honcho > honchas

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Wed Jan 31 14:29:06 UTC 2007

Hey, Amy:  That is, indeed, a "fundamental" question--but neither "stupid" nor "obvious"! And your second paragraph eloquently responds to your own question.

We folklorists sometimes cringe when we hear the word "folk" bandied about by the lay public or scholars in other disciplines.

As it happens, I'll be giving a talk this spring (at the Western States Folklore Society conference) that bears on this subject.  At the risk of tedium, I'm going to copy the first 70% of my abstract here, just below my name.


<< Folklorists have often assumed that "dialect" can be regarded as a category of folklore.  Most dialect features, however--even though they are certainly oral and traditional, and they exhibit some degree of variation--have no standing as folklore per se, because folklore texts must be consciously produced artifacts, which a member of a folk group will intentionally and optionally "perform."  Dialect, on the other hand, is simply the way somebody talks, unselfconsciously for the most part.

The aspects of speech that hold interest for folklorists, then, are not a group's normal phonological, morphological, syntactic, and lexical behaviors but rather its traditional, albeit personally crafted, verbal expressions--oral artifacts (if that word is not oxymoronic as applied to folklore). One category of such artifacts is folk etymology, though not in the sense that linguists use the term--the historical process by which the structure or use of a word has been affected by an erroneous perception of the word's origin--but rather in the sense of a performed explanation, believed or disbelieved, of how a word originated, and (especially) legends, riddling questions, and jokes about the origin. >>

---- Original message ----

>Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2007 08:22:28 -0500
>From: Amy West <medievalist at W-STS.COM>
>Subject: Re: honcho > honchas
>Again, I fear I am asking a stupid, fundamental, obvious question that is firmly grounded in my deep ignorance:
>Can we understand folk etymology as yet another instance of the constant reanalysis of the language that speakers perform on the language?
>If not, what's the current linguistic understanding of what "folk etymology" is?
>---Amy West

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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