q Be have | Anne Hodgson

Be have!

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Children make funny mistakes as they learn to speak, and English native speakers are no exception. From David Crystal’s blog:

A correspondent writes with a nice child language story. While in a supermarket she heard an exasperated mother say to her child:
“Will – you – be – have!”
To which the child replied:
“But I am being have.”
With have pronounced /heiv/, of course.

This twisting of “behave” is what DC calls an “analytical error”, and he thinks it’s relatively rare. Well, I think it’s actually far more frequent in bilingual families, where children are trying to make sense of competing codes.

In our family (growing up in the US speaking German at home) we had lots of funny mistakes that came from growing up bilingual, between two languages, and transferring rules from one to the other. A typical mistake was my eldest brother saying that he wanted a sandwich “mit ohne Butter” – which sounds a lot like “without butter” – and is very logical. After all, the default mode, so to speak, was bread with butter. My own stubborn mistakes have been confusing singular and plural nouns. I still sometimes hunt for my “Brillen” – which means I’m looking for at least two pairs of glasses at once.

Vivienne Arnold has done academic research on “codeswitching”, or changing language and using correct pronunciation to the switched word, in her bilingual children’s use of English, and found that they said things like “After Mittagspause we did treff ourselves”. That’s really nice, isn’t it? Not the word “lunch break”, which they will not be hearing at their all-German school. And not “meet us“, which is a common error my German students would make. And then using an auxiliary verb for the past tense, which makes it sound more like “wir haben uns getroffen”. This use of language is really quite creative. Her research reminds me of the kind of language we used to use at the German School in Washington, DC, where we would ask each other before tests: “Will you let me abschreib from you?” I think I learned the word “to crib” for “abschreiben” from an Englishteacher here in Germany. And did we abschreib? Of course not! We were always have.

Do you have any similar examples?


2 Responses

  1. It’s not exactly in the same mold but i was in the shop with my young daughter (she’s English the shop is French) and the woman working there was telling me that a neighbour’s husband had died.
    “Elle a perdu son mari “.
    We could use the same (translated) verb in English – loose but for my six year old daughter the meaning was different.
    Outside she asked if we should help look for him.

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