Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Passers-by be damned

The other day, a friend and I were discussing a relatively amusing construction in English, namely the agentive nominalization of verb-particle combinations like pick up and think through. Instead of *picker up or *pick upper, one must say picker upper (with the agentive nominalizer showing up on both the verb and the particle). This is all well known. But then my friend noticed something more interesting: the agentive nominalizations of figure out and think over are not *figurer outer and *thinker overer, as we might expect, but rather figure outer and thinker over (other individuals I've asked since the first conversation have concurred with these judgements). We might think, from this, that this construction does not require that -er be appended to both the verb and the particle, but only that [r] be realized as the final segment of both verb and particle. But this can't be right either, for consider the agentive nominalization of the hypothetical verb-particle combination figure over...

15 Comments:

At 10:51 AM, Blogger caelestis said...

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At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could it have something to do with stress? Something like:

píck úp [´ ´] >
          *píck úpper [´ ´ u]
          ?pícker úp [´ u ´]
          pícker úpper [´ u ´ u]

fígure oút [´ u ´] >
          ?fígurer out [´ u u ´]
          *fígurer oúter [´ u u ´ u]
          fígure oúter [´ u ´ u]

thínk óver [´ ´ u] >
          *thínk óverer [´ ´ u u]
          *thínker óverer [´ u ´ u u]
          thínker óver [´ u ´ u]

The agentive forms seem to want to be trochaic. Despite:

páss bý [´ ´] >
          pásser bý [´ u ´]
          *páss býer [´ ´ u]
          ?pásser býer [´ u ´ u]

As for:

fígure óver [´ u ´ u] >
          ?fígurer óver [´ u u ´ u]
          ?fígure óverer [´ u ´ u u]
          ?fígurer óverer [´ u u ´ u u]

I might prefer the first alternative. If only because it's an adonean or dactylic hexameter cadence.

—Angelo
www.bol.ucla.edu/~maom

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger David Mortensen said...

We'd thought a little bit about the stress facts, but not enough. I think you may be onto something. Take carry on [ ' u ' ]:
??carrier onner [ ' u u ' u ]
?carry onner [ ' u ' u ]
?carrier on [ ' u u ' ]

 
At 12:04 PM, Blogger Neal said...

An example from a friend of mine: maker righter. It interested me because it was the first time I'd heard the extra -er attached to a predicate accusative instead of a particle.

 
At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe it's normalized to two (or more) syllables per word? So 2-1 "carry on" -> 2-2 "carry onner", 1-2 "think over" -> 2-2 "thinker over", 2-1 "figure out" 2-2 "figure outer" BUT: 1-2 "think about" ~ ?"think abouter" sounds better than ?"thinker about". 2-3 ?"thinker abouter" isn't too bad.

 
At 10:00 AM, Blogger Eric Coleman said...

I think you're over analying it too much. Those words or the construction of those words probably originated from a desire to rhyme; intentional or not.

Think of it in terms of poetry. "Picker upper" simply sounds better than "picker up" or "pick upper".

For every rule there seems to be an anti-rule in the English language. I'm not a scholar, but I know what sounds are pleasing to the ear, and words constructed simply for discussion's sake such as "figurer overer" sound horrible, and it's difficult to pronounce as well.

 
At 10:01 AM, Blogger Eric Coleman said...

I think you're over analying it too much. Those words or the construction of those words probably originated from a desire to rhyme; intentional or not.

Think of it in terms of poetry. "Picker upper" simply sounds better than "picker up" or "pick upper".

For every rule there seems to be an anti-rule in the English language. I'm not a scholar, but I know what sounds are pleasing to the ear, and words constructed simply for discussion's sake such as "figurer overer" sound horrible, and it's difficult to pronounce as well.

 
At 4:22 PM, Blogger David Mortensen said...

Eric,

Does that make me an overanaliar or an overanalyst? ;-) But, in all seriousness (okay, in all jocularity), if sounds that were difficult to pronounce and sound horrible were at all important in the structure and historical development of language, Caucasian languages (e.g. Lezgian, Georgian, Abkhaz) would not exist at all.

 
At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always thought "picker upper" is (or at least originated as) a joke form that deliberately breaks rules. I can't think of any similar verb+adjective examples. (With verb+verb, adding agentive -er to both elements makes more sense. The joke is applying it to verb+adjective as if it were merely an agreement rule.)

 
At 5:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, make that verb+preposition, not verb+adjective.

 
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