1 Dougami

Inflection Essay

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Latin Verb Inflection

Byron W. Bender



Latin verb inflection presents an interesting problem in morphological analysis. Beginning with data from the four regular conjugations and limiting ourselves to the present active indicative, we have the following matrix or paradigm, in which the forms of a representative verb from each conjugation occupy a column, and each of their person-number combinations a row. A gloss for the meaning constant to each column and row is given at their heads. The problem can be viewed as one of segmentation between stem and suffix -- how much of each form correlates with the meaning of its row, and how much with its column, and how can the forms be optimally disassembled along these lines and restored by algorithm. Note 1.

Conjugations: I II III IV Glosses: 'love' 'advise' 'cover' 'hear' 1s amo: moneo: tego: audio: 2s ama:s mone:s tegis audi:s 3s amat monet tegit audit 1p ama:mus mone:mus tegimus audi:mus 2p ama:tis mone:tis tegitis audi:tis 3p amant monent tegunt audiunt (Infinitives: ama:re mone:re tegere audi:re )

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Conjugational Solution

One solution has invariant stems and variant suffixes (although there is partial identity of the suffixes for in and and for in and ):

I II III IV Stems: am- mon- teg- aud- Suffixes: 1s -o: -eo: -o: -io: 2s -a:s -e:s -is -i:s 3s -at -et -it -it 1p -a:mus -e:mus -imus -i:mus 2p -a:tis -e:tis -itis -i:tis 3p -ant -ent -unt -iunt

We can refer to this as a morphological solution. One must know to which morphological class (or conjugation) each verb stem belongs in order to determine which set of suffix variants to attach to it. If we were to analyze a number of additional members of each of these four classes in the same way, we would find that their stems all end in various consonants, and that there is nothing distinctive about their phonological shape that could be used to identify their class. The class membership of each verb must be learned in addition to the shape of its stem. It is one type of Item and Arrangement (IA) solution (Hockett 1954), one that consists of items (the stems and the suffixes) and their arrangements (an indication of which suffix variants go with which stems).

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Variant Stem Solution

Another solution would be one with invariant suffixes and variant stems. For such a solution, the segmentation is generally done further to the right in each form, so that the varying vowel material making for suffix variants in the morphological solution above is included in the stems instead-the variability is transferred to the stems.

Stems: Suffixes: am- mone- teg- audi- -o: 1s ama:- mone:- tegi- audi:- -s 2s ama- mone- tegi- audi- -t 3s ama:- mone:- tegi- audi:- -mus 1p ama:- mone:- tegi- audi:- -tis 2p ama- mone- tegu- audiu- -nt 3p

An additional possible step in this analysis is to permute the rows of this matrix so as to make identical stem variants contiguous insofar as possible. One possible such arrangement is the following:

am- |mone-| teg- |audi-| -o: | | | | |ama-| |mone-| |tegi-| |audi-| -t | | | | |ama-| |mone-| tegu- audiu- -nt ama:- mone:- |tegi-| audi:- -s,-mus,-tis

Identical stems are included between vertical lines. Note that there is no possible two-dimensional arrangement in which all identical variants are juxtaposed. In this arrangement, the form tegi- is interrupted by tegu- in the third column.

This can be called a Variant Stem solution. It too is an IA solution in that one needs to know which of the several stem variants for each verb to arrange with each suffix. What must one know about a given Latin verb in order to determine which of the above four patterns of stem variation it follows-the counterpart to the knowledge of conjugation membership required in the preceding solution? Is it possible to choose one variant for each verb to serve as its citation stem, from which one could determine the pattern of variation and predict the other variants? The answer is that the forms of either the third or fourth rows could be chosen for unambiguous listing. Two of the first-row variants end in consonants (am- and teg-), and thus could not unambiguously identify their patterns, while two of the second-row forms (tegi- and audi- ) end in short i and thus could not be chosen for the same reason. But if one uses as the citation stem for each verb its variant in the fourth row (which occurs with three of the suffixes), one can determine its pattern of stem variation simply by looking at its final vowel, and the stems fall into four groups: those in a:, e:, i, and i:. This is thus a phonological solution; the material built into the end of each stem identifies its class. From the point of view of the language learner (and presumably also the native speaking language user), a variant stem solution should require somewhat less memory burden than a variant suffix or conjugational solution. One listed form, properly chosen, can be used to determine the full pattern of each verb, whereas in a conjugational solution, it is necessary to know conjugation membership in addition to the shape of the only stem form available for listing. Note 2

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Phonological Solution

A theoretically possible solution of a third type would have both invariant stems and invariant suffixes. This could be achieved if we were to use the citation stems from the variant stem analysis with all suffixes, and then use rules to adjust any infelicitous combinations that result. This is the sort of solution that Hockett (1954) termed an Item and Process solution-the items being the basic stems and suffixes, and the processes the necessary rules. (Although this type of solution was not favored by the Neo-Bloomfieldians of Hockett's day, it had been employed earlier by Bloomfield and Sapir themselves in the grammars they wrote of Native American languages, and it was again given legitimacy in early generative phonology.) Note 3For example, one might adopt the following invariant stem forms for the Latin verbs under consideration, and combine them with the same invariant suffixes of the Variable Stem solution above, with the following results:

'love' 'advise' 'cover' 'hear' ama:- mone:- tege- audi: ama:o: mone:o: tegeo: audi:o: -o: 1s ama:s mone:s teges audi:s -s 2s ama:t mone:t teget audi:t -t 3s ama:mus mone:mus tegemus audi:mus -mus 1p ama:tis mone:tis tegetis audi:tis -tis 2p ama:nt mone:nt tegent audi:nt -nt 3p

Incorrect portions of the resultant forms are given in underlined boldface. They might be corrected by rules like the following, given here informally:

  1. Drop a: and e before o: and shorten any (remaining) long vowel before another vowel (Row 1)
  2. Convert short e to i before consonants other than r.Note 4
  3. Shorten long vowels before final t and nt (after converting i to u and i: to iu before nt) (Rows 3 and 6)

These changes are sketchy and informal, and there are several variations possible on the invariant stem forms that might be assumed and the resultant changes that would be required, but it is not our purpose here to pursue their details. Our main aim is to exemplify in broad outlines the chief types of solutions to the problem we have posed.

As noted above, this type of solution, with invariant stems and affixes, and rules to straighten out any infelicitous resultant combinations, is what has been termed an Item and Process (IP) solution. Note 5

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To summarize, we have examined three types of solutions:

SOLUTION CLASSES STEMS AFFIXES RULES TYPE "Conjugational" morphological Invariant Variant No IA "Variant Stem" phonological Variant Invariant No IA "Phonological" phonological Invariant Invariant Yes IP

Before one can decide which solution is preferable, it is necessary to clarify the purpose to which the solution is to be put, or what in the real world it is intended to model and illuminate. It turns out that there are at least as many possible purposes as there are solution types -- if not more. Note 6 Briefly, to mention several of the main purposes that have motivated research to date, (1) we may be interested in modeling the idealized native speaker-hearer, or (2) we may wish to assist the second language learner by constructing an optimal pedagogical grammar, or (3) we may wish to plumb to the depths what there is to be learned about the history of the language through the method of internal reconstruction, or (4) we may wish to predict future directions apt to occur in a language.

At this point, we have only some preliminary suggestions to offer. There is probably most agreement among linguists concerning the relevance of phonological or Item and Process solutions to internal reconstruction. Less commonly known or acknowledged is the relevance of Variant Stem solutions to the prediction of change resulting from the process known as paradigm leveling. Note 7For this to be true, it would seem to be necessary for such processing of language data to also have some relevance for native speaker-hearers, those individuals who are ultimately responsible for effecting morphological change. Yet, in possible contradiction, one of the strong implications of generative grammar is the relation of Item and Process treatments to the everyday processing of the native speaker-hearer. Lastly, in spite of their seeming lack of economy, conjugational solutions should not be dismissed too readily, at least for the second language learner, in view of their lengthy tradition in pedagogical grammars. This, incidentally, keeps alive the question as to the relation of second to first language learning.

We do not mean to imply that we will answer any of these questions definitively in the course of this work. We do hope to suggest, however, that the answer to some if not all may depend ultimately upon the domain of morphology for at least part of their solution, and that this should be sufficient reason for those interested in such questions to approach the study of morphology with enthusiasm.

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1. As to the purposes of such an exercise, we will have more to say. [back to text]

2. There is another question as to pattern or conjugation membership with respect to which the two solutions are equivalent. If one is presented with a Latin verb in context (and knows only that it is a regular present, active, indicative verb), the pattern followed by its other forms (and its conjugation membership) can be predicted except when it is a 3rd person singular form ending in -it (which is ambiguous between the tegi- and audi- patterns and between Conjugations III and IV) or when it is a 1st person singular form ending in Co: (which is ambiguous between the amo:- and tego:- patterns and between Conjugations I and III). [back to text]

3. Much has been written on this subject. See especially Hockett 1954 and Pearson 1977 (109-25). [back to text]

4. One might legitimately ask why e is chosen as the stem vowel for tege-, since within the scope of this problem none of the e's remain. We have only to look as far as the infinitive to find part of the answer, as well as a reason for excluding r from the consonants before which the change to i takes place. A less obvious reason is that this is the vowel chosen by Householder 1971in two of the three possible solutions he discusses (218 ff.), and for which he is able to say that "As it happens, almost everything in these rules corresponds closely to one line of assumed historical development from Indo-European." Although there are several slightly different possible invariant stem-invariant suffix solutions that might be chosen for these data, one of the points we hope to make in this discussion is that in general they will tend to mirror actual historical developments. (This is as good a place as any to acknowledge my debt not only to Householder 1971 [especially Chapter 12], but also to many personal communications with him in my days as his student and since, for many of the ideas underlying this discussion. Those concerned with the history of ideas may be interested to know that Householder, in turn, attributed a number of them to his former teacher Roman Jakobson.) [back to text]

5. Again, credit Hockett 1954.[back to text]

6. This essay was written in the early eighties. Since then it has become increasingly clear to me that all three of the solutions that it explores assume, or may be interpreted to assume, that the morphemes into which the words are segmented are semantic primes, and that the words are in that sense compositional. A fourth alternative, in many ways radically different in its assumptions, is the Word and Paradigm (WP) solution mentioned by Hockett (1954)and discussed by Robins (1959) and Matthews (1991). Its view of the morpheme is more attractive than those of the other three, and its full implications need further study. Also, it has been impressed on me recently that morphological solutions, although seemingly requiring greater memory resources, have more than their persistence in pedagogical grammars to commend them, and seem to have greater reality for native speakers than phonological solutions. It should be obvious, then, that this essay does nothing more than introduce and scratch the surface of this most intriguing topic. [back to text]

7. See Jeffers and Lehiste, 1979.[back to text]


Hockett, Charles F. 1954. Two models of grammatical description. Word 10.210-231. [back to 1st ref.] [back to 2nd ref.] [back to Note 3] [back to Note 5][back to Note 6]

Householder, Fred W. 1971. Linguistic speculations. Cambridge University Press. [back to Note 4]

Jeffers, Robert J., and Ilse Lehiste. 1979. Principles and methods for historical linguistics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. [back to Note 7]

Matthews, P. H. 1991. Morphology. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [back to Note 6]

Pearson, Bruce L. 1977. Introduction to linguistic concepts. New York: Knopf. [back to Note 3]

Robins, R. H. 1959. In defence of WP. Transactions of the Philological Society1959:116-144. Reprinted in Diversions of Bloomsbury: Selected writings on linguistics, by R. H. Robins, pp. 47-77. Amsterdam: North-Holland. [back to Note 6]

Email is a powerful tool with unique advantages over speech and other forms of writing, but can cause problems not found in those other forms of communication. Many hints and suggestions for email's predictable yet avoidable problems including "flaming". Getting others to read and respond to your posts.

Email differs from other written communications like letters because it does not have the inherent "second thought" protections automatically provided by the physical preparation, assembly, built-in delay, and cost which postal mail provides. A letter cannot be easily composed, written and dispatched in a few minutes as email can. Even a one-page fax takes a little time to create and imposes some costs to the sender.

Email is very different from speech too because written and spoken words are different. Spoken words have the ability to convey meaning through inflection and the stress, accent, and pauses on certain words and syllables. So, while email sometimes feels like speech, and may be used as a real-time substitute for speech, it lacks most of the feedback present in face-to-face and phone conversations. In speech, as the conversation unfolds, the recipient's reactions can be immediately assessed, corrected and adjusted as we go. In speech there are some words and phrases used just to establish and maintain rapport or "communion" between the parties. e.g. "I see"; "I hear you"; and "hmmm." These are are referred to as "Phatic Functions."

For example, the simple phrase "I will sleep with you." might convey wildly different messages depending on which word in the sentence got an inflection. While writers of email may compose their missives as if they are speaking to their intended recipient, the person on the other end just reads it.

Since email lacks the benefit of the many unconscious inflections and facial expressions that often moderate, soften, or contextualize speech, email is particularly ill suited for messages where words are meant to carry humor, satire, irony, criticism, or an emotional charge. Messages never intended by the writer may sneak into these kinds of posts; particularly between people with little prior history of oral communication. Email replies that insist "I already told you that" or are radically different from what the writer anticipated may indicate that speech vs. writing problems have crept into your email.

Of course, after you have dispatched an email and are waiting for a reply, you cannot be sure if your intended recipient actually received the message or, if he did, if he read it with the care appropriate to the care, attention, or spirit in which you composed it. In the first few seconds of a phone call, the parties make an implicit contract to do two things: 1. participate in the interaction and, 2. commit a portion of time for the exchange. Email establishes no such contract so one is never sure whether a lack of response is itself a message i.e. your email was uninteresting or not worthy of response; or the recipient didn't receive your email or is perhaps on vacation, or is otherwise too busy to respond. In a phone call, a lot of crazy things can happen but the other party will seldom fail to say anything at all; and if that happens, one generally knows if he or she is still listening. With mail you cannot ask the equivalent of, "Are you there?"

Paradoxically, while email may travel at the speed of light "for free", when it goes undeliverable, it is a medium far inferior to surface mail back in the age of the sailing ships. Post offices have always handled undeliverables better than email does. At least the post office will forward mail to a new address, and they don't return letters as "undeliverable" because a single character in an address is bad, or the local post office is "down" temporarily for maintenance. And of course no post office would reformat and deform your text so your carefully composed missive displays like the product of an illiterate or someone writing in a secret code as the email process occasionally does.

Email's Dirty Little Secret
As the volume of an individual's email increases, people have to resort to triage in disposing of their email to keep their in-basket from growing into unread mountains. This causes much incoming mail to simply be unread and trashed. Frustration and confusion can arise when a person consistently opens and reads another's email with a care and diligence not reciprocated. In other words, person A is carefully reading incoming email from person B, but does not know that person B is not reading the incoming email from person A with commensurate diligence.

Unfortunately there is no consistent "netiquette" which gives feedback to a person when they begin to overuse or misuse email. Indiscriminate, inappropriate, or overuse of email can cause others to trash incoming email unread. Some people create so much email that it begins to border on spamming and their email credibility deteriorates. Then, like the boy who cried wolf, when they have something original or important to say, their message never even gets opened. In extreme cases, people can and will set their email program to reject all email from a particular person so it never even arrives in their in-basket. Don't become an email-abuser. When a person is "blacklisted" and then sends an email to another, especially if they use the (reply-to) function and their email goes out with a subject header that does not clue the recipient that it is personal, that email may never be read. If you don't want your email read - just send out a steady impulsive stream of unsolicited email, and combine in your messages: personal and generic messages; copies of articles and reposts from others, redundant alerts etc. To clinch it, use subject lines that are not clear.

Problems with spouses who use the same email address.
Under the misguided notion that "we are one!" or an attempt to save the $5.00 a month a separate email address can cost, some spouses both use one email address. Their email always arrives from (john and mary), so you can not tell from your in-basket which one actually sent it and they cannot tell which spouse an incoming post is intended for. This inevitably leads to trouble when a person opens an email intended for their spouse and then forgets to tell them. Or when a person is traveling and a lot of their email accumulates.

In one case, I was exchanging a long series of emails with (John) of the couple (John and Mary) and when the issue was finally resolved, I received another post from (John and Mary) and assumed it was a redundant reply from (John) and I trashed it unread. But the email was actually a message from (Mary) about something completely different. Months later I learned she was very offended because she thought I had ignored her long, personal letter. There would have been no problem if they had separate email addresses. My relationship with both went off the track and could not be repaired.

Here are some indicators or predictors of whether the content of your email is in danger of being misunderstood.

Continuum Of Predictors Of Problem-Prone Email

Well known to youunknown to you
Stable and matureloosely wired and unstable
Friendlyunfriendly, unknown to you
Frequent face-to-face-communicationInfrequent
Reasonable workloadoverworked, harried
Has time to compose emailInundated with email
Simple, straightforwardComplex
non-threadedOne of a long thread with many contributors
One addresseeMany addressees, cc's and bcc's
Simple format & layoutComplex formatting
u/75 characters per lines, ASCIIo/75 chars, Non-ASCII

Email Helpers

Problems with email, especially those that lead to flaming or misunderstanding, can be avoided with some simple conventions which have been developed by those who use email extensively. There are a number of simple "helpers" which will insure that your email always works. Whenever an email exchange goes poorly, your first reaction should be not to respond in-kind, but to pick up the phone or get together face-to-face with the other person to get the communication problem cleared up. Hopefully the situation has not gone so far that it cannot be remedied. Humans have had thousands of years to work out conventions of spoken and written communications. Email is a new form of communication that has only been around for a few years and we have only begun to establish its conventions and ground rules. But the following one seems inviolable and non-negotiable.

Read and spell-check all your email before you send it; and if you must compose a nasty or highly critical email, hold it at least overnight before you send it. You will usually cool off enough that it will never have to be sent. BTW, I have accumulated about 50 of these in my "hold file" over the years.

How To Be Courteous And Maintain Rapport

  1. If I want to tell you something, but I want you to know I am humble about it or I understand I may be wrong in what I am about to say. I preface my remark with: (IMHO) which stands for "in my humble opinion."
  2. You send me an email but I am busy. I want you to know I received your email but I do not have time to send a response right now. I reply: (thanks - more later).
  3. Courtesy is important, especially in email communication. Begin email like a phone call or letter by always addressing the person by name.
  4. I am emailing a copy of a memo and the recipient may already have it. I do not want to appear to insult his intelligence, so I may say: "for ease of reference, I attached the following."
  5. If I do not want an email forwarded under any conditions, I type at the top: (DO NOT FORWARD).
  6. The most gross violation of "netiquette" is to forward someone's email without their express permission. NEVER DO IT! However, if you are sent an email with an address-list format, it may be a special situation that permits forwarding.
  7. I am going to tell you something general or pass on some information I think would be of interest to you, so I preface it with (FYI) which stands for "for your information."
  8. Sending unsolicited distributions of email is "spamming" no matter how important your ideas and observations may seem to you. If you want to create a list, set it up formally. Do one mass distribution and ask people if they want more alerts from you. Only send your material to those who respond.

Avoid Messy Format And Appearance Problems

  1. If you simply copy and paste text from someplace else and put it in an email message without first cleaning it up, the chances are pretty good that it will become garbled in transmission. There is no excuse for mail to have broken lines, poorly formatted text or odd characters. Most of these problems arise when text is cut and pasted from programs with large character sets (like Word processing or the Web) into email with its smaller set; or pasted in from text whose line length exceeds what than email can accommodate (usually 75 characters.).
  2. If you see a poorly formatted post tell the sender so they can see what they might be doing wrong by consulting their email manual or technicians at their host.
  3. Before you release a complex post send it to yourself first and see if it looks OK. Check for line breaks and garbage characters and look in the "long headers" or expanded address to see if your email was sent as a "ascii" message. If so, you can be assured that it has no problem characters. If it says "OSO " then you are likely to have formatting problems
  4. Some servers and programs truncate messages that exceed a certain length. If your post is very long put END at the end and tell your readers that you have done so.

Use Care, & Consider The Recipient, In Composing Replies

  1. John Doe sends me an email three lines long which says "blah, blah, blah." I want to respond and I want to make it clear exactly what I am responding to, so I begin my reply with: John: You said "blah, blah, blah." Then I reply.
  2. John writes a ten-line email and I want to respond to just one line, so I begin: John: You said (then I reiterate the one line) and then I respond to the line. Alternatively, if I am lifting a long section from an email and I want it clear there is much more I am not including, I leave a line and type: (snip); then I quote with brackets (blah, blah, blah).
  3. I am responding to a thread, which is a sequential exchange that has been going on for a number of emails that has several people responding back and forth, and I want to reply to someone's response. I could preface my reply with: John said: "blah" and Bill said "thus and so. My reply would then follow.
  4. If I quote from an email which includes a portion of another email, I put the selection in double >> as in >>blah, blah>>.
  5. I am sending an email and in my text I am referring to something you would enter on a keyboard. I enclose that phrase in (brackets) i.e. "To do this just enter (Return)", which is clearer than: "To do this just enter Return."

Be Careful With Humor, Teasing And Emotion

  1. Teasing in an email message is generally best avoided, but I want to make a teasing remark to John like, "John, you are completely full of crap!" Which if John was present, I would say with a smile so he could tell I was just teasing. In email, I would type: John, you are full of crap! ; ) Note the "smiley, :) or "smile face". It is called an emoticon, and tells John I am trying to be funny. Try reading the above phrase with and without the "smile face."
  2. I am writing something and feeling sad. It is important that my email convey my sadness. I might type :(
  3. I think something is very funny so I preface it with: (LOL) which stands for "laughing out loud."
  4. Hold a nasty message overnight and have a third party read it before release.
  5. Always read your own outgoing messages and spell check them before you dispatch them.

Be Clear About Audience, Author, And Subject

  1. I am sending an email to a list of people. I begin it with "friends:". If I am writing to John, but copying to others, I address the email to John and use "cc" for the others on my list.
  2. When forwarding material from someone else or if your reader could be confused as to who the author may be include a sentence at the top telling the reader what the post is about.
  3. If I want to hide the names of addressees to a post I use bcc's (abbr. for blind carbon copies) to hide the address list. Failing to do this properly when for example changing an email address will disclose to everyone in your address book, ALL the other people in your address book. (Last week for example I learned something VERY interesting when someone accidentally used cc's instead of bcc's.
  4. I am sending out a draft by email. I put (DRAFT) in caps at the top so anyone who receives it knows they are reading just a draft and not a finished copy.
  5. If I am transmitting a draft for another person, the content of which, I may not personally agree with, I may say at the top: (the following thoughts may not necessarily reflect the views of the writer).
  6. I am sending you a number of items. I number them 1...2...3... etc.
  7. If it is important that John read a personal email from me to him, I make the SUBJECT LINE (Jim to John). That way John knows this email is personal. But if I use up the subject line in this way and the content of the email is about another piece of email, I indicate this on the top line of the post itself: (This email is about: email dated such and such a date, subject such and such). I have to do this in this way as I have already used the SUBJECT LINE to get my readers attention.
  8. Never change the SUBJECT LINE of a thread midstream, as the sequence of the thread will be hopelessly lost. Also remember that different email programs date email differently so the recipient may get one of a sequence of emails out of context. Some programs date your email from when you first begin to compose it not when you dispatch it.

Finally If you have any question about how someone will receive your message, you can end it with: (your friend) or in an extreme case: (xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx) which, of course, means: "lots of kisses."

And if you do not want to be misquoted or you are conveying an important secret strategy or you want to be sure your message can not be misrouted, well, you'd better use a fax or the US mail.

Some references:
Essay on how the absence of the use of "smileys and other emoticons like (IMHO) always lead to flame wars.
Netiquette" in general use.
Phatic Functions, aka Phatic "Communion".

©1996 Jim Britell
All rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without permission.

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