polysemy/orthography (locative/passive thread)

Suzanne E Kemmer kemmer at RUF.RICE.EDU
Tue May 5 16:49:25 UTC 1998

I think I might have posted this to an old address. Sorry if
it's repeated.

A couple of instances in which etymologically unrelated morphemes
start to get mixed up when they become indistinguishable
in pronunciation:

Norwegian _og_ 'and' and _a_ (with circle diacritic--low back rounded) 'to'
which I found, to my great confusion, that people mix up in writing.

English _of_ and _have_ in 'would've'/'could've', which
young people (especially) write as 'would of/could of'-they really
have no idea that it is or was a _have_.

Also English _its_ 'possessive 3 sg'  and _it's_ 'it is';
and let's not forget _they're_  _there_ and _their_ (the latter
spelling seems to be substitute for the others much more than vice
versa, at least in my students' writing).

Do we relate such pairs or groups in a polysemy network, based on
speakers' not distinguishing them orthographically?  How different is
this from speakers not distinguishing orthographically between lexical
homophones like _principal_ and _principle_?

The relation between orthography and native speaker competence is far
from clear, especially given that there are all possible degrees of
literacy, and, more interesting, that homophones do seem to to prime
each other even out of context (Swinney experiments). Who in fast
writing hasn't written the 'wrong' word? How many of us edit our
emails to expunge such embarrassing errors?

Maybe the deciding factor should be the existence of typological
parallels, as the original question implied. But then we have to still
decide how close a parallel is to count.

RE: Austronesian _aken_, my student David Mead just produced a
doctoral thesis with a long chapter on the history of that fractious
morpheme, looking esp. at its history in the Bungku-Tolaki
subfamily (Sulawesi). He shows that in that family at least
there are two layers of grammaticalization of _aken_, which have
different degrees of fusion with the verb and different clusters of

(The thesis is called The Bungku-Tolaki languages:
Aspects of their Phonology and Morphosyntax. Dept. of Linguistics,
Rice University 1998. 4 chapters on syntactic change.
Contact dmead at rice.edu. )

--Suzanne Kemmer

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