Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A Latin revival?

I have a sense that there is an increased tolerance amongst our students for the idea that knowledge of Latin is at least useful, and at best beneficial. Few of them study Latin today, but when asked to consider its advantages, most see a purpose. Very few know how to write Roman numerals, preferring 'Henry the 8th' to 'Henry VIII', and are mystified by page or paragraph numbering in lower case Roman numerals. Few of them have any knowledge of the functions of Latin today, being largely unaware of the Linnean system, and never reading inscriptions, memorials or mottos. Despite the common currency of terms like quid pro quo, the only Latin phrase they seem to know is vice versa. They think status quo is an 80s band (it was) and etc., e.g. and i.e. are English short forms.

My linguistic wonderings today are: having long been dead (non-productive), is Latin now about to be cremated, or is it attempting to stage a come-back?

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The death of English inflection

We all know that English inflection has been decreasing for a very long time. I suggest that it is arguably in its death throes. In particular, I believe that the confusion surrounding number concord is either caused by or causing a change in perception (for British English speakers, at least), such that number concord just doesn't seem that important any more. I would argue that there are so few situations where number concord actually performs any function (in terms of disambiguation or conveying meaning) that the grammatical rule is no longer important enough for most speakers to bother.

Jets Fans and Raider Rooters

That phrase was in the title of a paper from years ago that discussed the relative ordering of inflectional and derivational processes. I have been noticing increasing use of expressions like "mobile phones free zone" where I would expect "mobile phone free zone". I have two theories as to why this might happen more: 1. "we" (English speakers, Natural Language speakers?) are less attached to the apparent constraint that we inflect after we derive or 2. "we" (English speakers) are less convinced that the inflectional processes in English are really inflectional at all.

The first theory sounds a bit dodgy to me, and would need a lot of cross-lingual research to determine. The second fits in quite nicely with another idea I have - see my next post!