Incorrect Word Assumptions

One of my mom’s pet peeves is the word “orientate.”  One of mine is “conversate.”  These two words have the same thing in common: someone has made an incorrect assumption about how the source words work.

In The Unfolding of Language, Guy Deutscher calls this process analogy, and he uses a classic example.  A little kid who has only ever seen forks with four tines may call a three-tined fork a “threek,” because of the coincidental sound of the number “four” in the word fork.

We’re used to the following relationships:  the noun education and the verb educate, the noun communication and the verb communicate, the noun fornication and, well, you get the idea.

Here’s the problem: the rule applies in the verb-to-noun direction.  Verbs that end in “-ate” turn into nouns that end in “-ation.”  Indicate becomes indication.  Vacate becomes vacation.  It doesn’t apply in the other direction, and most of the time we get it.  Interpretation comes from interpret, not interpretate.  Deprivation comes from deprive.  Exploration comes from explore.

In the cases at the start of this post, conversation comes from converse.  And orientation?  It comes from orient.

So what happened with the two I mentioned before?  Easy.  Someone didn’t know the right base verb, and they made an assumption based on how they knew other verbs worked.  Guy Deutscher argues that this force of analogy is one that helps to not only create new words (my spell check has no issue with orientate, for example) but that this is, in fact, a very good candidate for how complex language structures came into being.

Words and language can be so much fun!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. R. Hans Miller
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 17:08:29

    Don’t let it get to you. Just orientate your mind on the topic of which you wish to conversate.

    Sorry. I couldn’t help it. I looked away, and my fingers had taken over the keyboard….

    Reply

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