Monday, February 19, 2001

Yours, mines, and ours

My kids have trouble saying "mine." Not that they're not possessive about their things. Oh, no, no, no. Noooooo, no, no, no, no. Sitting here at sibling rivalry ground zero, I would never makes such a foolish statement.

It's just that they can't say the word quite right. It comes out "mines," every time, no matter how apoplectically Mama and Papa try to correct them. "It's mines!" "That's mines!" "Where's mines!" "He has mines!"

We hear it a lot. And generally, we've been blaming the misconstruction on their five-year-old cousin, who's been saying "mines" for as long as she's been claiming things that weren't hers. So distinctive to this cousin was the word "mines" that we figured our kids were just mimicking. That's how we wanted them to learn English, right -- by mimicking homegrown kids? Be careful what you wish for.

Lately, though, I've been thinking about the English language -- an activity, to be sure, fraught with peril. The more you think about English, the less sense it makes, and the more you get caught up in the idiocies and idiosyncracies, until every word you look at looks wrong and every grammatical rule seems ridiculous and you spiral down and down and down into utter incomprehensibility... Or just decide not to think about it much.

But when you have children, especially children tackling English as a second language, and most especially children for whom language is difficult to start out with, you are from time to time called upon to understand the way that English works. And explain it. Or at least say, "Honey, it makes no sense to you, it makes no sense to me, it makes no sense to your teacher, but this is the way it is, and you'll just have to memorize it."

And so it is with "mine." Perhaps it is an enduring habit with my two not because they're imitating, but because they're using logic and good sense. And of course, if you're using logic and good sense with the English language, you're most likely going to be wrong. To their way of thinking, no doubt, all possessives end in "s." His. Hers. Ours. Theirs. Its. Mama's. Papa's. The children's. They all end in s, and if they don't, you put an apostrophe on and add an s to the end. Adding an s is how you make a possessive. So why on earth would it be "mine"? Why would one word be so different than every other word with the same function? And why do Mama and Papa keep telling us to do it wrong? They must have trouble with the language, too.

They're not wrong there.

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