A. Katz amnfn at
Sat Mar 19 18:41:30 UTC 2011


Yes, all of what you say is valid. But I also think that analogy and 
compositionality are functionally equivalent in a language with a very 
regular derivational system. An irregular system discourages componential 
analysis, because often the results are useless. So it happens that 
speakers in such languages regard etymology as purely historical.

This is not a problem for speakers, because we both know they can 
communicated just fine either way, though it does affect how they 
conceptualize some things.

It does become a problem among linguists, when people are told 
"that's not what the word means, it's just its etymology" without 
realizing that it's a psychological issue that varies from speaker to 
speaker, and sometimes based on expanded horizons due to bilingualism.
What is just a historical derivation for one speaker can be a synchronic 
analysis for another.



On Sat, 19 Mar 2011, Angus B. Grieve-Smith wrote:

> 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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