3.20.2006

usage of the week

after a recent episode of sleep walking around the dorm, there's been a lot of cause for people to use the past participle of 'to sleep walk.' The past participle is apparently NOT 'sleep walked,' but 'slept walked,' or 'slep walked.' this phenomena is VERY wide-spread around here. I'd estimate at least a dozen people have understood and used these forms in the last few days.

no observed forms so far have dropped the 'ed' from 'walked' and marked only the vowel change and 't' ending on 'sleep,' leading me to wonder why the construction ends up with this double-marking. if it's treated as a single lexical item, then the vowel change makes a lot of sense (witness the two changes from 'sleep' to 'slept'). This is the best explanation i've thought of so far...

a google search for 'slept walked' returned almost 10,000 hits, some hyphenated, mostly from xangas. and a search for 'slep walked' asked 'did you mean 'slept walked'? this leads me to believe that the difference between the two is just the result of a phonological change, and that writers believe 'slept walked' is the proper form. 'sleepwalked,' however, still seems to be the dictionary-sanctioned form, returning 54,000 hits. 'sleep walked' had 23,000 hits, and a suggestion for the one-word variant.

comparison to other verbs hasn't helped much yet. the most similar construction i can think of is 'to speed walk,' and i'm fairly certain most speakers would find '*he sped walked' incorrect. it yields only 233 google hits. send in your examples, if you've got 'em!

4 comments:

Tungol said...

I've noticed this before too. "Slepwalked" feels close to natural to me, though I'd probably catch it before writing it. To me, "sleptwalked" is definitely inferior to "slepwalked", but Google counts do not agree with me.

My musings and Google counts from a year ago on the topic are here and here

I mentioned this to a professor who suggested "blow-dry" as potentially similar instance.

Marc André Bélanger said...

I'd say "sleepwalked" but that's just me and I'm not even a native speaker. I would tend to think that the verb in question is "sleepwalk" (one word) and would thus simply take "-ed" at the end. I had a teacher who had a simple test to see if compounds were one or two words: just check were the accent falls (works best with nouns). For example, if you pronounce it WEBsite, it should one word, whereas if you pronounce it web SITE it would be two, since in English, the accent tends to fall on the first syllable of nouns.

Now, I don't know if this work for verbs (as I said, I'm not a native), but if it did, it could be a good way to determine whether this verb is one or two words, and apply past-tense morphology accordingly.

natalia said...

wow, that's pretty awesome. i think it definitely must be a native speaker thing - both "slepwalked" and "sleptwalked" sound a bit outrageous to me. i've been thinking about mistakes kind of like this (using an incorrect irregular form) - i recently overheard a girl using "blunk" as the past form of "blink" and then correcting herself. language tends to evolve towards the regular form, but for very common verbs irregular forms persist, precisely because they are so common... which creates an interesting distinction between native and non-native speakers - non-native speakers learn the rule for regular past forms first (add -ed) and then memorize the exceptions to the rule. but native speakers tend to learn a lot of irregular verbs first, as they are the more common and thus earlier learned, so the irregular verbs are not so "exceptional" and unnatural for them. this is a bit of a tangent from your original topic... but i guess what i'm trying to say is that for a native speaker speech is a much more intuitive process, and for a non-native speaker, it is very rule-oriented, so no matter how long i live here, "slepwalked" will not sound normal to me.

ACW said...

Somewhere in his last three or four posts, Neal Whitman at Literal-Minded discussed exactly this sort of back-formation, a sort of generalized verb-adjunct incorporation. He has lots of cute examples, including some from his linguistically-creative son.

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