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Re: A Greenbergian Tidbit

From:Tommie L Powell <tommiepowell@...>
Date:Thursday, March 1, 2001, 6:50
On Sun, 18 Feb 2001 15:24:13 -0600 Ed Heil <ejh@...>
> I was reading a little book of old essays by Greenberg, and came > across > this interesting tidbit. I thought it was quite interesting, and > probably > true, although invoking Skinner in linguistics went severely out of > fashion decades ago... > > When you are training a person or an animal, and you are trying to > train > them to do one of a set of responses B after a stimulus A, it is > very > feasible for A to be many and B to be few but very difficult for > the > reverse to be true. > > For example, it's easy to train a dog to jump after you either > wink, > blink, or nod, but it's difficult to train a dog to either jump, > bark, or > wag after you wink. > > If we generalize this to series of behaviors, we can understand why > in > general suffixing is much more common than prefixing in language. > > If it's easier to go from (large group of possibilities) -> (small > group > of possibilities), it's probably easier to go from (free morpheme) > -> > (bound morpheme) and therefore easier to suffix than to prefix. > > Not an absolute, but a tendency. > > (The observation about suffixing being more common than prefixing > in > general comes from Sapir, according to Greenberg.) > > Neat. > > Ed >
My intuition says that the foregoing should be true in languages which have free word order. But in languages with strict word-order rules, it should be easiest for a prefix to tie what it prefixes to a word that's already appeared in the sentence, because the prefix would then be alerting the listener to the fact that the word he's about to hear is tied to a particular word that he's already heard. --Tommie