Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ    Attic   

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.
It was. 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). -- Ray ================================== ================================== "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".


Paul Kershaw <ptkershaw@...>