Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Fri Dec 3 00:19:43 UTC 2010

On Dec 2, 2010, at 3:52 PM, Ronald Butters wrote:

> I don't suppose that the ordinary user of American English gives a fecality about Anglo-Saxon versus Greco-Latin,.

this misses the point entirely.  it's not about what NAMES people might have for the distinctions, but about the conceptual distinctions.  (in order to talk about these things, i have to use labels, but there's no claim here that ordinary people have any labels at all, only that they make a conceptual distinction.)

so let's put it this way: there are (at least) two strata of lexical items in English, call them stratum E and stratum L.  the way bases combine with suffixes is ordinarily determined by their classification as E or L.  (i have to say i thought this was as absolutely unexceptional a statement about English morphology as there was, but apparently I was dead wrong, since, absolutely no one seems to understand what i am saying.)  cf. the choice between -ity and -ness, and many others, with -ness as a default and -ity normally restricted to L bases.  -ity can be used with E bases, but unless a particular combination has become conventionalized, they'll seem playful or ostentatious or otherwise remarkable.

(the idea of strata of the vocabulary is totally commonplace for many languages, and it doesn't have to do literally and synchronically with the source of the items, but with how speakers mentally classify them, whether or not they have any names for the distinctions, and whether or not their distinctions align perfectly with the history, as they sometimes do not -- though of course there are historical sources for the distinctions that ordinary speakers make, so linguists are inclined to use the historical names.  but that's just a shorthand.)

> Though "ordinary" versus "learned" is closer to the mark, which is also about the same thing that I was getting at with "technical" versus "nontechnical."

the NAMES are not what at's issue.

> But I would not say that "groin" is thought of as "learned" but "polite" or even "euphemistic," to be used instead of the more vulgar "crotch." Nobody says "crotchal."

well, apparently, some number of thousands of people do say "crotchal area/region".  of course, it's jocular -- BECAUSE it's an E base with an L suffix.

this looks like another one of those cases where i absolutely cannot make myself understood -- no doubt that's a failure of mine -- so i'm giving up on this topic.


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