lördag, november 24, 2007

Pop Quizzes

Why does the word "day" end in a "y" my seven-year-old asks. If you say the "d" sound with the "a" sound, it should be enough.

"There are people who study the evolution of language and spelling," I told her, adding that I did not know the answer but wish I did.

I think about her question as I read the 100% London Design books from the September design exhibition. Lots of extra vowels in the English spellings, vowels that we in America dropped, again, I haven't a clue when. But I don't have time to investigate.

But because days get lost in the exploration of the interweb, I take the time I do not have. My mental dictionary is called a Lexicon. The smallest unit of a constant sound with a constant meaning is called a morpheme. "Day" is a morpheme. Where do I go to find information on something smaller than a morpheme, or is anything smaller than a morpheme simply reflective of pronunciation and spelling derivations?

The Online Etymology Dictionary gives us "day" from Old English "daeg." I guess what I would like to experience is the transformation. How did it sound and under what circumstances did it change? Someone knows, somewhere. Maybe entire language departments.

These are the things that I need to study to be prepared to answer the questions of a child. It's like an entire future of pop quizzes to fail.


Blogger Greg said...

Henry Fowler, 1926.

11:58 em  
Blogger Greg said...

Oh, and a phoneme is the basic unit of all spoken language, usually represented by two-letter pairings, "ma", "pa", etc. I've heard that when infants first begin vocalizing, their phoneme set encompasses the full range, but that as their language patterns itself on that of their parents, they lose the other phonemes. I don't know how true any of that is. What about the clicks and throat sounds of some African languages?

12:01 fm  
Blogger Catherine said...

Smallest, constant, aural, and with a meaning - so clicks must count. Hi there, stranger. I am out of blogging condition; kind of forgot how to navigate all this stuff. Is your own site referenced here somewhere?

10:50 em  
Blogger Catherine said...

Henry Fowler - I've never had a Wik entry terrify me before. And now I suppose I have to learn about split infinitives, too.

10:54 em  
Blogger Greg said...

For an infinitive to be split, I believe it's necessary to merely spilt the verb from the 'to,' as in this example, although I don't know if it counts with adverbs. Maybe I should read that wiki entry.

9:59 em  

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