Angus B. Grieve-Smith grvsmth at
Sat Mar 19 17:15:30 UTC 2011

On 3/19/2011 12:23 PM, A. Katz wrote:
> In a way, that's a valid thing to say, since obviously the language 
> works just fine without this kind of knowledge in speakers. But... it 
> works differently from the way it would have worked without the 
> massive borrowing that made the language's derivational system so 
> irregular that speakers tend to disregard it when parsing words, even 
> words like rooster whose component morphemes are both known to them.

     I think speakers tend to parse sentences in frequent chunks and 
often disregard their components.  Everyone knows "cell" and "phone," 
but how many people think about cells when they say "cell phone"?  Or 
about Eskimos when eating Eskimo pie?  Or facsimiles when sending 
faxes?  For me a drivers license is more useful in buying sudafed than 
in driving.

     Etymology can be interesting and fun; I regularly get a kick out of 
realizing that the "efharesto" that I learned at the eye doctor's is the 
same as the Eucharist, or that State Senator Dan Garodnick and transit 
construction chief Michael Horodniceanu have the same last name.  But 
that's me, I'm interested in words.  Etymology can teach us a lot when 
we have time to study and contemplate it, but its day-to-day practical 
application in understanding words is minor in any language.

     One thing that I've learned from studying English's quirky 
etymology is that it's often formed by analogy instead of 
compositionality (think "intranet" which makes no sense from a 
compositional standpoint, or "devil's food cake").  It might be that 
languages that have more regular derivational morphology rely on 
compositionality more, but it could also be that they work just as much 
by analogy, but it's harder to tell the difference.

				-Angus B. Grieve-Smith
				grvsmth at

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