analyzability [was versatility]

Suzanne Kemmer kemmer at
Mon Mar 21 16:38:34 UTC 2011

I have to weigh in too, because I was amazed that 'rooster' would
be given as an example of how English speakers are less sensitive
to component morphology than speakers
of other languages -- because of all the loanwords 'obviously'.

As I understand it, rooster is not an invented word, exactly, because
it was a British dialect word for cockerel/cock. Another dialect word
was 'roost-cock'. (cf. expression 'cock o' the roost'.) But rooster was taken
up in the U.S.  as a euphemism, as Mencken says. 

'Roost' meant to me, as an (urban) child, sit on eggs in a chicken house,
i.e. something that hens do.
I wondered why the 'boy chicken' was called the 'rooster' and not the girl. 
In college I learned that 'roost' technically means 'perching higher than the
ground when sleeping.' Migrating birds congregate in certain places
on their journey to roost for a few days or weeks before heading on. (My
university was such a roosting place.)
There's also the old saying about the chickens 'coming home to roost'. 
But I wouldn't be surprised if other native speakers  understand 'roost' as
sit on eggs like a chicken, and wouldn't connect
that infrequent word with rooster.  Probably farmers don't even typically analyze the word,
given the lexical considerations mentioned in other posts. 

Both male and female fowl roost in the sense of perching above
the ground to sleep, but the male also sits
up on a perch during the day to guard his pullets.  Maybe 'roost'
in farmyards was generalized to apply to '(barnyard fowl) sitting up on a perch', 
so the cockerel, doing this more visibly, was called the rooster.
Or maybe it just meant the one that was king of the roost like Lachlan

In any case, morphological analyzability in English and Hebrew 
should be investigated with regard to frequency and other such lexical considerations 
(whether or not one component is a bound morpheme comes to mind),
as has been discussed already in the thread, but also in the context of their very different types of 
morphological structure.  Comparing languages of more similar
morphological structure would be a better start than directly comparing English with Hebrew. 
There are so many other variables, like education, background etc. that would factor
in but probably some  generalizations could be drawn. Putting 'relative numbers of loanwords'
into the mix would be pretty complex for many reasons, but it could be looked at. 
Right now, no linguist is going to 
take up the simple story of the loanwords given what we know about other 
factors that demonstrably affect analyzability.


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