The things Bush says are so awesome sometimes. My new favorite quote is “Childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured.” [source] At first the White House transcriptionists corrected the mistake, but then press secretary Dana Perino instructed them to include the mistake, saying that the integrity of the transcriptions is very important to her. This is good.
Language Log brought this particular juicy quote to my attention and Mark Liberman has an interesting commentary on the nature of the grammatical mistake – one more common to children than adults. He also has a clip you can listen to. He goes on to say that Bush does pause after he says childrens but that there’s no indication he’s just made a planning mistake. I’m not completely sure I agree here. I don’t think he necessarily did, but it’s possible. I’m curious whether he was reading from a teleprompter or piece of paper and misread it as children’s and then seeing the rest of the quote, paused because it didn’t parse at first and then plunged on ahead because he’s a public speaker and it’s better to just keep going than stop and visibly appear to be lost.
Anyhow, the interesting part of Liberman’s post is the reference to chilluns, which he attributes to some possibly fictional southern dialect. It’s not fictional. It’s called Gullah and it’s from around the Charleston area in South Carolina. Interestingly, I have also heard some people use a similar form in the country around the midlands of South Carolina. I’m not really sure how to transcribe it, but it’s sort of like chillren. Unlike chilluns it’s usually not plural (at least not that I recall). When I first heard it, I thought the speaker was joking and using covert nonsense speech, like many of the words my wife and I use together. For example, Kek kek kek = Connecticut, Pennsyltucky = Pennsylvania (especially when referring to the more rural parts), and South Kakalakee = South Carolina. (We didn’t make all those up, but they are parts of our private conversations.)
But you can actually find a lot of occurrences of chillren on Google, so it’s not all that uncommon. It seems to appear in a lot of slave narratives (judging by the Google results), so it probably had its origins in the pre-Civil War era and has survived in some areas.