List of Endangered Irregular English Verbs

When I mentioned to a colleague of mine that I had planned to compile an endangered verbs list he beamed, “Great! We shall also set up a reserve just for them. But, I don’t think I could say the same for split infinitives.  They can fend for themselves.”  I suppose the point of having a list of endangered anything is to raise awareness of their threat of extinction right?

I’m not sure if there’re any practical reasons to retain irregular verbs.  If all verbs were regularized, English learners could save a bit of cognitive power by forgoing the memorization of the principal part triplets (i.e. swim, swam, swum; run, ran, ran; broadcast, broadcast, broadcast).  Alas, to the English learner, it’ll be a long time before the irregulars go away.  Until they go away, academics will have fodder for their research.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about performing analyses on the past forms of irregular verbs namely simple past and past participles, especially on verbs where at least two forms are still used in Modern English e.g.:

dreamt/dreamed, learnt/learned
pled/pleaded, sped/speeded
wove/weaved, hove/heaved

Part of my inspiration for this project came from a book I had recently finished reading, Word and Rules (Pinker, 2011), in which the author discussed the historical trends in verb irregularity, particularly in pluralized and past forms.

So, my question is which irregular past forms are most in danger of extinction?  (Already, abode the simple past of abide—to dwell—has become extinct for I dunno how long.  “Edgar abode by me summer long,” does sound a bit funny.)

First, I need to get better acquainted with Google’s Ngram Viewer (there are other corpora out there, but Google’s seems to be most user-friendly).  Anyway, some interesting results so far on first use: 20130716 Heaved Hove 20130716 Pleaded Pled

20130716 Beseeched Besought

20130716 Thrived Throve

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2 Responses to List of Endangered Irregular English Verbs

  1. Tom Moore says:

    Interesting data…..pled shocks me, from a legal perspective its used constantly and in my vernacular its much more common than pleaded.

    • cjkfung says:

      I tried an experiment with Fred. I asked him to fill in the rest of the word for: The defendant pl_____ guilty. He used the word “pleaded,” but later mentioned that “pled,” had a legal connotation. I then looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary and found that “pled” is dialectical variant. Per the data, I feel you should continue using the word “pled.” I shall as well! We must make an effort to save “pled” from extinction!

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