A. Katz amnfn at
Sun Mar 20 12:24:39 UTC 2011


If your point is: English works just fine, thank you very much, we don't 
lack for anything, then I agree. Of course, it works just fine. I'm the 
one on this list who said that no matter what you lose in one place 
through language change, you gain someplace else, so overall it's always 
pretty much the same, and no progress is made through language change, but 
there is also no regression.

Of course, English derives new words every day. What I was addressing was 
the way in which this is largely an irregular process, and the blindness 
to internal boundaries in already derived words that this irregularity 

One example is that only very educated people can parse the internal 
boundaries of medical terms, and so it creates a class divide between 
doctors and patients, which can prevent laymen and doctors from having 
intelligent discussions about medical problems. To some extent, Alex 
alluded to this in his post.

I had the experience of discussing a problem with a medical specialist in 
great depth, and because I understood what he was talking about, he 
assumed I was a professional. When I told him I wasn't a doctor, he said, 
yes, but you're a biologist, right? When I answered that I wasn't, he 
asked, perplexed, then what are you? The answer: "a linguist" had him 
totally confused.

It's amazing what you can pick up about expert jargon if you can only 
parse the words! In cultures where medical terms are couched in regular 
derivations in the native tongue, you don't have to be a linguist to 
understand roughly what the doctor is talking about.

So in essence, my point was less about production than it was about 
comprehension. Regularity in derivation leads to improved comprehension.



On Sat, 19 Mar 2011, Johanna Rubba wrote:

> I don't get the talk about speakers of English lacking versatility in 
> word-building due to massive borrowing. A lot of what we've borrowed has 
> become productive derivational morphology! And English is quite free with 
> zero derivation, as well. We also do tons and tons of compounding. We've come 
> up with new suffixes like '-oholic' and '-erati' ('glitterati'), we now have 
> 'e-' everything, '-meister' seems to be making a comeback, etc.
> If you doubt the versatility of English derivational morphology, check out 
> They're a tad better than Urban Dictionary because they actually 
> cite published sources of the words they're listing. English wordcraft is 
> thriving, and there's a lot of  humor in it!
> Dan spoke of "the pronoun problem." For most speakers of English, there is no 
> problem. The singular generic is 'they.' Apparently, it was used that way 
> before the prescription of generic 'he,' seeing as how an early English 
> prescriptive grammar inveighs against it. I see no reason not to accept this 
> democratic solution. People who object that it's "grammatically plural" don't 
> seem to have noticed that "grammatically plural" 'you' has been in use as a 
> singular for hundreds of years. Unless we're to go back to 'thou,' these 
> people need to get over themselves.
> Dr. Johanna Rubba, Ph. D.
> Professor, Linguistics
> Linguistics Minor Advisor
> English Dept.
> Cal Poly State University San Luis Obispo
> San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
> Ofc. tel. : 805-756-2184
> Dept. tel.: 805-756-2596
> Dept. fax: 805-756-6374
> E-mail: jrubba at
> URL:

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