Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

But Although…

Posted by Neal on January 20, 2008

Adam’s acquisition of English took an incremental step this week. It happened sometime between bedtime Wednesday night and when he got home from school Thursday afternoon. Maybe it came to him in a dream, or maybe he made the connection while he was sitting in the cafeteria or on the school bus, but by the time he’d thrown his coat and backpack on the floor, it had happened. Adam realized that but and although both convey the semantic relation of concession: the idea that if proposition A is true, you would expect proposition B to be false.

The problem now is in rediscovering the differences between but and although now that he’s discovered their semantic commonality. When he wants to express a concession, which word should he use? Right now he’s hedging his bets, and using both. Not in the way my ESL students tended to do, in sentences like:

Although much has been done, but many problems still remain>

Adam uses them right next to each other, like this:

This globe doesn’t show Santo Domingo, but although it’s in the Dominican Republic.

That one was a situation where either but or although would have worked. Unfortunately for Adam, there are also situations where only but will work, when you want to show some contrast, but not necessarily concession. When I asked him on Friday afternoon about the pizza they’d served at school, he was telling me about the “California vegetables”, which turned out to be broccoli and carrots. I knew there was no way he would have eaten the broccoli, but there was a chance he might have gone for the carrots, so I asked him how they were. It turns out the nasty smell of the broccoli had so thoroughly contaminated the whole vegetable mix, he didn’t eat any of it. To minimize the cause for concern, he added:

I didn’t eat any of it, but although it wasn’t the main food. I just ate the pizza.

Just because something is a side dish does not mean I’d be surprised if someone ate it, so this is not a case of concession. But although Adam now seems to be using but and although less correctly than before, his grammar is still one step closer to an adult’s. Overgeneralization is the best evidence of kids’ having learned a rule of their language, instead of just relying on forms they’d memorized: irregular plurals get regularized, as do irregular verbs. I’d never heard of this particular overgeneralization, but it fit right in. I’ll know Adam has constructed version 2.0 of the rules about but and although when once again he can produce one without the other.

One Response to “But Although…”

  1. Viola said

    Neat insight. It’s fun to see your children developing their vocabulary with adult words. It tickled my in-laws pink when my boys started to use the word “actually” to preface their inside take on life. “But” and “although” are little words that Adam used to separate and define his preference and decision toward it. The little gears of his brain are working magnificently to put those words together in defining himself. When you think about how Adam uses “but” and “although” together, perhaps he might be double-dosing the emphasis on definition and separation in order to get his point across. Again…..something to think about.

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