Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The word is: "Jeopardy"

Last night (Monday July 21) on "Jeopardy" there was a clue that went something like "a single unit of language."  The response they wanted was "what is a word." That may be the most problematic answer they could have thought of, given that besides words all the following can be considered "single units of language":
  • Distinctive features (units of articulation, e.g. Labial, Voiced, etc.)
  • Segments (consonants & vowels, each of which is a unit composed of distinctive features: [b])
  • Phonemes (psychologically salient units that signal contrast: /b/)
  • Syllables (units of pronunciation, most commonly a consonant + a vowel but there are shapes, depending on the language: [ba], [bo], [bla], blab], and so on)
  • Morphemes (units that refer in some way: {kæt})

When we get to morphemes we can begin to slide into "words," but it's tricky. The "word" (we use the <_> to enclose an orthographic representation) is composed of one morpheme, but what about ?  It's composed of two morphemes. Still, it's a "single unit" when considered within a larger structure, say a Noun Phrase (NP).  In the word is a single unit under what we call an N' ("N-bar"), a constituent paired with , which is a Determiner (Det).  If we expand to we get also living under a single N', still paired with that Det and still a "single unit" of language.

In other words, it's more complicated than most people realize. And, I humbly submit, *this* is what "language arts" teachers should be showing our children!

Aruskipasipxañanakasakipunirakispäwa!  A "single word" in Aymara meaning 'I know from personal knowledge that it's good if we all make the effort to communicate with one another.'

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments and feedback are welcome, as long as they conform to normal standards of civility and decency. I will delete comments that do not meet these standards.