LINGUIST List 11.2180

Mon Oct 9 2000

Qs: Lang Distance and L2 Learnability, "Versus"

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>

We'd like to remind readers that the responses to queries are usually best posted to the individual asking the question. That individual is then strongly encouraged to post a summary to the list. This policy was instituted to help control the huge volume of mail on LINGUIST; so we would appreciate your cooperating with it whenever it seems appropriate.


  1. Alan Dench, language distance and learnability
  2. Marek Przezdziecki, "versus"

Message 1: language distance and learnability

Date: Mon, 09 Oct 2000 08:53:08 +0800
From: Alan Dench <>
Subject: language distance and learnability

I am posting the following request for a colleague in economics and
have already discussed with him the difficulties inherent in this. As
I understand it, the question he and his colleagues are *most*
interested in is a measure of second language learnability. I can
discuss lexicostatistical measures with him myself though suspect that
some measure of typological distance may be more useful given what he
is interested in. I'd be interested in any references to studies which
have sought to develop such measures. Please send responses to me at: or at the address above. Many thanks,

Alan Dench
Department of Linguistics
University of Western Australia

************************************************** We are interested
in learning of any measures developed by linguists or others that
reflect the "distance" between one language and a set of other
languages or among a range of languages. The distance among countries
can be measured by miles, air travel time, telephone rates or several
other dimensions. What we are interested in is measures among
languages. These measures may reflect the difficulty of learning other
languages for native speakers of one language, or reflect the
development of languages, dimensions of the structure of languages or
other measures. For example, intuitively we feel that French is
"closer" to English than is Chinese. Are there qualitative or
quantitative measures of these relationships?

Paul Miller
Professor, Department of Economics
University of Western Australia
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: "versus"

Date: Mon, 09 Oct 2000 11:48:07 -0400
From: Marek Przezdziecki <>
Subject: "versus"

My eight year old son and his friends use the word "verse" 
as in "who are we versing today?", "who did you verse?", 
"we're versing the Cheetahs," and "the Giants verse the 

This word has, of course, come from "versus", as in "the 
Bills versus the Giants." Until recently, I had never heard 
the verbal form of "versus". I find this new word fun and 
interesting in itself, and I use it every chance I get. 

But even more interesting is that these kids (or some other 
kids) have back-formed "verse" from "versus", which they 
apparently thought was "verses", even though most of the 
evidence they would have received would not support the 
required hypothesis that "versus" is a third-person singular 
form. For example:

1) "Who's playing?" "The Giants versus the Bills."
2) "It's us versus them."

With these sentences, the kids could not say to themselves 
that "versus" is a third person singular verb, because they 
would know that a third person singular verb does not go 

Even a sentence like (3) should not give the kids evidence 
that "versus" is actually "verses": 

3) "Who's playing? [...this game we are watching]" 
 "John McEnroe versus Bjorn Borg."

If "verse" were a verb, we would expect the answer "John is 
versing Bjorn,", analogous to "John is playing Bjorn," and 
not "John verses Bjorn" analogous to "John plays Bjorn." 
Besides, they've never heard of Bjorn Borg.

Is this unusual for a word to be reanalyzed like this, when 
the required hypothesis is clearly unsupported. While there 
may be cases of "versus" which would support the kids' 
hypothesis that it's "verses", many or most cases of "versus" 
will not support it.

There is one uninteresting possibility: that the word 
"versus" [vRsIz] was reduced to [vRs] for ease of 
pronunciation, and THEN was reanalyzed. Let it not be this.

Any comments, for or againsing, would be welcome.

Marek Przezdziecki

- ---------------------------------------------------------
Marek Przezdziecki [MAH-rek prez-JET-ski]
Graduate Student
Department of Linguistics
Cornell University
214 Morrill Hall
Ithaca NY 14853-4701
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue