HD: Ur-Etyma Count
Posted: 07 July 2014 04:17 AM   [ Ignore ]
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An interesting article over at Language Log

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Posted: 07 July 2014 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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At the risk of stating the obvious, it seems reasonable to assume that there were a number of roots present in PIE that have no living offspring, and hence could not exist in any reconstructed version.

What percentage of the set of PIE roots are in that category, I couldn’t guess.

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Posted: 08 July 2014 02:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It seems to me to be not a coincidence that the number of “ur-etyma” in different languages looks to be about the same as the number of words in Basic English. In other words, roughly 850 to 1,500 mutually agreed signifiers is sufficient for humans to communicate with each other. The question is, then, is this a factor of the human mind, ie that we can’t handle more than that number of basic terms (seems unlikely, since everybody has a vocabulary much greater than the basics) or are there only 1,500 or so “fundamental” aspects to the world and how we interact with it, meaning we only need 1,500 different words??

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Posted: 08 July 2014 03:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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That’s exactly why I thought doing the same type of count with modern languages would be a useful study.

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Posted: 08 July 2014 03:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Might be kind of hard to isolate basic roots in a modern language considering whore, caress, and charity all come from the same PIE root.

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Posted: 08 July 2014 07:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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You’d have a fun old time doing this with modern English, given that it has words with roots in so many language families.

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Posted: 08 July 2014 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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You miss the point. Doing it with modern languages would mean not tracing it back to PIE. It would entail counting the roots are used now in English, without reference to whatever other language they may have been borrowed from. If there is some cognitive or functional limit of around 1,500 basic roots, all languages should have roughly that number.

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Posted: 09 July 2014 03:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Dave Wilton - 08 July 2014 08:51 PM

You miss the point. Doing it with modern languages would mean not tracing it back to PIE. It would entail counting the roots are used now in English, without reference to whatever other language they may have been borrowed from. If there is some cognitive or functional limit of around 1,500 basic roots, all languages should have roughly that number.

You’re quite right, I did miss the point.

But then English would have many more than 1500 basic roots, by that definition.

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Posted: 10 July 2014 10:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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It seems as if there are etymological roots, as Faldage points out, and conceptual roots, as perhaps OPT is pointing to.

Under conceptual roots, I can see birth, life, death, eat, poop, copulate, love, hate, sleep, hurt, see, hear, feel, taste, smell, fight, play, walk, etc. kind of topping the list. But an agrarian society is going to have a somewhat different set of roots (pardon the pun) from a hunter-gatherer society.

edit: Or is the idea that if you go back far enough you combine etymological and conceptual roots?

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