I have started the first of the four big analyses for my dissertation. In this one I'm looking at kids' use of derivational morphemes. A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in a language. In some cases, that's a whole word. In some cases, it's something smaller. When toddlers figure out that they can add -s to a word and it means "more than one," that's a grammatical morpheme. And it's a big step forward linguistically. (It gives me a geeky little rush, actually, to watch that skill unfurling. How do they know, at 18 months, how to do that? Why do some kids struggle so with it?)
We keep adding morphemes throughout childhood. They're a huge part of the vocabulary expansion that happens in the later grade school years. Quick becomes quickly. Attract can morph into unattractive. One of the questions I'm looking at is whether the control kids use more of those affixes than the kids with risk factors.
(Oops, diaper break. It's a good thing I don't count how many times I get interrupted writing a blog post or I might give it up in discouragement.)
For several of my analyses, I'm using a powerful but not very user-friendly program. The manual section that covers the morpheme analysis tool is pretty forbidding. This is for the serious user, it says, who's willing to put in a lot of time getting it right. Not quite "Abandon all hope ye who enter here," but still rather alarming given the learning curve for the other tools in this package.
But I've started, and I haven't thrown up my hands in frustration yet. It will require me to go through every line of my 301 transcripts and check whether the automated parser assigned the right function to each word -- and, in many cases, to parts of words. I have begun seeing morphology tags everywhere I look, involuntarily parsing the sentences in picture books.
The sentence that I'm typing now would look like this.
det|the n|sentence rel|that pro|I~aux|be&1S part|type-PROG adv|now aux|will&COND v|look prep|like pro:dem|this.
I find myself thinking of the parser as a living and not very bright entity. He reads "Bob and Mary" and calls Bob a verb (which, granted, is certainly possible) and Mary the adjective form of the verb "mar." I guess a mary table is one that's had too many glasses of cold water left sitting on it? Anyway, there are many errors to untangle. Many many.
I have moments of thinking,"I was born to do this," because I love grammar with a rather startling passion. In eighth grade I would take home my English book and diagram sentences for fun on the weekends. (Why, no, I wasn't very popular in junior high school -- why do you ask?) I also have moments of thinking, "This is a staggering amount of work." I have done 16 transcripts. Only 285 to go. If I'm scarce, blame it on the morphemes.