“Wug” is not a real English word, but if it were, the plural would be “wugs”. We know this is the correct answer because English follows certain rules. As a language learner, you are learning the rules – even when you aren’t studying! Every time you hear English, your busy, busy brain is taking notes and filing them away. After a while, you’ll know the rules without even realizing that you do! You’ll just know how to say things because it feels right – like knowing that one wug plus one wug equals two wugs.
The imaginary wugs are the creations of Jean Berko Gleason, a famous psycholinguist. In 1958, Ms. Gleason developed a research tool called the Wug Test. Heres how it works: The researcher shows a child cards with drawings of imaginary animals, and teaches the child a nonsense name for the animal. The researcher says, ”This is a wug. Now there is another one. There are two of them. There are two ______.”
Even young children are able to answer correctly, though they’ve never heard the word before. The Wug Test shows that we don’t learn language by memorizing words one by one. We learn general rules, and when we hear a new word, we use these rules to make plurals and other forms.
I knew that Ms. Gleason was famous for her her research. What I didn’t know was that she is a very charming and funny person who loves to drive FAST.
Watch this short interview with Ms. Gleason. Don’t you wish you could meet her in person? She seems like such a nice lady. You can see more videos on the Nova The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers series, in which she talks about her work, and her love of fast cars.