LINGUIST List 5.1197

Sat 29 Oct 1994

FYI: Folk etymologies, folk facts; terminological confusions

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  1. , Some folk etymologies, folk facts, and terminological confusions

Message 1: Some folk etymologies, folk facts, and terminological confusions

Date: Wed, 26 Oct 94 21:14:51 EDSome folk etymologies, folk facts, and terminological confusions
From: <amrares.cs.wayne.edu>
Subject: Some folk etymologies, folk facts, and terminological confusions

I have been collecting examples of all of these that have occurred in
the many responses that I have received over the last year from so many
thoughtful and wonderful people (who will therefore forgive my remarks
here, I hope) to my various queries. I think that there are some
problems with the way information gets disseminated in linguistics
which are revealed by these examples (even if none is as serious or
as amusing as the Eskimo snow words hoax).

(1) In response to a query about ergative constructions, I have
received numerous responses indicating that some people only
know the word 'ergative' as applied to a class of verbs like
'break' or 'roll', but with reference to constructions in which
the subject of a transitive verb behaves differently from a subject
of an intransitive one.

(2) In response to a query about the borrowing of body part terms,
I received several responses which demonstrate that there is a whole
community of Slavic linguists, apparently, who apparently do not
realize that Russian _glaz_ 'eye' is NOT derived from German _Glass_
but from a native word meaning 'stone' ('stone' -> 'eyeball' -> 'eye').

(3) In response to a query about neutralization rules in phonology,
I received several responses (and there were some postings to the
list as well) demonstrating that there is a whole community of
phoneticians and/or phonologists who have somehow gotten the idea
that traditional ear phoneticians like Sweet, Jones, Jespersen, Malmberg
and so on believed that there is no final devoicing in languages like
German, Russian, Dutch, Polish, and so on. While there is some
very recent experimental evidence (which is extremely controversial)
that final devoicing may not be 100% neutralizing, it is baffling as
how the idea got started that the traditional phoneticians heard
such contrasts (since they all clearly say the opposite).

It even appears that some of these things are taught to students,
from what I have been told, and I wonder if this is just the tip of
an iceberg.
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