whatisaword?

yochanan bitan ButhFam at compuserve.com
Thu Dec 23 16:32:26 EST 1999


is a root a word, a verb,
or is a formed verb a word, but root isn't?

one conceptual problem continually seems to reoccur with hebrew students. 
they mistake a root for a real word.

For example, deceptively easy words:
shillaH--yeshallaH   'to send off' (268 [278] xx)

and its cognate from the same root and semantic domain
shalaH--yishlaH  'to send, extend' (562 [563] xx)

and perhaps one should include the rare
hishliaH--yashliaH 'to send against' (as divine punishment)( 5 xx)

would you rather tell a student that the "word" is sh-l-H 'send'...? 
(perhaps hoping he will guess that shillaH does or does not occur with a
related meaning, 
and perhaps hoping that he won't assume 
that HishliaH should/could occur frequently [with who knows what meaning?]
instead of its actual, restricted usage?)

or perhaps a word like

nimlaT--yimmaleT    'to escape'

would you think it more natural and better pedagogy to say to a student

*malaT   'to escape (ni)'?

(and does the student assume that *malaT is somehow also a valid word? [it
isn't. :-(  or wasn't. well, it is today, it means 'to plaster, cement, use
mortar']
and how does the beginning student reinforce the form/patterns for
nimlat--yimmalet?)

this applies especially to the word frequency lists mentioned in recent
days on this list. 
all of the ones mentioned suffer from the same conceptual problem for
beginning students. 
they present roots as though they are words. they also get the semantics
confused from time to time. 
(sometimes that is explainable because they confuse roots with words.) 

so what is a word? 
as for spelling, it is a convention, an agreement within a language
community as to what is joined or separated. 
but as to language structure, students should not be misled by dictionary
'roots'. those are often not real words. 
halvay veyad`u kax `ose ha-reshimot 
would that the list makers knew !

yisge shlamxon
randall buth



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