Understanding noun groups: A lesson from my 3-year-old

Let me begin with a funny story.

The other day, my 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter were eating breakfast cereal in the morning. My son announced, “This is my second bowl!”.

My daughter, who likes to copy her big brother, quickly followed up with, “This is my Pororo bowl!” (Pororo is a children’s character, as can be seen in the photo).

After picking myself up from the floor, I realized this was a great opportunity to teach noun group structure. Noun groups are also known as nominal groups (functional grammar) and noun phrases (traditional grammar).

So why was my daughter’s utterance so funny? She made a very similar structure but with a different type of noun group. Here is the comparison:

Son

Deictic Numerative Epithet Classifier Thing Qualifier
My second bowl

Daughter

Deictic Numerative Epithet Classifier Thing Qualifier
My Pororo bowl

The Deictic is the pointing word. It answers the question “Which bowl?”.

The Numerative is the counting word. It answers the question “How many?”.

The Classifier is the classifying word. It answers the question “What type?”.

The Thing is literally the thing we’re talking about. It is expressed by a noun.

 

When my son said, “This is my second bowl”, one might have expected my daughter to say “This is my third bowl.” However, she chose a Classifier instead of a Numerative – an unexpected noun group structure in the context.

 

If you want to know more about noun groups, you need to see this video that I made:

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