Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

I have been working with my students on adding suffixes -er, -or, -ist, and -ian. We have been using word sums. All was going well until we tried adding -an or -ian on Asian and Australian. 

Asia/ + an --> Asian or Asi/a/ +ian --> Asian or is it Asia + n --> Asian

Do we actually drop the <a> to add the -an? Or drop the <ia> and add -ian? Or is <n> a suffix?

My students have now compiled quite the list of countries that end in <a> and <ia> and looked at the word sums for each. Most appear to drop the <a> And add -an OR add -n as a suffix.

I cannot find any rule for dropping <a> nor can I find any evidence of suffix -n (although I do remember Peter talking about some structural evidence with grown etc). 

Are we missing something? I would never even have noticed this if we had not been using word sums to think through suffix additions to words.



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Hi Catherine,

I'm glad you decided to post your question here. I think you are wise not to be satisfied with inventing a new "drop < a > convention. I'd be suspicious of an analysis that required a whole new convention and, like you, I'd look for a simpler solution. And I especially wouldn’t count on finding the reliable patterns of English spelling in a list of proper nouns. Proper nouns don’t have to follow English spelling conventions. Although they may! How about digging deeper into the family of one pair of these words – “Australia/Australian” for starters. While it's true that we can't count on proper names to follow English spelling conventions, this particular pair happens to provide an interesting morphological family to analyze. Look at this evidence bank of words descended from the Latin word australis “southern.”

austral “belonging to the south, southern”
Australite: in mineralogy “a form of tektite found in Australia and neighboring countries”
(from Australopithecus (n.) 1925, coined by Australian anthropologist Raymond A. Dart from Latin australis "southern" (see austral) + Greek pithekos "ape," a loan word from an unknown language. So called because first discovered in South Africa.
Australorp: a breed of chickens from Orpington (you can meet them on youtube!) (Australian Black Orpingtons)

Look up the etymology of < Australia > - how did the country get its name?

Do you see that all these words share a letter sequence < austral >? Look at what follows <austral> in each word. Can you find evidence that what follows in each word is either a suffix, a base, or something more? Do we have evidence to consider < -ia >, < -ian >, and < -ite > as suffixes that might alternate in this family? How about <pithecus> as a base element in < Afropithecus > and < Aegyptopithecus >

austral → austral
Austral + ia → Australia
Austral + ian →Australian
Austral + ite →Australite
Austral + o + pithecus →Astralopithecus
Austral + orp →Australorp

If you start looking into the compounds paleontologists have constructed with <pithecus>, you’ll find some very interesting words! And maybe < austral > can be analyzed more deeply, but you don’t have to go there.

Can you apply this process to collecting evidence for the relationship between < Egypt >,
< Egyptian > and < Egyptology >?

I hope others will have different thoughts to offer on your interesting question.

Comment was last edited about 1 week ago by Gail Venable Gail Venable
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