A. Katz amnfn at
Sun Mar 20 18:07:21 UTC 2011


Of course, I am not suggesting that an understanding of the meaning of the 
words alone will give you the equivalent of a medical education. But it 
might make becoming conversant a little easier.

However, being accustomed to having everything be opaque can cause 
peculiar blindness to componential analysis. For instance, the same doctor 
who didn't understand how being a linguist could help with a medical 
discussion also had no idea where the Brookfield Zoo was located, despite 
living in the Chicago area, and having heard of that zoo. "Do you know 
where Brookfield is?" I asked him. He said yes. I told him the Brookfield 
Zoo was in Brookfield. This was new information to him, since he never 
imagined that the name of the zoo could have anything to do with its 

Nothing helps with meaning unless you expect it to. If you don't expect 
proper names to make sense, then you will never guess who is buried in 
Grant's Tomb.

For a more detailed discussion of this issue, read my LACUS article:



On Sun, 20 Mar 2011, Lise Menn wrote:

> 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.
> 	Lise
> 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
> Campus Mail Address:
> UCB 594, Institute for Cognitive Science
> Campus Physical Address:
> CINC 234
> 1777 Exposition Ave, Boulder

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