Author Topic: What means ‘electr-’ in ‘electric’ ?  (Read 655 times)

Offline vox

  • Jr. Linguist
  • **
  • Posts: 24
  • Country: fr
What means ‘electr-’ in ‘electric’ ?
« on: May 02, 2017, 07:49:11 AM »
For some derived lexemes one can admit a semantic equivalence between a suppletive stem and an attested lexeme :
‘equestrian’ : equestr- = ‘horse’
‘celerity’ : celer-  = ‘fast’

For others I don’t see any equivalence of this kind :
‘electric’  : electr- = ? (noun)
‘quality’  : qual- = ? (adjective)

Am I right to make a difference between these two types ?
How would you treat the second case ?
I’m tempted to exclude them from the list of derived lexemes even if they are morphologically complex. On the other hand I use the lexeme as my unit of analysis so, by definition, I could reconstruct non-attested but virtually possible units such as °electre and °qual. But I can’t see what could be their meaning. Maybe I’m lacking imagination... 
« Last Edit: May 02, 2017, 07:54:11 AM by vox »

Offline Daniel

  • Administrator
  • Experienced Linguist
  • *****
  • Posts: 1704
  • Country: us
    • English
Re: What means ‘electr-’ in ‘electric’ ?
« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2017, 02:36:21 PM »
Those are somewhat like typical "cran-" morphemes (as in cranberry). But they clearly hold some semantic weight because when they combine they have meanings with very general and productive(?) suffixes.

If you align those truncation with similar ones you may identify a potential meaning.

Analyticity > analytic > analysis

In the case of electr- the meaning is, roughly, electricity. But as in the example above and other attested cases the longer derived noun tends to drift away semantically so that you don't have exact semantic equivalence. In this case however, there is nothing more basic/general to think of so I would say, roughly, the meaning is "electricity" but it is not a free root so it must surface with derivational morphology. On the other hand, it may be something more general because it is also the root for electron for example. So the meaning might be abstractly something like "excitement of electrical charge" in the sense of physics. But maybe that's getting too far from the data: in reality these are just memorized forms even though they are transparently related to other (less memorized?) forms.

One area where you could look for very abstract roots would be at the meaning of trilateral roots for Semitic languages, like Arabic KTB meaning "related to writing" and deriving kataba "he wrote", kitaab "book", maktab "office", maktaba "library", and more complex forms like "correspond". That is, if you look at how those very abstract roots are treated you might get some ideas about how to deal with English also.

Of course you can also look up the etymology but in terms of modern English that will actually tell you more about Latin or Greek instead, unless the etymological root happens to be a good idea for your more abstract term.
Welcome to Linguist Forum! If you have any questions, please ask.

Offline vox

  • Jr. Linguist
  • **
  • Posts: 24
  • Country: fr
Re: What means ‘electr-’ in ‘electric’ ?
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2017, 06:00:04 PM »
In this case however, there is nothing more basic/general to think of so I would say, roughly, the meaning is "electricity"
Yes, I imagine you’re right. I don’t see any other meaning possible. Thank you.