For examle in Latin, the noun amicus has the root amic, the adjective magnus has the root magn. But did the average romans really understand these roots? Could they understand their meaning by hearing the roots only, rather than hearing their nominative case?

  • Well, Latin words generally couldn't end in -c or -gn, which would make recognizing the roots harder.
    – Draconis
    Commented May 8 at 4:34
  • @Draconis that doesn't seem to follow. Semitic roots famously consist of consonants without vowels (with some limited complications in Akkadian) and so can't be used directly as words, but the fluent use of their templatic morphology demonstrates that their speakers are perfectly able to recognise the roots without issue despite
    – Tristan
    Commented May 8 at 8:18
  • 5
    When hearing those roots, a normal person's reaction would be thinking those are just clipped words with their endings missing and then trying to reconstruct their possible full forms, which is a usual thing one does every day when hearing words pronounced too quietly or when some noises hinder. Another question is whether you'd have been able to explain the notion of “the root system” to an average roman so as to conduct your experiment scholarly enough, for most average people the notion of morphemes is as alien as that of scalar mesons.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented May 8 at 9:02
  • 1
    If you have a declined language like Latin, and the writers use the declensions properly, one assumes they "understood" the root or they wouldn't use the different endings in different contexts. This is called the passive knowledge of language.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 8 at 15:55
  • @Lambie it means they understood the stem not necessarily the root
    – Tristan
    Commented May 8 at 15:56

1 Answer 1


Theory: No, they cannot understand much, they cannot explain the rules, especially the exceptions.

Practice: Yes, they understand everything, that's how they're able to talk, without making any grammatical mistakes, in the descriptivist sense, even for exceptions and new and made-up words.

This is not limited to inflection, it applies to most things about language.

  • 2
    Side note: from my perspective in the technology side, amic- is the stem, not the root. I'd consider am- the or a root and amicus the lemma. Stems and lemmata we can find automatically, roots are much trickier. Commented May 10 at 3:21

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