The problem with undoification

A student in my “grammar class”: came to me yesterday evening with a clever question about our morpheme test case, undoification: a) since many derivational morphemes are limited in terms of the parts of speech they can modify, and b) since -ify can only be attached to nouns and adjectives, and c) since undo doesn’t look like either a noun or an adjective, how does the example work?


She is right that undo doesn’t feel like a noun or an adjective. For example, a test for whether something is a noun is whether you can precede it with a determiner (we’ll be learning about this next week, but basically that means an article like the or a, a demosntrative like this or that, or a genitive words or phrase like Bob’s); another is whether you can modify it with an adjective. A test for adjectives, on the other hand, is whether you can put them in the comparative or superlative (e.g. big, bigger, biggest) or qualify them with an intensifing adverb (e.g. reall Read the rest of this entry »


On translating sense and syntax in Old English

A student in my Old English class asked a good question today in her class blog:

I’m confused. The point of this class is to be able to read Old English. Does this mean we are supposed to be building a lexicon that would eventually become so engrained in us that the words don’t require as much of a “translation” as an innate understanding of the meaning of the text? This seems rather frightening. When I hear the words “nominative accusative singular” sweep one after the other my head begins to spin. I have to look at the dictionary three times in three minutes to remember what one word means.

I think what process seems natural to me would be to translate a sentence, and after knowing what the words are in modern English, to determine what words are nominative, objects, etc. in the translated sentence. Read the rest of this entry »


English 2810a: English Grammar (Spring 2014)

English 2810 Grammar is a technical course in the form and structure of the English language. Our focus will be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Students will learn how the language works in actual practice rather than how people think it ought to be spoken or written.

In addition to its intrinsic interest, the study of descriptive grammar can be useful for anybody interested in working with the English language, as it provides a framework and set of terms for understanding how the language works.

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