LINGUIST List 4.350

Thu 06 May 1993

Sum: Latinate

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Deborah Milam Berkley, Sum: latinate

Message 1: Sum: latinate

Date: Sat, 1 May 1993 16:00:40 -Sum: latinate
From: Deborah Milam Berkley <>
Subject: Sum: latinate

Several weeks ago, I asked if anyone knew of a precise characterization of
the notion "latinate." I received responses from a number of people, who
are listed below. I would like to thank them all for their prompt and
helpful replies, and to apologize for my delay in posting this summary.

 Mark Aronoff
 Laurie Bauer
 Harry Bochner
 Ed Burstynsky
 John Coleman
 Nigel Fabb
 Richard Ogden
 John Phillips
 Janet Randall
 Steven Schaufele
 Richard Sproat
 Mieke Trommelen
 Robert Ralph Westmoreland

The class of words I am interested in is a wider class than just words that
are clearly Latin in origin, such as _alumnus_. Instead, I am interested in
the class of words that can roughly be characterized as taking "latinate"
affixes, such as _-ity_ and _-ous_ (as opposed to _-ness_ and _-ish_).
The following is a summary of the general ideas in the responses I

Bochner questioned whether there is any synchronic validity to a class of
latinate words, noting that latinate affixes may be less productive, and
that latinate affixes do not necessarily all attach to the same stems (e.g.
_tranquility_ but *_intranquil_). Randall, however, has done experimental
work showing that speakers differentiate between latinate (or learned) and
native words.

Assuming the class exists:

Several people said that they knew of no definition of "latinate" (other
than dictionary definitions). So-called "latinate" words may be best
characterized as "learned" or "classical" instead of merely Latin in origin,
as Greek and French words may also participate in the linguistic processes
that are restricted to latinate words. In fact, many languages (and not
just Indo-European ones) have subsets of their vocabularies which could be
characterized as "learned", and/or which are derived from a parent or
related language.

Etymology is not, however, the only factor that distinguishes this subclass
in English, and many people had suggestions about how to identify latinate
words on other grounds. For example, if a stem takes a latinate affix,
then that stem is assumed to be latinate as well. Also, latinate words
have different stress patterns from native words, and when a latinate root
is joined to a latinate affix, there may be velar softening,
palatalization, nasal assimilation, etc.

In addition, longer words tend to be from the special vocabulary subset, at
least in English and in Dutch. Bauer pointed out that in English
adjective-noun compounds, the adjective is usually Germanic in origin. But
if instead its etymology is Latin or Romance (e.g. _tender_ in
_tenderfoot_), it behaves linguistically as a native word (cf. _tenderness_
but *_tenderity_).

Following are some references that were given to me:

 Anshen, Frank, and Mark Aronoff, Roy J. Byrd, and Judith L.
Klavans. 1986. The role of etymology and word length in English word
formation. In _Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the UW
Centre for the New Oxford English Dictionary: Advances in Lexicology_,
17-27. Waterloo, Canada.

 Randall, Janet. 1980. _-ity_: a study in word formation.
_Journal of psycholinguistic research_ 6:524-35.

 Ritchie, G., G. Russell, A. Black, and S. Pulman. 1991.
_Computational morphology: practical mechanisms for the English lexicon._
MIT Press.

 Trommelen, Mieke. Undated. Language-oriented chapters: Germanic
languages: Dutch. In _Eurotyp working papers group 9_, European Science
Foundation, Strasbourg.

 Trommelen, Mieke, and Wim Zonneveld. 1991. Cyclic stress in
Dutch: evidence for the stress erasure convention. Ms., Research
Department for Language and Speech, Utrecht.

In addition, I have found the following to be helpful:

 Bauer, Laurie. 1983. _English word-formation._ Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Deborah Milam Berkley
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue