Subscribe to Blog via Email
April 2021 M T W T F S S « Mar 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
In defence of derivational morphology
In my post on the formation of speciesism, I noted that
Speciesism is a coinage so clueless about how Latin works, it could only have been coined in English, and in English after people stopped learning classical languages, at that. (It dates from 1970.) The -es in Latin is an inflection. You never ever put derivational suffixes like -ism after inflections. Except if you have no idea about the language you’re putting the suffixes onto, to begin with. The Latinically correct way of coining the word would have been specism, and you do indeed see that as a less frequent alternative to speciesism.
Now, Greek avoided spisisismos, and rendered the term as spisismos as the main rendering of speciesism (although Wikipedia does also list σπισισισμός.) I’d like to think that Greeks recognised the inflection in speci-es-ism, and had their linguistic sensibilities offended, as fellow speakers of a highly inflected language. It’s far likelier that they simply threw a haplology at the problem: /sp-is-is-mos/ already sounds ludicrous enough, /sp-is-is-is-mos/ could not be taken seriously by anyone.
I was heartened to see commenter Pepe [Georgios-Perikles Schinas], at Nikos Sarantakos’ blog, expressing those offended linguistic sensibilities. Just so you don’t think I’m making this stuff up.
It features the delightful Greek slang word καφρίλα, the stench (-ila, i.e. characteristic) of a kafros (someone who does not give a crap about bothering other people; derived, as it turns out, from kaffir “infidel to Islam” via Italian cafro.)
Pepe, 31 October, 2017 13:42 :
That was no haplology. That was a correction of an error.
Speciesism is an English word derived from an unassimilated Latin loan, species, and a productive ending also borrowed from Latin (-ism < Latin -ismus, ultimate derivation from Greek though that is irrelevant here.) So it is a purely Latin word, which was formed now and not when Latin was a living language.
But it was formed utterly irregularly. Sticking derivational (or inflectional) endings on a complete word to generate a new one is the kind of boorishness [καφρίλα] that would be committed only by someone unaware that there are languages outside of American English; and who isn’t even that deeply familiar with American English itself. Seen very superficially, English words look like they are derived in that way. They aren’t of course in English, and even less so in Latin. It’s as if we tried to derive an equivalent word in Greek from eid-os and ended up saying eid-os-ismos.
I think that a Latin speaker would not even think in such a way as to come up with deriving such forms; but if forced to he would say speciismus or, by contraction, specismus. So speci(i)sm in English. Therefore, now that we are left with conventional hellenisation of the English, σπισισμός (because directly from Latin it would be σπεκι(ι)σμός.)
I’m sure that the Greek antispecisisist window-smashers had that in mind, and corrected the extraneous -si-.
Maria, 31 October, 2017 16:53
A pedantic note: the ending on 5th declension nouns is -ie- and not -e-, so spec-ie-s > spec-ism(us).
Pepe, 31 October, 2017 17:21:
At any rate, the corresponding Latin or Greek terms of sundry sciences and disciplines are usually formed correctly, by scientists or intellectuals who were neither Greeks nor, of course, ancient Romans. And typically they were neither linguists nor classicists, so those linguistic mechanisms were not part of their ground knowledge. But they were familiar with those mechanisms: something that demonstrates a certain broad-mindedness. The ill-formed speciesism, so we read, was not formed by the window-smashers, but possibly by a British psychologist. And fine, he didn’t know any Latin: that in itself does not show narrow-mindedness. But he didn’t even realise that somewhere in between English and Latin, there was something that he did not know about. That leaves a bad impression. I’ll acquit him for insufficient evidence (“the term was coined or popularised by the British psychologist Richard Ryder in 1973″), but there is a shadow cast over somebody.