable central heating.  Well, in the end I didn't make it into the uni, stopping outside to enjoy wome truly incredible weather.

One thing that I've noticed time and again is that adjective-noun word order seems pretty difficult for French people, with many only being able to cope with "plain" adjectives.  Stick in an adjective formed from a past or present participle and they revert to the French order. (eg "land unoccupied" instead of "unoccupied land".)

Now at first I thought this may be a verb/adjective confusion, but I'm starting to think otherwise.

In theory, students should learn with normal adjectives as a base case and then generalise from there.  However it looks as though they haven't actually generalised it - I believe a great many of my students have, at some point earlier in their schooling, internalised what to me is the "rule" as though it's an exception.

What could cause this problem?  An overly restrictive set of adjectives at the start, probably.

It isn't difficult to introduce -ed and -ing adjectives early on -- "tired dogs" and "boring books" and the like -- but that has to be expanded upon, and opened up to the rarer participial adjectives.  Yes, rarer adjectives.  Even though these words aren't in the Swadesh lists or similar, that doesn't matter.  They're rare, and they're regular, and these two facts are intrinsically linked.

In most languages, the most common words are irregular, so it's no great leap of logic to see how a learner could falsely assume the rule is an exception if they're only dealing with a small set of common words....

Edit: I feel a funny sense of déjà vu....

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