Paul Hopper hopper at
Sun Mar 20 19:00:47 UTC 2011

Alison Wray in her book on fixed expressions tells of a survey in which
people were asked what the main ingredient in Rice Krispies was, and
evidently a surprising number of informants were unable to say. An
elementary school teacher couldn't get her children to say why a certain
holiday was called 'Thanksgiving', but got answers like 'because we eat
turkey', 'because we go to Grandma's' etc. There's plenty of evidence,
both serious and anecdotal, that compounds (and other sequences) that are
repeated quite quickly lose their internal structure. But Aya, are there
really no comparable examples in Hebrew? Has anyone ever done a similar
survey among Hebrew speakers? Aren't there any compounds that (one might
think) ought to be transparent but which are produced as unanalyzed chunks
by speakers?

- Paul

On Sun, March 20, 2011 14:07, A. Katz wrote:
> Lise,
> 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
> location.
> 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:
> Best,
> --Aya
> 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

Paul J. Hopper
Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities
Department of English
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Senior External Fellow
School of Linguistics and Literature
Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS)
Albertstr. 19
D-79105 Freiburg i.Br.

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