Linguistic terms (was: Formal vs. natural languages)
|From:||R A Brown <ray@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 7:47|
Dirk Elzinga wrote:
> My point was that 'ergative' may be a misleading label (especially for one
> who knows the etymology)
No more 'misleading' than "accusative", surely? In fact, I'd say less
misleading since the person-in-the-street probably has little feel for
the etymology of "ergative" but s/he will be quite familiar with the
verb 'to accuse.'
(Yep - 'accuse' and 'accusative' are connected; the Latin 'casus
accusatiuus' is due to an ancient mistranslation of αἰτιατικὴ πτῶσις
(aitiatikè ptôsis) 'causal case')
> but linguists put up with it because that's the
> label we use.
Yes, these terms have been around for some time: 'accusative' in one
form or other for a couple of millennia; 'ergative', tho often
attributed to Dirr (1912), appears to have been used earlier and AIUI
there is some doubt as to whether the term was derived from the Latin
preposition 'erga' (in respect of) or the Greek noun 'ergon' (work).
> Likewise for the label 'oligosynthesis'.
But this has the unfortunate circumstance that the label 'polysynthetic'
also exists as a linguistic term. One would have expected
'oligosynthetic' to be its opposite - it ain't. All articles I've read
define an oligosynthetic language as a language using very few
morphemes, which is why IMO oligomorphemic would've been a better term.
Indeed, it is evident that if one has only a few hundred morphemes, then
it will be necessary to combine these _synthetically_ into longish
strings to convey derived meanings which seems to me to make
'oligosynthetic' even less descriptive a term.
> I was *not* trying to
> start a discussion on the suitability of the label 'ergative'.
You should know this list better :)
> I also objected to Jörg's disparaging remark about Whorf, but I hope that
> *that* (at least) was clear.
I gather Whorf coined the term in his work(s) dealing with Nahuatl which
he considered to be an oligosynthetic language. Why he thought that and
why he coined this particular term I do not know - it would clearly
require one to read the relevant work(s) to find out.
But, indeed, we are stuck with the term (just as we are with 'ergative',
'accusative' and all the rest).
"Ein Kopf, der auf seine eigene Kosten denkt,
wird immer Eingriffe in die Sprache thun."
[J.G. Hamann, 1760]
"A mind that thinks at its own expense
will always interfere with language".