Shapes are everywhere

In languages, there are shapes everywhere. Probably something to do with the way our minds structure the world around us to make sense of it.

We use shapes all the time when we communicate.

The letters A to G in Semaphore and Auslan. Image: Semaphore alphabet (Signalling, 1918), author unknown. Auslan Fingerspelling Font, free for use from Deaf Children Australia.

Why find shapes?

Finding shapes in language helps you learn. Shapes can take complex ideas and simplify them. And they're also useful as 'mnemonics' – tools that help us remember. 

When verbs are socks

Years ago a student pointed out that the irregular verbs in the present tense – the ones that follow a pattern (known as ‘stem-changing verbs’) – look like a sock.

– Oh yeah, that’s easy: it’s a sock-verb.
– a sock verb?
– yeah a sock-verb. Or a boot-verb. Don’t you reckon?

On closer inspection, I realised this was true: the irregular, stem-changing forms of verbs in the present tense all fit within the shape of a sock or a boot. The forms that don’t change (the ones that aren’t irregular) are left outside.

Brilliant, right?


Here's another one:

In the present tense, for all regular verbs (and most irregular ones too): all the ‘yo’ forms end in ‘o’.

Yoooooooo o o

hablo, aprendo, disfruto

(And for language-learners out there whose first languages don’t use the latin script, you’ve probably learnt along the way that the shape your mouth makes when you say the letter ‘o’ is the same shape as the letter itself).

Happy shape-making

I hope these shapes help. Enjoy the adventure of discovering your own.

And maybe when you find some, let your classmates know. Sharing shapes makes the language-learning world go round.

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