The Pattern-Making Power of the Human Mind
Copyight © 2002 Sylvan Zaft. Here is the twelth chapter of Esperanto: A Language for the Global Village. You may make electronic copies and paper copies for your personal use, and you may freely distribute verbatim copies which include this notice provided that you do not charge for these copies. You may not post this material to any site. You are invited to insert links to this site. For any other use, including publication, you must first get permission.
The human mind naturally recognizes and applies patterns. It naturally groups objects into categories.
For a long time a children’s educational television program made use of these powers in a feature in which the little children who watched the program were asked, “Which of these is not like the others?”
They were shown pictures of four objects and were asked to figure out which one did not belong with the other three. Here are some typical examples:
Even small children who cannot read yet can figure out some of these. They can pick out mouse as not belonging with fork, knife and spoon; and rose as not belonging with elephant, dog and tiger.
This ability to recognize which items go together and which items do not, which items share pertinent similarities and which items do not, is essential to human thinking. When my own children were very young I would give them little puzzles like the ones presented above. I also gave them little analogy questions, giving them three items and asking them to tell me what the fourth item might be. You are probably familiar with this kind of question from standardized tests. An analogy question on a school test might be:
Paris : France :: London : ?
From a number of possible answers the student is expected to select “England” because just as Paris is the capital of France, so London is the capital of England.
In school we were taught to read such questions as:
Paris is to France as London is to what?
With my little children I left out the connecting words and just clearly pronounced the first two words as a pair, then the third, and then I stopped and looked expectantly at them:
Even when they were quite small, too young yet to read, they could come up with an answer like “bird.”
Here are some more examples of similar questions which are suitable for very young children:
My children, more often than not, would come up with a suitable answer. They could do this because the human mind comes equipped with the ability to group things together as being like each other. It comes equipped with the ability to determine what other things are not like these things. The word for these abilities is “categorizing.” Children can do this because the human mind has the power to detect a relationship in one case and look for the same relationship in another case. The word for this ability is “analogizing.”
Thus little children know that the relationship between shoes and feet is that the first goes on the second. They easily apply it to gloves and the blank space. They think, “Shoes go on feet and gloves go on ???” And, of course, they come up with “hands.”
Young children automatically apply this inborn power that appears very early in their lives to the language which they hear spoken around them. They naturally come up with and apply regular patterns. Young children who grow up where English is the language spoken around them hear phrases like:
|I laugh||I laughed|
|Ι cry||I cried|
|I play||I played|
And then they create their own. After hearing “I drink” they come up with “I drinked” and after hearing “I paint” they come up with “I painted.” This is just the normal way that the human mind works. You see a pattern; you apply the pattern.
A More Natural Language
The problem that makes learning English somewhat difficult for children and very difficult for foreign students of the language is that you can just apply the patterns sometimes. Unfortunately, there is no power of the mind that can tell the child or the foreign student when the patterns apply and when they do not. Each variation must be learned individually and because there are at least tens of thousands of variations, it takes a very long time indeed to learn English. (The same, of course, goes for other languages such as French, German, Arabic, Russian etc.)
One day I was playing with my granddaughter who was then five years old. She held up an uninflated toy balloon and said, “Grandpa, do you remember when you blowed this up and holded it and let it go? And then it made a funny noise!” Another day she said, about a certain game, “It’s funner with three.”
This is a perfectly natural way for a five-year-old to talk. She is applying the pattern of “laugh / laughed” and “play / played” to “blow” and “hold.” She is applying the pattern of “big / bigger” and “fast / faster” to “fun.” Eventually people will tell her that saying things like “you blowed this up and holded it” and “It’s funner with three” is bad English. It is often bad English to perceive a pattern and apply it regularly. That is what makes languages like English so incredibly difficult for foreign students to master.
Even someone who is not a young child may make this kind of mistake. I once heard a woman in advanced old age say when she was very tired, “She knew that my thigh hurted me.”
The above examples relate to the past tense of verbs. Young children do the same kind of thing with other parts of the language such as plurals. They hear:
|one dog||two dogs|
|one fork||two forks|
|one apple||two apples|
And they easily come up with these correct plurals:
|one cat||two cats|
|one spoon||two spoon|
|one banana||two bananas|
Of course, applying the pattern, they also come up with these incorrect plurals:
|one tooth||two tooths|
|one goose||two gooses|
|one child||two childs|
Everyone understands them. Perhaps someone says, “Isn’t it cute, the way little Susie talks?” Later little Susie will be taught to speak correctly, to say such things as:
|I eat||I ate|
|I draw||I drew|
|I sit||I sat|
|one tooth||two teeth|
|one goose||two geese|
|one child||two children|
As has already been pointed out this is an unnatural way of talking in the sense that this is not the way the human mind naturally works. In this sense, English, like French and Russian and Arabic and so many other languages, is unnatural. It is artificial. English usage often conflicts with the natural forms of speech which spontaneously arise in the human mind due to the inborn powers which we all have of perceiving regularities and extending them to new situations.
Students who learn Esperanto can always apply a perceived pattern with full confidence that it is correct. Because Esperanto permits its users to employ the natural pattern-forming power of the human mind, it is in this important sense a more natural language than English or French or Russian or Arabic or just about any other language you care to name.
Esperanto makes full use of this great patterning power of the human mind, a power with which the mind of every child and every student of language comes equipped. Because Esperanto is more natural in this way, it can be learned far more rapidly than other languages.
In one sense of artificial Esperanto is artificial. In this sense, something is artificial, if it is “deliberately planned or devised or developed by a person or people.” In this sense Esperanto is as artificial as algebra, automobiles, houses, chairs, books, computers, chess, baseball, airplanes, wedding ceremonies and apple pie. It has been suggested that Esperanto is an artificial language in the same way that an automobile is an artificial horse.
Because students of Esperanto may consistently apply the patterns they perceive, every time they learn a new root, a new main verb, they automatically know ten or twenty or more other words. Because of this feature of the language, after students have learned a number of basic morphemes, (a task that can be completed in a few weeks), they can expand their vocabulary by 1000 or more words every time they learn just 100 new roots.