Agent and Instrument Nouns

Stephanie Niu

spontaneous word innovations:
how do children proceed?

1. the connection between old meanings and new ones is transparent
2. devices most productive in the language
3. adherence to conventionality

necessary for grasping
the essential nature of language as a communication system
even
one-year-olds ask for the names of things.

             children relinquish their own innovations.

I’ve got a picture here of
something that burns.
pen-and-ink drawing of someone
eliciting some response (even if it was ‘I don’t know’).

it’s not a pair of scissors.
what else could you call something you cut with?

children’s spontaneous speech:
to rule from ruler, meaning ‘measure’
to trait from traitor, meaning ‘to betray.’
little doubt that most three-year-olds understand.

begin with the transparent
             a rainer
only later discover the meaning
             ‘someone who drives rain away’

             a hugger-people
was used only by the youngest children.
             hitter-man, knocker-man, hider-man

older children
conformed to the conventions.
             fisherman,
             washerwoman.
but
the same person can cut, hit, climb, open, or burn things.
‘He’s a shoveler; he’s also a man.’

the asymmetry
most striking when
nouns like man or machine begin to yield their place.


Author's Note:
Found poem written using phrases from the linguistics paper published in Cognition, 1982 by EV Clark.