Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Hello all,

I was fortunate enough to get to conduct a video chat workshop (using the excellent new software Zoom) with teachers at The Nueva School just before their school year starts up.

One of the words the Grade 1 teachers hoped to investigate was the word <community> as that is a central topic for them at the beginning of the year. I attempted a quick investigation with various references  (etymonline, Kennedy's Word Stems,  my Mactonary) and the Word Searcher, but it became clear that this is an investigation that required more time that I could do on the fly. Afterwards, it dawned on me that I might share our current findings here on Real Spellers. Perhaps some of our students working on structured word inquiry out there might want to take a look at these initial findings and see if they can help bring more clarity to the structure, history, relatives and meaning of this word. With that support, the Grade 1 teachers at Nueva could have a better idea of how to inform their study of <community>. 

I will simply share some initial findings and see what grows...

In our initial analysis with word sum, we perceived the possibility of a prefix <com-> and  suffix <-ity> leading to this putative word sum:

? com + mun + ity --> community

Noticing the vowel suffix following the proposed base element <mun> made us realize that the base might actually be spelled with a final, non-syllabic <e>, with this word sum:

? com + mune +/ ity --> community

With that, the connection to the word <commune> was clear.

With word sums passing the structure test linking <commune> and <community> we felt we were on our way, but can we find a word with the base <mune> but no prefix <com->? And also, what is the underlying denotation of this proposed base element? 

Other words that were tossed out as seeming potentially related included <immune> and <remuneration>.

Off we went to the Word Searcher. 

First we typed <mune> into the search engine produced these results:

Search Results for "mune"
(11 matches)
Here we see the words we were wonderng about, but of course <immunity> is not here as the Word Searcher is a great tool -- but ultimately a "stupid" machine. It only pulls up the surface letter-sequences of words. It has no ability to deal woth underlying structural features like suffixing changes. So we tried typing <mun> and found 76 hits. With many obviously not related words like <munch>.
But now we decided it was time to get into the meaning test - so off to etymonline we went. 
Here we found some interesting suprises. I was really expecting <immune> to share a root with <commune>. Here is what we found:

commune (n.) 

1792, from French commune "small territorial divisions set up after the Revolution," from Middle French commune "free city, group of citizens" (12c.), from Medieval Latin communia, noun use of neuter plural of Latin adjective communis, literally "that which is common," from communis (see common (adj.)).


immune (adj.) 

mid-15c., "free; exempt," back-formation from immunity. Cf. Latin immunis "exempt from public service, free from taxes." Specific modern medical sense of "exempt from a disease" (typically because of inoculation) is from 1881. Immune system attested by 1917.


 So from <commune> we have: 
 Latin adjective communis, literally "that which is common," from communis.
 And from <immune> we have: 

Latin immunis "exempt from public service, free from taxes." Specific modern medical sense of "exempt from a disease"

In contrast to my expectations, I have a hard time seeing a connection in meaning. However, the roots cited seem themselves to have Latin prefixes <im-> and <com-> that could lead to a Latin root with the same spelling 'munis'


I also consulted Kennedy's Word Stems -- and etymological dictionary. It referenced a twin from the Latin 'munire, munitus' with the denotation 'fortify' and gave etymological relatives: muniment, munitions, ammunition. 

I can see a link between <immune> and the idea of defence, but I see no evidence of a link to a base <mune> for "that which is common"

So my first guess is that there could be homographic bases <mune>, one for 'defence' and one for 'that which is common'. 

So, where to next?

After our session, I thought I'd try something next. I coppied the Latin root 'communis' from <common> into the search engine for Etymonline. 

It's quite useful to learn -- as I did from one of Ann Whiting's Grade 7 students years ago -- that Etymonline allows us to search by root! The list of words that came up of this etymological family were quite fasinating. I'll include many of the words that came up. 

Here are most of those words: 









From this list, I do now see one word that I suspect uses the same <mune> base of <communitywithout the prefix <com->. From this and other searchers, I have found no evidence supporting our original hypotheses that <immune> and <remuneration> are realated etymologically. If that is true, then they of course are not morphologically related. 

So my challenge to our "word labs" of students and teachers out there is to see if anyone will take on this initial information and provide their own analysis of the word <community> and other words they can demonstrate to be etymologially and morphologically related, and thus construct a matrix that we could share with the Grade 1 teachers at Nueva that could help them assess what they judge as helpful to investigate this word with their students. 

One thing I would like to highlight for everyone is the crucial fact that a single Latin root can grow into many current English bases. So the fact that <common> and <private> share a root with <commune> is evidence of an etymological relation -- but word sums show that they cannot be orthographically morphologically related. 

I recently obseved this video from Ann Whiting's Grade 7's class that does a brilliant job of articulating this fact of English spelling. Here is the old post on which this and other student videos can be found. 

I'm curious to see what comes from this communal challenge!



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