Thoughts on English Morphology

April 24, 2012

Thoughts on English Morphology and Ben Zimmer’s interview with Carl Zimmer on (see video below).

I am very interested in English morphology and looking at the origin of words, the blending of new words, and how new words are created. Ben Zimmer explains in the video bloggingheadstv that when lexicographers want to know the origin of words, they first go to the Oxford dictionary, then they go back to where they first heard about the word, and then they work with that source and just keep backtracking. I am interested in why a lexicographer chooses a specific “new” word in the first place, and what gives power to a new word?

In terms of new word creation, there is a great power that the masses have thanks to the internet and social media. It is evident that the formation of new words not only depends on the words lexical predictability, but also it’s “social acceptability” (Singh, Chapter 2). Thomas Berg (1998) furthers this assertion on whether or not the lexical process takes place claiming that it “is a matter of social acceptability or personal taste rather than a linguistic or psycholinguistic issue” (p. 102). With this level of social acceptability, so many of our new words are produced at lighting speed as a result of internet and social media.

The ability to play with words on a lexical level and create new words indeed gives power and a voice to the masses. While language evolution is exciting on so many levels, it is also a reflection on society’s evolution. As technology dictates the creation of new words, I see a world where our words reflect that of reality television, such as “Brangelina” or “winning” and robot talk i.e. “fail,” “OMG”, “LOL.” Experts such as Erin Jansen, founder of Netlingo, and British linguist David Crystal agree this is not necessarily a negative thing, and that the new internet language is only adding to the richness of the English language and opening new doors for freedom of expression, especially for younger generations. (Abrams, 2010, “Experts,” para. 8 and 10).

Here’s the interview that inspired this reflection with Carl and Ben Zimmer. An interesting watch into the world of lexicographers and the morphology of words.