what speech do we like best?

What Speech Do We Like Best?

Glide, Glode, Glidden?

Step 1 Choose a verb:

Step 2 Click on a model verb:

(have) glided
(have) ridden
(have) glidden

The Verb Machine

In this exercise, you'll see input verbs and model verbs. If you choose ring as your model verb, and then bring as your input verb, bring will conjugate the way that ring normally does. (You will get bring brang brung as your output.)  Look carefully at the verb forms that come out. Do they appear odd to you or are they something that you could imagine hearing yourself say? Maybe you already have? If the verb form sounds familiar, can you remember where you heard it and who was speaking? This variation is the process by which language changes.

The point of this verb exercise is to let us explore conjugation and ask ourselves why some verb conjugations are "wrong" or considered not to be the standard. Have you ever heard anyone use "incorrect" forms? Who? When? Could you imagine any of these "incorrect" verb forms changing so that what is considered incorrect today may be considered correct eventually?

We don't usually have to think about conjugating a verb in our native language. Only when learning another language do we may begin to appreciate the task. The majority pattern for conjugating verbs in English is called the "regular" pattern. For verbs such as want  we would say: I want to buy that CD today - and we know that the past tense is wanted, the perfect tense is have or had wanted. But, without thinking, we can also conjugate the highly irregular verb to be: I am, I was, I have been.

The pattern is easily seen for the verb want, but where is the pattern in to be? Or how about the verb to go? I go, I went, I have gone? When learning these forms, children and language learners are told that they must simply memorize many of these irregular verb forms one by one, because there is no easy pattern.

So what is happening when someone says "I goed to the store" (instead of went), or "I brang you a glass of water"(instead of brought)? People who say these things are not simply making an arbitrary mistake. Instead, they have applied a rule that worked for one verb to another verb. In saying goed the speaker is trying to make the verb to go conform to the "regular" pattern in English. In saying brang, the speaker is applying the rule from another "irregular" verb, ring: ring rang rung to bring: bring, brang brung. These mistakes are mistakes of analogy. They are also examples of ways that language may change through contact and interaction. In reality, the final decisions about what is "standard" in language is an arbitrary decision. It is actually more of a social activity than a linguistic one.

Language is always changing, and it's conceivable that someday we'll say goed instead of went. For example, would you say clad or clothed? Abided or abode? Dived or dove? These are examples of verbs undergoing change. This is not to say that everyone is happy to see these changes come about. But the fact that we find something such as goed to sound so wrong when dived sounds fine is really a social decision, not a linguistic one. In fact, goed and dived both fit with the majority pattern, and there is nothing inherently wrong about these linguistic structures. It is just that society has decided on a standard for go (for example) and for now, goed is not it.

<>Sociolinguists believe the diversity of English usage that we hear all around us is normal and not a sign of collapsing standards. Diversity in language structure can be viewed as a snapshot of language as it changes. We wear our language like clothing: Sometimes we dress up, as it were; sometimes we dress, like, down. Sometimes it doesn't make much difference how we dress.

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Sponsored by:

National Endowment for the Humanities Hewlett Foundation Ford Foundation   Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Carnegie Corporation

National Endowment
for the Humanities

William and Flora Hewlett


Rosalind P.

Arthur Vining
Davis Foundations

Corporation of New York