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7.12: Lesson Twelve

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Sometimes Ad- Assimilates

1. Here are nine words in which the <d> in ad- changes to a different letter:

& \text{attend} && \text{apply} && \text{account} && \text{arrange}\\& \text{approve} && \text{acclaim} && \text{attach} && \text{assist}\\& \text{arrest} && \text{allegiance} && \text{allowance} && \text{assembly}

Sort these twelve words into these six groups:

Words in which the <d> is replaced with a ....
<c> <l> <\mathrm{p}> <r> <\mathrm{s}> <t>
acclaim allegiance approve arrest assist attend
account allowance apply arrange assembly attach

2. The <d> in these twelve words is replaced with another letter because of assimilation. When things assimilate, they get more similar. Assimilation is a good word for this for two reasons. For one thing, it contains the prefix ad- with the <d> assimilated to an <\mathrm{s}>: assimilation = a\cancel{d} + s +similation. So the word assimilation contains an example of itself!

For another thing, the base simil in assimilation is the same base that is in the word similar. The base simil means “like.” And that is what assimilation is all about: Sounds or letters assimilate when they change to be more like other sounds or letters.

Sounds change to be more like one another in order to make the word easier to say. It would be a little hard to say things like ^*adsist or ^*adcount. We could say them, but it is easier to say them if the sounds spelled by the <d> change to be like the sound right after them.

When the sound changes, we often change the spelling, too. So instead of ^*adsist, we have assist Instead of ^*adcount we have account. And we say that the sounds and the spellings have assimilated.

Teaching Notes.

Assimilation is one result of the much more general tendency of speakers to make words easier to pronounce. The assimilations of prefixes like ad- all took place centuries ago, in Latin. However, the process of assimilation and other simplifications go on around us all the time. If you listen carefully, you will hear that most of the time people pronounce a word like input with an [m] rather than the [n] suggested by the spelling. The reason is that [m] and [p] are both pronounced out at the lips while [n] is pronounced with the tongue up in back of the upper teeth. It's a shorter move in the mouth from [m] to [p] than it is from [n] to [p], so [np] becomes [mp]. If the assimilation were to persist as it did with some older words like important and impulse, the spelling of input would change to <imput>. (Webster's Third International actually shows an alternate pronunciation with [m], and even an alternate spelling with <m>! The older and more conservative Webster's Second allows no alternates with [m] or <m>.)

A number of other simplifications occur quite regularly: For instance, practically no one really pronounces the <d> in grandfather or handkerchief; the clusters [ndf] and [ndk] are such mouthfuls that we simplify them to [nf] and [nk] or [\mathfrak{y}\mathrm{k}]. In a somewhat similar way, most people pronounce cents and sense so that they are a perfect rhyme; the <t> gets very little, if any, force in the pronunciation. A similar example is the pronunciation oft pumpkin as if it were spelled <punkin>. Unfortunately, though such changes make pronunciation easier, they can make spelling more complicated.

The point of these examples is that assimilation is not some strange and technical thing that happened centuries ago but happens no more. It is going on all the time, as well as other changes to pronunciation that are also simplifications. It is all part of humans' insistence on simplifying things, and our language's inevitable and irresistible tendency to change and simplify. It is our somewhat melancholy job as teachers to try to slow down that change and simplification as we correct our students' use of the language. In a certain sense we are being paid to delay the often inevitable!

Item 1. The base of arrest is the free base rest “stand still.” It occurs in restive and in the free base rest that means “remainder.” Oddly it is not related to the free base rest that means “repose, cessation of work.” It actually combines the prefix re- plus the <st> from the stem that underlies such words as stand, distance, obstacle and many, many others, but we treat it now as a single element.

The story of the bound base leg in allegiance is complicated. Basically, it derives from the word liege, which means both master and servant. It occurs only in allegiance and can be said to mean something like “service.”

The free base count occurs also in discount and recount. It derives from the Latin word comput\bar{\mathrm{a}}re, which also produced our word compute (com + pute). The bound base pute “prune, cut, count, consider” is the same as that in dispute, repute, and amputate.

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Feb 23, 2012

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Apr 29, 2014
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CK.ENG.ENG.TE.1.Basic-Speller.7.12

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