Friday, December 10, 2010

Conjugation Machines

Why machines? Because conjugation is a mechanical process in any language.

Isaac's machine is Lego. He continued to improve it over several days, but even the earliest prototype showed a sophisticated understanding of conjugation.

The first of these four levers shows whether the subject is singular or plural. The other three represent first person, second person, and third person.

Eleanor's machine wasn't as sophisticated.

You say the word you want to conjugate into the cone and then it gives you a piece of paper with the correct conjugation written on it (remarkably, in Eleanor’s handwriting!). 

We played lots of games with these conjugation machines. Most recently, I gave them complete sentences in English and asked them to give me the Bosnian translation. Isaac had already broken apart his machine to use on other Lego projects, so he did it like a worksheet. Perfectly. He doesn’t need his conjugation machine anymore.

Eleanor, though, pulled her machine out and opened her Conjugation Store. She even made a sign for the store (note that the "sh" sound is represented by the Bosnian letter that makes that sound--ลก).

As the customer, I gave her each of the sentences and she laboriously cranked out the translation. Once, she translated the sentence perfectly except that she left the Bosnian verb in the infinitive form. I asked, pointing to the verb, “Is this the way you say it?”

Eleanor looked at it and then took it back from me. “Oh,” she said ruefully, “a plug must have come undone. Let me fix it.” She worked on her machine for a while, rewrote the sentence, and handed it to me. “These machines are hard to keep working,” she told me.

I still don’t hear Isaac and Eleanor initiating conversation much. But Eleanor answered a direct question from the store clerk yesterday when we were shopping, and every meal now we all have to say at least one sentence with a conjugated verb.

It’s a start.

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