Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pronking Morphology

This video produced by The Onion is pretty interesting in a number of ways.

First off, it is an excellent example of public discourse on linguistic variation and structure. The representative's response that "maybe it's just something me and my constituents say," is spot on for a dialectal speaker's linguistic insecurity. Rep. Reynold's skepticism over the reality of "pronk" as a communal form because she had been there numerous times is also a common fallacy that even linguists fall into sometimes.

Also to be noted, "intonation," is an important member of the set of words which non-linguists have for describing language. Other important ones are "cadence," "tone," "sing-song," "nasal," "twang," "drawl," along with a great many onomatopoeic vocalizations.

What may be more interesting is everywhere the Onion writers managed to stick "pronk." It takes a number of regular derivational and inflectional morphemes, like pronking, pronked, pronkfully, and pronks (both 3rd person singular -s and plural -s).

"Pronk" also end up in these stranger, portmanteau-like constructions.
  • "pronk-lem" -- problem
  • "pronk-rageous" -- outrageous
  • "pronk-surd" -- absurd
  • "pronk-spect" -- respect

Trying to figure out what makes these well formed is a little tricky. I guess "out," "re," and maybe even "ab," and "prob" could be analyzed as separate morphemes. Still, the syllabification of "pronklem" seems a little off to me. I would have wanted to make it "pronk-blem," which is even worse. Also, the stress in "pronkspect" vs "respect" is off.

What's more, why did they decided to replace these bound pseudo-morphemes with "pronk" instead of the free pseudo-morphemes. The obvious answer is that "pronkrageous" is more recognizable as involving "outrageous" than "out-pronk-ous," which then raises the question of what constitutes the most recognizable segments of a polysyllabic word, which by all accounts is monomorphemic.

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