A. Katz amnfn at
Sat Mar 19 12:00:29 UTC 2011


That's a very good example! There is no reason for a word like "elbow" to 
be morphologically opaque in English, except for the influence of massive 
borrowing. While new lexemes are gained by borrowing, old lexemes lose 
their internal morphological boundaries, and this affects the cognition of 
speakers in so many ways, such as the example you gave, of being less 
aware of how their bodies work.



On Sat, 19 Mar 2011, alex gross wrote:

> Suspect some languages may have problems becoming more versatile due to 
> unconscious esthetic factors, for instance a preference in English for 
> high-flown latinate names over more basic equivalents, even when such 
> equivalents might be theoretically available. Which of course can lead to 
> greater "complexity," though not in a positive way. Gave some examples of 
> this in a 1987 interview on translating medical terms across Chinese, 
> English, and German:
> "A. Take the two bones in our lower arm. The only names we have for them 
> today are ulna and radius. These are the 'scientific names,' the ones medical 
> people--and few others--learn. Those bones are important to you every day, 
> yet you have no everyday way of referring to them at all. But there is clear 
> evidence from historical linguistics that these bones once had other names. 
> The ulna was once called the 'el,' the radius possibly something like the 
> 'spoke.' We know about the 'el' from Seventeenth Century poetry (maid to 
> lover: 'if I give you an inch, you'll soon take an el') but also from modern 
> German, where the words are die Elle and die Speiche."
> "Even in modern English the place where the 'el' makes a bend or 'bow' (sich 
> beugt) is called the elbow. In Chinese these words translate as foot-measure 
> bone (close to the meaning of 'el') and rowing bone. All bones and all 
> locations in the body have similar down-to-earth names in Chinese. Which 
> people is likely to be on better terms with their bodies--one that has names 
> such as these or one where everything is linguistically off-limits except to 
> doctors? German continues to a better job here even today with such words as 
> Gehirnhautentzündung and Harnröhre for meningitis and urethra.
>   "Q. It also occurs to me that a German child could understand words like 
> Riss- und Wuetschwunder, whereas an English-speaking child would not 
> understand 'lacerations and contusions.'"
> Full text of this piece is available at:
> All the best to everyone!
> alex
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Tahir Wood" <twood at>
> To: <FUNKNET at>
> Sent: Friday, March 18, 2011 8:07 AM
> Subject: [FUNKNET] Versatility?
> In the wake of all this discussion about increasing complexity, I wonder if 
> anyone here has thoughts on versatility. Does language become increasingly 
> versatile?
> Tahir
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> All Email originating from UWC is covered by disclaimer 

More information about the Funknet mailing list