Lise Menn lise.menn at Colorado.EDU
Sun Mar 20 17:03:36 UTC 2011

Transparency in derivation doesn't really give us meanings when we  
meet a new technical word - or phrase - that has a specialized meaning  
(although it is certainly important in helping us hold onto the term  
and to the specialized meaning once we have learned it).  That's why  
so many 'transparent' terms have to be listed in dictionaries, after  
all. Example: my dear cousin Louise was told she had 'motor system  
disease', a nice transparent phrase that didn't worry her too much,  
and only later learned that the term covers the whole miserable group  
of degenerative disorders including Parkinson's disease and  
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is what she had.

On Mar 20, 2011, at 6:24 AM, A. Katz wrote:

> Johanna,
> 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 induces.
> 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.
> Best,
>   --Aya
> 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:

Lise Menn                      Home Office: 303-444-4274
1625 Mariposa Ave	Fax: 303-413-0017
Boulder CO 80302	

Professor Emerita of Linguistics
Fellow, Institute of Cognitive Science
University of  Colorado

Secretary, AAAS Section Z [Linguistics]
Fellow, Linguistic Society of America

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