Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

I have been working with a few words (e.g., tournament, predicament, testament, sacrament, fundament, temperament) They all seem to have come from Latin (some through Old French).  They at first appear to have the suffix <ment> but I am unsure because they also have the letter <a> before the <ment> and the <a> does not seem to be part of the preceding element. I don’t think that <a> is a connecting letter? I am not aware of anything that would put the <a> and <m> together in an element and leave the suffix as <ent>. Is there also a suffix <ament> or am I missing something else? Or can I not analyze it down any further? 

For example :
tourn + a + ment --> tournament
tourn +ament
tourna +ment
tourn +am +ent
fund + a + ment --> fundament
fund + ament

funda + ment

Comments (4)

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Hey Liisa,

I shared your question with a linguist friend that has me thinking too. See what you think of this response:

The fact that a word is a loanword in PDE does not mean that it is not analyzable.

Also, a real speller can account for the structure of Latin root, so I'd have to ask, what's the <a> in the Latin words? Is it a stem suffix? If so, then why can't it be a stem suffix in English? The lexical stem of Latin fundare is <fund->. So if you have the Latin word fundamentum, you still have to be able to explain that <a>.

I think if folks considered the diachronic aspect of the morphology more, we'd have a deeper understanding. For example, in that whole value + able conversation, I think it's important to understand that the base is <vale>, and we can find that same <ue> in the words venue, revue, retinue -- which etymonline tells us are from the "noun use of the fem. past participle" in French. The <u> is the French past participle; the <e> is the French feminine -- the same as the second <e> in divorcee, or nee, or fiancee, and actually, historically, the final <e> in <elite>. Those aren't native English suffixes and they're not productive in present-day English, but that doesn't mean they can't be analyzed in PDE words.

Of course it's fine to not go farther than you have evidence to go, but I'd challenge folks to seek an explanation of that <a> in words like testament, firmament, armament, fundament. Why was it there in the Latin word? That will shed light on what it's doing there in English, whether you decide to analyze it or not.

What if we organize the data like this?




Why Latin ligAmentum, but figmentum and pigmentum?

Peter Bowers
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I was not able to prove anything beyond the larger unit for any of the other words I mentioned as well -
temperament - Latin temperamentum from temperare;
testament - from Latin testamentum - from testari from testis. There are many related words that I think could be built on a "test" base - testate, intestate, detest, attest, contest, protest, testify, testimony,
predicament - from Medieval Latin predicamentum - from Late Latin praedicamentum - from Latin praedicatus, past participle of praedicare
sacrament - from Old French sacrament - directly from Latin sacramentum - from sacrare
tournament - from Old French tornement - from tornoier - see tourney - from Vulgar Latin "tornizare, from Latin tornare "to turn"

I guess I will need to leave them all as is... I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing something.

Thanks for your response!


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Hey Liisa,

This is a fascinating question that I had never noticed before. I don't think I can say that <-a-> cannot be a connecting vowel letter, but I understand that if it is, it is very rare. I also would need to know more about the etymology of such a connecting vowel letter before I could conclude this structure:

fund + a + ment + al --> fundamental

But boy do I see the temptation.

I do see that I can go back to a Latin root fund(are) "to found" which does make me tempted to analyze the <fund> as an element. And of course <-ment> is a very common suffix. But I don't know that I can conclude that the <-a-> is connecting vowel letter just because that makes my word sum seem to work...

One thought...

Perhaps our English word comes fairly directly from the Latin root fundamentum. In which case your second thought that we could treat <fundament> as a base is a solid conclusion. In fact, scientifically, it is as far as I can go. My principal is to try never to analyze deeper than I can prove, so that's what I'll leave for now. Great thinking!


Peter Bowers
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I think I have concluded that the English bases cannot be broken down and analyzed any further. (?)

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