Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I walk, I walked, I text, I texed?

There's some interesting discussion on David Crystal's blog about the past tense of the verb to text. In his post, Crystal mentions that the word existed as a verb way back in the 16th Century, long before the appearance of mobile phones and SMS, but back then it had a regular -ed inflection.

More recently, people have begun to notice how the past tense has started to appear as texed rather than texted, and Crystal suggests that this might be down to the xt consonant cluster at the end and how we react when an -ed past tense is tacked onto it:

Indeed, there is evidence from the history of English that the 'xt' pronunciation is actually easier than some alternatives, as when we see asked change to axed in many regional dialects. But adding an -ed ending alters the pronunciation dynamic. We now have two /t/ sounds in a rapid sequence, as we had in broadcasted, and that could motivate people to drop the ending. Speakers generally prefer shorter forms.

John Wells, UCL's guru of phonetics, also addressed the issue of the phonology of texted/texed in this blog post a while back.

What strikes me as interesting about this is that - as Crystal points out - so many new words seem to follow regular patterns of inflection. You can pretty much bet your house on new verbs taking -ed in the past tense, so it's odd to see irregular inflections appearing like this and interesting that it's linked to phonology.

What would be the chances of a new noun taking an irregular plural ending like -en (as we have with older words from previous centuries -  children, oxen, brethren)?

1 comment:

Stan said...

Pretty slim! It's an interesting question.

This is partly why I'm fond of snuck: quite apart from its splendid sound, it's an irregular beast with no obvious morpological inspiration.