LINGUIST List 6.1018

Fri Jul 28 1995

Sum: A (formerly) productive morphological process?

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Steven Schaufele, Sum: a (formerly) productive morphological process?

Message 1: Sum: a (formerly) productive morphological process?

Date: Thu, 27 Jul 1995 06:12:46 Sum: a (formerly) productive morphological process?
From: Steven Schaufele <>
Subject: Sum: a (formerly) productive morphological process?

About 3 weeks ago, i posted in LINGUIST 6-954 a query regarding the
status in current English of a compounding process, involving the use of
a `combining form' ending in -o-, which had given us not only such
ethnic/geograhical terms as `Anglo-Saxon', `Afro-Asiatic', and
`Dano-Norwegian' but `sociopolitical', `socioeconomic', etc. I was
prompted in this query by the recent replacement of the label
`Afro-American' by the fuller form `African American' and by the
appearance in a new edition of a college textbook of the term `European
American' to mean what i have long referred to as `Euro-American'.

The issue first came to my attention a few years ago through a column in
the University of Illinois newspaper, in which an undergraduate woman of
African ancestry explicitly rejected the label `Black' on the grounds
that it is, technically, inaccurate; the skins of the people in question
are merely a darker shade of brown than those of Europeans. Having said
this, she then went on to reject the label `Afro-American' because she
couldn't find `Afro' on a map. As a linguist, i naturally wondered if
she was unaware of the general compounding process involved. Then a few
weeks ago at work i found that the authors of the above-mentioned
textbook (on sociology, if i remember correctly) had meticulously
replaced every instance of the label `White' in the previous edition with
the expression `European-American'. I began wondering if i was seeing a

First of all, i would like to thank the following respondents:

Lynne Cahill <>
Lee Hartman <>
Larry Horn <>
James Kirchner <>
Kevin Lemoine <>

The general consensus seems to be that the ascendency of the full
expression `African-American' can be dated to a speech by the Rev. Jesse
Jackson in the late 80's. To quote Lee Hartman:

`I think the entire "phenomenon" can be attributed to a single
individual, and with alittle research we could even determine the precise
date when he made his announcement. This is a textbook case of "pristine"
etymology (where the historical events giving rise to a word are still
alive in the memories of living witnesses).

`I'm referring to an announcement made by Jackson to the effect that he
felt the term "Black" had too many negative connotations, and that he
wanted to institute a more dignified term for Americans descended from

`I think Jackson said explicitly that he briefly considered the term
"Afro-American", but he rejected it on the grounds that "Afro" was too
closely equated with a particular hair-style, and he didn't want a term
that would suggest merely "Americans who wear Afro hair-do's".'

A second motivating consideration mentioned by some of my respondents was
that the reduction of `African' to `Afro-' involved in the formation of
the older `Afro-American' might be interpreted as deemphasis and might
thus be irritating, if not offensive, to people who regard their African
heritage as a matter of pride. This is quite plausible, although it
isn't consistent throughout the general speech community: it is not the
case that every English speaker, in every circumstance, regards the
formation of the -o- combining form from some word for the purpose of
coining a compound involves the deemphasis of that word or its referent.
For instance, in regarding myself as a `Euro-American' i definitely
emphasize the `Euro-' part. And another of my respondents pointed out
Progovac' recent rejection of the label `Serbo-Croatian' in favour of
`Serbian/Croatian' on the grounds that the older/more traditional/conven-
tional label places too *much* emphasis on the Serbian component.

On a somewhat parallel note, one of my respondents suggested that the
form `Euro-' might be rejected because, at least to an American, its most
obvious association is with the expression `Eurotrash', which i have to
admit is not part of my experience; i am more accustomed to its usage in
Europe, in which it tends to connote `cosmopolitan' or at least `pan-
European' as opposed to narrowly nationalistic.

On the broader question addressed by my query, there appears to be no
evidence that the morphological process of creating combining forms in
-o- is itself on the way out in English; only one or two instantiations
of it are currently being rejected by some people for sociopolitical
reasons. As to the past history of this process in English (it's
presumably either borrowed from or heavily encouraged by Greek), i have
so far heard very little.

- -------------------
Dr. Steven Schaufele
712 West Washington
Urbana, IL 61801

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