Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Teaching morphology

So last night I was working with a student, and I realized that we teach inflectional morphology but not derivational morphology.

In fact, the bulk of Latin instruction is inflectional morphology. It's the guts of the grammar for Latin. Sure there's stuff like making sure that adjectives agree with their antecedents, but even that's just inflectional morphology. More to the point, inflectional morphology is regular and has grammatical effect.

Derivational morphology is another story. You'd have to be a dull student of Latin to not catch the similarity between these two:
cīvitās, cīvitātis – citizenship
auctōritās, auctōritātis – authority
pietās, pietātis – sense of duty
But there's something fishy here. The -tās ending is obvious. It forms an abstract noun. But look at the roots.
cīvis, is – citizen
auctor, ōris – a do-er (more literally, an increaser)
pius, a, um – dutiful 
Cīvis is a noun. Auctor is a noun. So far so good. Pius is an adjective. How are we supposed to teach that? What's worse is that it's not freely productive.
*imperātōritās – ain't no such thing
Even though someone who knows Latin can analyze that word. So you can't even predict that it will work at all times. About the only thing we can say about the -tās ending is that it is the abstract noun that deals with the attached root.

Anyway, the potential non-productivity of derivational morphemes is a frustrating feature of language.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The odd morphology of remembering and forgetting

I realized that the verbs for forgetting and remembering have odd morphology.

oblīvīscor, ī, —, oblītus sum – to forget
—, —, meminī – to remember

That forgetting should be deponent doesn't surprise me given the origins of Latin's deponent. It is somewhat a folly that happens to you by you. Easily explainable with the stop at middle voice before heading off to deponent. But why on earth should the verb for remembering be odd? It's only perfect?

Yeah, I've seen the explanation in Gildersleeve's. I'm not sure I buy it 100%.

Anyway, just one of those I was in the shower realizations.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Utopia as a political attack

So this is the result of my discourse analysis class. It might be the best class I've ever taken. Don't get me wrong, the other classes in the program so far have been good and useful, but discourse analysis might be one step better than that. Better even than the Coastal Ecology of the Florida Keys class I took as an undergrad.

Of course it could just be that I had the chance to talk about Utopia.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Discourse analysis

So I'm taking a DA class this semester.

I'll be honest: the formal linguistics stuff fascinates me. I'm only interested in the applied insofar as it relates to acquiring language. Particularly L2 and L3. But I've been taken by discourse analysis. The first thing is that it is hard. Not in the sense of hard science, but difficult hard. The reason is two-fold.

I'll get an example that is based off of what I'm doing. I'm fiddling with More's Utopia right now. The main angle I'm working on is that Utopia is a political attack on Henry VIII, which was not a safe thing to do. So the first trick is to show that it's a political work rather than religious. So I've done a frequency analysis of the vocabulary. I feel pretty confident that Utopia is political in nature. Why? I've compared vocabulary frequency of Cicero's de re publica against Utopia. A lot of the frequencies for critical words line up pretty nicely. Especially "publicus" and "magistratus". It's a nice sleight of hand trick. So now that I feel I've established Utopia as a political work, I want to show how More deals with Henry. Mostly I'm going to cast it as a politeness thing. By putting social distance between Utopia and the king, More increases his safety.

So as you can see, it requires a lot of clever work to make a good point. You can't screw around with sloppy thinking. Except that they do. By which I mean dragging in that old scheißkopf, Karl Marx. Marxism is a terrible political philosophy that put too many people on the wrong side of the dirt in the 20th century. If that weren't enough to discredit a philosopher, I don't know what would be. But yet I keep seeing his name dragged up as if he had something useful to say. And that just makes me angry. And this is the second class I've seen a book mention him, so it's not exactly accidental.

Anyway, I wish there were a less ugly philosophy to analyze some of this stuff from. Maybe we need a Misesian angle. I'd tell you how I'm the one to develop it, but I'm not.