Modern English Word-Formation
C H A P T E R I
The ways in which new words are
formed, and the factors which govern their acceptance into the language, are
generally taken very much for granted by the average speaker. To understand a
word, it is not necessary to know how it is constructed, whether it is simple
or complex, that is, whether or not it can be broken down into two or more
constituents. We are able to use a word which is new to us when we find out
what object or notion it denotes. Some words, of course, are more ‘transparent’
than others. For example, in the words unfathomable and indescribable
we recognize the familiar pattern of negative prefix + transitive word +
adjective-forming suffix on which many words of similar form are constructed.
Knowing the pattern, we can easily guess their meanings – ‘cannot be fathomed’
and ‘cannot be described’ – although we are not surprised to find other
similar-looking words, for instance unfashionable and unfavourable
for which this analysis will not work. We recognize as ‘transparent’ the
adjectives unassuming and unheard-of, which taking for granted
the fact that we cannot use assuming and heard-of. We accept as
quite natural the fact that although we can use the verbs to pipe, to
drum and to trumpet, we cannot use the verbs to piano
and to violin.
But when we meet new coinages, like tape-code,
freak-out, shutup-ness and beautician, we may not readily
be able to explain our reactions to them. Innovations in vocabulary are capable
of arousing quite strong feelings in people who may otherwise not be in the
habit of thinking very much about language. Quirk
quotes some letter to the press of a familiar kind, written to protest about
‘horrible jargon’, such as breakdown, ‘vile’ words like transportation,
and the ‘atrocity’ lay-by.
Many linguists agree over the fact
that the subject of word-formation has not until recently received very much
attention from descriptive grammarians of English, or from scholars working in
the field of general linguistics. As a collection of different processes
(compounding, affixation, conversion, backformation, etc.) about which, as a
group, it is difficult to make general statements, word-formation usually makes
a brief appearance in one or two chapters of a grammar. Valerie Adams
emphasizes two main reasons why the subject has not been attractive to
linguists: its connections with the non-linguistic world of things and ideas,
for which words provide the names, and its equivocal position as between
descriptive and historical studies. A few brief remarks, which necessarily
present a much over-simplified picture, on the course which linguistics has
taken in the last hundred years will make this easier.
The nineteenth century, the period of
great advances in historical and comparative language study, saw the first
claims of linguistics to be a science, comparable in its methods with the
natural sciences which were also enjoying a period of exciting discovery. These
claims rested on the detailed study, by comparative linguists, of formal
correspondences in the Indo-European languages, and their realization that such
study depended on the assumption of certain natural ‘laws’ of sound change. As
Robins observes in his discussion of the
linguistics of the latter part of the nineteenth century:
The history of a language is traced
through recorded variations in the forms and meanings of its words, and
languages are proved to be related by reason of their possession of worlds
bearing formal and semantic correspondences to each other such as cannot be
attributed to mere chance or to recent borrowing. If sound change were not
regular, if word-forms were subject to random, inexplicable, and unmotivated
variation in the course of time, such arguments would lose their validity and
linguistic relations could only be established historically by extralinguistic
evidence such as is provided in the Romance field of languages descended from
The rise and development in the
twentieth century of synchronic descriptive linguistics meant a shift of
emphasis from historical studies, but not from the idea of linguistics as a
science based on detailed observation and the rigorous exclusion of all
explanations depended on extralinguistic factors. As early as 1876, Henry Sweet
Before history must come a knowledge of what exists.
We must learn to observe things as they are, without regard to their origin,
just as a zoologist must learn to describe accurately a horse or any other
animal. Nor would the mere statements that the modern horse is a descendant of
a three-toed marsh quadruped be accepted as an exhausted description... Such
however is the course being pursued by most antiquarian philologists.
The most influential scholar
concerned with the new linguistics was Ferdinand de Saussure, who emphasized
the distinction between external linguistics – the study of the effects on a
language of the history and culture of its speakers, and internal linguistics –
the study of its system and rules. Language, studied synchronically, as a
system of elements definable in relation to one another, must be seen as a
fixed state of affairs at a particular point of time. It was internal
linguistics, stimulated by de Saussure’s works, that was to be the main concern
of the twentieth-century scholars, and within it there could be no place for
the study of the formation of words, with its close connection with the
external world and its implications of constant change. Any discussion of new
formations as such means the abandonment of the strict distinction between
history and the present moment. As Harris expressed in his influential Structural
‘The methods of descriptive linguistics cannot treat of the productivity of
elements since that is a measure of the difference between our corpus and some
future corpus of the language.’ Leonard Bloomfield, whose book Language
was the next work of major influence after that of de Saussure, re-emphasized
the necessity of a scientific approach, and the consequent difficulties in the
way of studying ‘meaning’, and until the middle of the nineteen-fifties,
interest was centered on the isolating of minimal segments of speech, the
description of their distribution relative to one another, and their
organization into larger units. The fundamental unit of grammar was not the
word but a smaller unit, the morpheme.
The next major change of emphasis in
linguistics was marked by the publication in 1957 of Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic
As Chomsky stated it, the aim of linguistics was now seen to be ‘to make
grammatical explanations parallel in achievement to the behavior of the speaker
who, on the basis of a finite and accidental experience with language can
produce and understand an indefinite number of new sentences’.
The idea of productivity, or creativity, previously excluded from linguistics,
or discussed in terms of probabilities in the effort to maintain the view of
language as existing in a static state, was seen to be of central importance.
But still word-formation remained a topic neglected by linguists, and for
several good reasons. Chomsky made explicit the distinction, fundamental to
linguistics today (and comparable to that made by de Saussure between langue,
the system of a language, and parole, the set of utterances of the
language), between linguistic competence, ‘the speaker-hearer’s knowledge of
his language’ and performance, ‘the actual use of language in concrete
Linked with this distinction are the notions of ‘grammaticalness’ and
‘acceptability’; in Chomsky’s words, ‘Acceptability is a concept that belongs
to the study of competence’.
A ‘grammatical’ utterance is one which may be generated and interpreted by the
rules of the grammar; an ‘acceptable’ utterance is one which is ‘perfectly
natural and immediately comprehensible... and in no way bizarre or outlandish’.
It is easy to show, as Chomsky does, that a grammatical sentence may not be
acceptable. For instance, this is the cheese the rat the cat caught stole
appears ‘bizarre’ and unacceptable because we have difficulty in working it
out, not because it breaks any grammatical rules. Generally, however, it is to
be expected that grammaticalness and acceptability will go hand in hand where
sentences are concerned.
The ability to make and understand
new words is obviously as much a part of our linguistic competence as the
ability to make and understand new sentences, and so, as Pennanen
points out, ‘it is an obvious gap in transformational grammars not to have made
provision for treating word-formation.’ But, as we have already noticed, we may
readily thing of words, like to piano and to violin, against
which we can invoke no rule, but which are definitely ‘unacceptable’ for no
obvious reason. The incongruence of grammaticality and acceptability that is,
is far greater where words are concerned than where sentences are concerned. It
is so great, in fact, that the exercise of setting out the ‘rules’ for forming
words has so far seemed to many linguists to be out of questionable usefulness.
The occasions on which we would have to describe the output of such rules as ‘grammatical
are just too numerous. And there are further difficulties in treating new words
like new sentences. A novel word (like handbook or partial) may
attract unwelcome attention to itself and appear to be the result of the breaking
of rules rather than of their application. And besides, the more accustomed to
the word we become, the more likely we are to find it acceptable, whether it is
‘grammatical’ or not – or perhaps we should say, whether or not is was
‘grammatical’ at the time it was first formed, since a new word once
formed, often becomes merely a member of an inventory; its formation is a
historical event, and the ‘rule’ behind it may then appear irrelevant.
What exactly is a word? From Lewis
Carroll onwards, this apparently simple question has bedeviled countless word
buffs, whether they are participating in a game of Scrabble or writing an
article for the Word Ways linguistic magazine. To help the reader decide what
constitutes a word, A. Ross Eckler
suggests a ranking of words in decreasing order of admissibility. A logical way
to rank a word is by the number of English-speaking people who can recognize it
in speech or writing, but this is obviously impossible to ascertain.
Alternatively, one can rank a word by its number of occurrences in a selected
sample of printed material. H. Kucera and W.N. Francis's Computational
Analysis of Present-day English
is based on one million words from sources in print in 1961. Unfortunately, the
majority of the words in Webster's Unabridged
do not appear even once in this compilation – and the words which do not appear
are the ones for which a philosophy of ranking is most urgently needed.
Furthermore, the written ranking will differ from the recognition ranking;
vulgarities and obscenities will rank much higher in the latter than in the
A detailed, word-by-word ranking is
an impossible dream, but a ranking based on classes of words may be within our
grasp. Ross Eckler
proposes the following classes: (1) words appearing in one more standard
English-language dictionaries, (2) non-dictionary words appearing in print in
several different contexts, (3) words invented to fill a specific need and
appearing but once in print.
Most people are willing to admit as
words all uncapitalized, unlabeled entries in, say, Webster's New International
Dictionary, Third Edition (1961). Intuitively, one recognizes that words become
less admissible as they move in any or all of three directions: as they become
more frequently capitalized, as they become the jargon of smaller groups
(dialect, technical, scientific), and as they become archaic or obsolete. These
classes have no definite boundaries – is a word last used in 1499 significantly
more obsolete than a word last used in 1501? Is a word known to 100,000
chemists more admissible than a word known to 90,000 Mexican-Americans? Each
linguist will set his own boundaries.
The second class consists of
non-dictionary words appearing in print in a number of sources. There are many
non-dictionary words in common use; some logologists would like to draw a wider
circle to include these. Such words can be broadly classified into: (1)
neologisms and common words overlooked by dictionary-makers, (2) geographical
place names, (3) given names and surnames.
points out that the well-known words uncashed, ex-wife and duty-bound
appear in no dictionaries (since 1965, the first of these has appeared in the
Random House Unabridged). Few people would exclude these words. Neologisms
present a more awkward problem since some may be so ephemeral that they never
appear in a dictionary. Perhaps one should read Pope's dictum "Be not the
first by whom the new are tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside."
Large treasure-troves of geographic
place names can be found in The Times Atlas of the World
(200,000 names), and the Rand McNally Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide
(100,000 names). These are not all different, and some place names are already
dictionary words. All these can be easily verified by other readers; however,
some will feel uneasy about admitting as a word the name, say, of a small
Albanian town which possibly has never appeared in any English-language text
outside of atlases.
Given names appear in the appendix of
many dictionaries. Common given names such as Edward or Cornelia ought to be
admitted as readily as common geographical place names such as Guatemala, but
this set does not add much to the logological stockpile.
Family surnames at first blush appear
to be on the same footing as geographical place names. However, one must be
careful about sources. Biographical dictionaries and Who's Who are adequate
references, but one should be cautious citing surnames appearing only in
telephone directories. Once a telephone directory is supplanted by a later
edition, it is difficult to locate copies for verifying surname claims.
Further, telephone directories are not immune to nonce names coined by
subscribers for personal reasons. A good index of the relative admissibility of
surnames is the number of people in the United States bearing that surname. An
estimate of this could be obtained from computer tapes of the Social Security
Administration; in 1957 they issued a pamphlet giving the number of Social
Security accounts associated with each of the 1500 most common family names.
The third and final class of words
consists of nonce words, those invented to fill a specific need, and appearing
only once (or perhaps only in the work of the author favoring the word). Few
philologists feel comfortable about admitting these. Nonce words range from
coinages by James Joyce and Edgar Allan Poe (X-ing a Paragraph) to
interjections in comic strips (Agggh! Yowie!). Ross Eckler and Daria
Abrossimova suggest that misspellings in print should be included here also.
In the book “Beyond Language”, Dmitri
Borgmann proposes that the philologist be prepared to admit words that may
never have appeared in print. For example, Webster's Second lists eudaemony as
well as the entry "Eudaimonia, eudaimonism, eudaimonist, etc." From
this he concludes that EUDAIMONY must exist and should be admitted as a word.
Similarly, he can conceive of sentences containing the word GRACIOUSLY'S ("There are ten graciously's in
Anna Karenina") and SAN DIEGOS ("Consider the luster that the San Diegos of our
nation have brought to the US"). In short, he argues that these words
might plausibly be used in an English-language sentence, but does not assert
any actual usage. His criterion for the acceptance of a word seems to be its
philological uniqueness (EUDAIMONY is a short word containing all five vowels and Y).
The available linguistic literature
on the subject cites various types and ways of forming words. Earlier books,
articles and monographs on word-formation and vocabulary growth in general used
to mention morphological, syntactic and lexico-semantic types of
word-formation. At present the classifications of the types of word-formation
do not, as a rule, include lexico-semantic word-building. Of interest is the
classification of word-formation means based on the number of motivating bases
which many scholars follow. A distinction is made between two large classes of
word-building means: to Class I belong the means of building words having one
motivating base (e.g. the noun doer is composed of the base do-
and the suffix -er), which Class II includes the means of building words
containing more than one motivating base. They are all based on compounding
(e.g. compounds letter-opener, e-mail, looking-glass).
Most linguists in special chapters and manuals devoted to
English word-formation consider as the chief processes of English
word-formation affixation, conversion and compounding.
Apart from these, there is a number
of minor ways of forming words such as back-formation, sound interchange,
distinctive stress, onomatopoeia, blending, clipping, acronymy.
Some of the ways of forming words in
present-day English can be restored to for the creation of new words whenever
the occasion demands – these are called productive ways of forming words,
other ways of forming words cannot now produce new words, and these are
commonly termed non-productive or unproductive. R. S.
Ginzburg gives the example of affixation having been a productive way of
forming new words ever since the Old English period; on the other hand,
sound-interchange must have been at one time a word-building means but in
Modern English (as we have mentioned above) its function is actually only to
distinguish between different classes and forms of words.
It follows that productivity of
word-building ways, individual derivational patterns and derivational affixes
is understood as their ability of making new words which all who speak English
find no difficulty in understanding, in particular their ability to create what
are called occasional words or nonce-words
(e.g. lungful (of smoke), Dickensish (office), collarless
(appearance)). The term suggests that a speaker coins such words when he needs
them; if on another occasion the same word is needed again, he coins it afresh.
Nonce-words are built from familiar language material after familiar patterns.
Dictionaries, as a rule, do not list occasional words.
The delimitation between productive
and non-productive ways and means of word-formation as stated above is not,
however, accepted by all linguists without reserve. Some linguists consider it
necessary to define the term productivity of a word-building means more
accurately. They hold the view that productive ways and means of word-formation
are only those that can be used for the formation of an unlimited number of new
words in the modern language, i.e. such means that “know no bounds” and easily
form occasional words. This divergence of opinion is responsible for the
difference in the lists of derivational affixes considered productive in
various books on English lexicology.
Nevertheless, recent investigations
seem to prove that productivity of derivational means is relative in many
respects. Moreover there are no absolutely productive means; derivational
patterns and derivational affixes possess different degrees of productivity.
Therefore it is important that conditions favouring productivity and the degree
if productivity of a particular pattern or affix should be established. All
derivational patterns experience both structural and semantic constraints. The
fewer are the constraints, the higher is the degree of productivity, the
greater is the number of new words built on it. The two general constraints
imposed on all derivational patterns are: the part of speech in which the
pattern functions and the meaning attached to it which conveys the regular
semantic correlation between the two classes of words. It follows that each
part of speech is characterized by a set of productive derivational patterns
peculiar to it. Three degrees of productivity are distinguished for
derivational patterns and individual derivational affixes: (1) highly
productive, (2) productive or semi-productive and (3) non-productive.
R. S. Ginzburg
says that productivity of derivational patterns and affixes should not be
identified with the frequency of occurrence in speech, although there may be
some interrelation between then. Frequency of occurrence is characterized by
the fact that a great number of words containing a given derivational affix are
often used in speech, in particular in various texts. Productivity is
characterized by the ability of a given suffix to make new words.
In linguistic literature there is
another interpretation of derivational productivity based on a quantitative
approach. A derivational pattern or a derivational affix are qualified as
productive provided there are in the word-stock dozens and hundreds of derived
words built on the pattern or with the help of the suffix in question. Thus
interpreted, derivational productivity is distinguished from word-formation
activity by which is meant the ability of an affix to produce new words, in
particular occasional words or nonce-words. For instance, the agent suffix –er
is to be qualified both as a productive and as an active suffix: on the one hand,
the English word-stock possesses hundreds of nouns containing this suffix (e.g.
writer, reaper, lover, runner, etc.), on the other hand, the suffix –er
in the pattern v + –er à N is freely used to coin an unlimited number
of nonce-words denoting active agents (e.g. interrupter, respecter, laugher,
The adjective suffix –ful is
described as a productive but not as an active one, for there are hundreds of
adjectives with this suffix (e.g. beautiful, hopeful, useful, etc.), but
no new words seem to be built with its help.
For obvious reasons, the noun-suffix –th in terms of
this approach is to be regarded both as a non-productive and a non-active one.
Now let us consider the basic ways of
forming words in the English language.
Affixation is generally defined as the
formation of words by adding derivational affixes to different types of bases.
Derived words formed by affixation may be the result of one or several
applications of word-formation rule and thus the stems of words making up a
word-cluster enter into derivational relations of different degrees. The zero
degree of derivation is ascribed to simple words, i.e. words whose stem is
homonymous with a word-form and often with a root-morpheme (e.g. atom,
haste, devote, anxious, horror, etc.). Derived words whose bases are built
on simple stems and thus are formed by the application of one derivational
affix are described as having the first degree of derivation (e.g. atomic,
hasty, devotion, etc.). Derived words formed by two consecutive stages of
coining possess the second degree of derivation (e.g. atomical, hastily,
devotional, etc.), and so forth.
In conformity with the division of
derivational affixes into suffixes and prefixes affixation is subdivided into suffixation
and prefixation. Distinction is naturally made between prefixal and
suffixal derivatives according to the last stage of derivation, which
determines the nature of the immediate constituents of the pattern that signals
the relationship of the derived word with its motivating source unit, e.g. unjust
(un– + just), justify (just + –ify), arrangement
(arrange + –ment), non-smoker (non– + smoker). Words like reappearance,
unreasonable, denationalize, are often qualified as prefixal-suffixal
derivatives. R. S. Ginzburg
insists that this classification is relevant only in terms of the constituent
morphemes such words are made up of, i.e. from the angle of morphemic analysis.
From the point of view of derivational analysis, such words are mostly either
suffixal or prefixal derivatives, e.g. sub-atomic = sub– + (atom
+ –ic), unreasonable = un– + (reason + –able), denationalize = de– +
(national + –ize), discouragement = (dis– + courage) + –ment.
A careful study of a great many
suffixal and prefixal derivatives has revealed an essential difference between
them. In Modern English, suffixation is mostly characteristic of noun and
adjective formation, while prefixation is mostly typical of verb formation. The
distinction also rests on the role different types of meaning play in the
semantic structure of the suffix and the prefix. The part-of-speech meaning has
a much greater significance in suffixes as compared to prefixes which possess
it in a lesser degree. Due to it, a prefix may be confined to one part of
speech as, for example, enslave, encage, unbutton, or may function in
more that one part of speech as over– in overkind, overfeed,
overestimation. Unlike prefixes, suffixes as a rule function in any one
part of speech often forming a derived stem of a different part of speech as
compared with that of the base, e.g. careless – care; suitable – suit,
etc. Furthermore, it is necessary to point out that a suffix closely knit
together with a base forms a fusion retaining less of its independence that a
prefix which is as a general rule more independent semantically, e.g. reading
– ‘the act of one who reads’; ‘ability to read’; and to re-read – ‘to read
Prefixation is the formation of words with the
help of prefixes. The interpretation of the terms prefix and prefixation now firmly
rooted in linguistic literature has undergone a certain evolution. For
instance, some time ago there were linguists who treated prefixation as part of
word-composition (or compounding). The greater semantic independence of
prefixes as compared with suffixes led the linguists to identify prefixes with
the first component part of a compound word.
At present the majority of scholars
treat prefixation as an integral part of word-derivation regarding prefixes as
derivational affixes which differ essentially both from root-morphemes and
non-derivational prepositive morphemes. Opinion sometimes differs concerning
the interpretation of the functional status of certain individual groups of
morphemes which commonly occur as first component parts of words. H. Marchand,
for instance, analyses words like to overdo, to underestimate as
compound verbs, the first component of which are locative particles, not
prefixes. In a similar way he interprets words like income, onlooker,
outhouse qualifying them as compounds with locative particles as first
R. S. Ginzburg
states there are about 51 prefixes in the system of Modern English
Unlike suffixation, which is usually more closely bound
up with the paradigm of a certain part of speech, prefixation is considered to
be more neutral in this respect. It is significant that in linguistic
literature derivational suffixes are always divided into noun-forming,
adjective-forming and so on; prefixes, however, are treated differently. They
are described either in alphabetical order or sub-divided into several classes
in accordance with their origin,. Meaning or function and never according to
the part of speech.
Prefixes may be classified on
different principles. Diachronically distinction is made between prefixes of
native and foreign origin. Synchronically prefixes may be classified:
(1) According to the class of words they
preferably form. Recent investigations allow one to classify prefixes according
to this principle. It must be noted that most of the 51 prefixes of Modern
English function in more than one part of speech forming different structural
and structural-semantic patterns. A small group of 5 prefixes may be referred
to exclusively verb-forming (en–, be–, un–, etc.).
(2) As to the type of lexical-grammatical
character of the base they are added to into: (a) deverbal, e.g. rewrite,
outstay, overdo, etc.; (b) denominal, e.g. unbutton, detrain,
ex-president, etc. and (c) deadjectival, e.g. uneasy, biannual, etc.
It is interesting that the most productive prefixal pattern for adjectives is
the one made up of the prefix un– and the base built either on
adjectival stems or present and past participle, e.g. unknown, unsmiling,
(3) Semantically prefixes fall into mono–
(4) As to the generic denotational
meaning there are different groups that are distinguished in linguistic
literature: (a) negative prefixes such as un–, non–, in–, dis–, a–,
im–/in–/ir– (e.g. employment à unemployment, politician à non-politician, correct à incorrect, advantage à disadvantage, moral à amoral, legal à illegal, etc.); (b) reversative of privative
prefixes, such as un–, de–, dis–, dis– (e.g. tie à untie, centralize à decentralize, connect à disconnect, etc.); (c) pejorative prefixes,
such as mis–, mal–, pseudo– (e.g. calculate à miscalculate, function à malfunction, scientific à pseudo-scientific, etc.); (d) prefixes of time and
order, such as fore–, pre–, post–, ex– (e.g. see à foresee, war à pre-war, Soviet à post-Soviet, wife à ex-wife, etc.); (e) prefix of repetition re–
(e.g. do à redo, type à retype, etc.); (f) locative prefixes such
as super–, sub–, inter–, trans– (e.g. market à supermarket, culture à subculture, national à international, Atlantic à trans-Atlantic, etc.).
(5) When viewed from the angle of their
stylistic reference, English prefixes fall into those characterized by neutral
stylistic reference and those possessing quite a definite stylistic
value. As no exhaustive lexico-stylistic classification of English prefixes
has yet been suggested, a few examples can only be adduced here. There is no
doubt, for instance, that prefixes like un–, out–, over–, re–, under–
and some others can be qualified as neutral (e. g. unnatural, unlace,
outgrow, override, redo, underestimate, etc.). On the other hand, one can
hardly fail to perceive the literary-bookish character of such prefixes as pseudo–,
super–, ultra–, uni–, bi– and some others (e. g. pseudo-classical,
superstructure, ultra-violence, unilateral, bifocal, etc.).
comes across pairs of prefixes one of which is neutral, the other is
stylistically coloured. One example will suffice here: the prefix over–
occurs in all functional styles, the prefix super– is peculiar to
the style of scientific prose.
(6) Prefixes may be also
classified as to the degree of productivity into highly-productive,
productive and non-productive.
Suffixation is the formation of
words with the help of suffixes. Suffixes usually modify the lexical meaning
of the base and transfer words to a different part of speech. There are
suffixes however, which do not shift words from one part of speech into
another; a suffix of this kind usually transfers a word into a different
semantic group, e. g. a concrete noun becomes an abstract one, as is the case
with child—childhood, friend—friendship, etc.
Chains of suffixes
occurring in derived words having two and more suffixal morphemes are sometimes
referred to in lexicography as compound suffixes: –ably = –able + –ly
(e. g. profitably, unreasonably) –ical–ly = –ic + –al + –ly
(e. g. musically, critically); –ation = –ate + –ion (e. g.
fascination, isolation) and some others. Compound suffixes do not
always present a mere succession of two or more suffixes arising out of several
consecutive stages of derivation. Some of them acquire a new quality operating
as a whole unit. Let us examine from this point of view the suffix –ation
in words like fascination, translation, adaptation and the like. Adaptation
looks at first sight like a parallel to fascination, translation.
The latter however are first-degree derivatives built with the suffix –ion
on the bases fascinate–, translate–. But there is no base adaptate–,
only the shorter base adapt–. Likewise damnation,
condemnation, formation, information and many others
are not matched by shorter bases ending in –ate, but only by still
shorter ones damn–, condemn–, form–, inform–. Thus, the suffix –ation
is a specific suffix of a composite nature. It consists of two suffixes –ate
and –ion, but in many cases functions as a single unit in first-degree
derivatives. It is referred to in linguistic literature as a coalescent suffix
or a group suffix. Adaptation is then a derivative of the first
degree of derivation built with the coalescent suffix on the base adapt–.
Of interest is also the
group-suffix –manship consisting of the suffixes –man and
–ship. It denotes a superior quality, ability of doing something
to perfection, e. g. authormanship, quotemanship, lipmanship, etc.
It also seems appropriate
to make several remarks about the morphological changes that sometimes
accompany the process of combining derivational morphemes with bases. Although
this problem has been so far insufficiently investigated, some observations
have been made and some data collected. For instance, the noun-forming suffix –ess
for names of female beings brings about a certain change in the phonetic shape
of the correlative male noun provided the latter ends in –er, –or, e.g.
actress (actor), sculptress (sculptor), tigress (tiger), etc. It may be
easily observed that in such cases the sound [∂] is contracted in
the feminine nouns.
Further, there are
suffixes due to which the primary stress is shifted to the syllable immediately
preceding them, e.g. courageous (courage), stability (stable), investigation
(investigate), peculiarity (peculiar), etc. When added to a base
having the suffix –able/–ible as its component, the suffix –ity
brings about a change in its phonetic shape, namely the vowel [i] is
inserted between [b] and [l], e. g. possible à possibility, changeable
à changeability, etc. Some suffixes attract the primary stress on
to themselves, there is a secondary stress on the first syllable in words with
such suffixes, e. g. 'employ'ee (em'ploy), govern'mental (govern),
There are different
classifications of suffixes in linguistic literature, as suffixes may be
divided into several groups according to different principles:
(1) The first principle of
classification that, one might say, suggests itself is the part of speech
formed. Within the scope of the part-of-speech classification suffixes
naturally fall into several groups such as:
i.e. those forming or occurring in nouns, e. g. –er, –dom, –ness, –ation, etc.
(teacher, Londoner, freedom, brightness, justification, etc.);
b) adjective-suffixes, i.e.
those forming or occurring in adjectives, e. g. –able, –less, –ful, –ic,
–ous, etc. (agreeable, careless, doubtful, poetic, courageous, etc.);
c) verb-suffixes, i.e. those
forming or occurring in verbs, e. g. –en, –fy, –ize (darken, satisfy,
d) adverb-suffixes, i.e.
those forming or occurring in adverbs, e. g. –ly, –ward (quickly, eastward,
(2) Suffixes may also be
classified into various groups according to the lexico-grammatical character of
the base the affix is usually added to. Proceeding from this principle one may
divide suffixes into:
suffixes (those added to the verbal base), e. g. –er, –ing, –ment, –able, etc.
(speaker, reading, agreement, suitable, etc.);
b) denominal suffixes (those
added to the noun base), e. g. –less, –ish, –ful, –ist, –some, etc.
(handless, childish, mouthful, violinist, troublesome, etc.);
c) de-adjectival suffixes
(those affixed to the adjective base), e. g. –en, –ly, –ish, –ness, etc.
(blacken, slowly, reddish, brightness, etc.).
(3) A classification of
suffixes may also be based on the criterion of sense expressed by a set of
suffixes. Proceeding from this principle suffixes are classified into various
groups within the bounds of a certain part of speech. For instance, noun-suffixes
fall into those denoting:
agent of an action, e. g. –er, –ant (baker, dancer, defendant, etc.);
b) appurtenance, e. g. –an,
–ian, –ese, etc. (Arabian, Elizabethan, Russian, Chinese,
c) collectivity, e. g. –age,
–dom, –ery (–ry), etc. (freightage, officialdom, peasantry,
d) diminutiveness, e. g. –ie,
–let, –ling, etc. (birdie, girlie, cloudlet, squirreling,
(4) Still another
classification of suffixes may be worked out if one examines them from the
angle of stylistic reference. Just like prefixes, suffixes are also
characterized by quite a definite stylistic reference falling into two basic
characterized by neutral stylistic reference such as –able, –er, –ing,
neutral stylistic reference may occur in words of different lexico-stylistic
layers. As for suffixes of the second class they are restricted in use to quite
definite lexico-stylistic layers of words, in particular to terms, e.g. rhomboid,
asteroid, cruciform, cyclotron, synchrophasotron, etc.
(5) Suffixes are also
classified as to the degree of their productivity.
Distinction is usually
made between dead and living affixes. Dead affixes are described as those which are no longer felt in
Modern English as component parts of words; they have so fused with the base of
the word as to lose their independence completely. It is only by special
etymological analysis that they may be singled out, e. g. –d in dead,
seed, –le, –l, –el in bundle, sail, hovel; –ock in hillock; –lock
in wedlock; –t in flight, gift, height. It is quite
clear that dead suffixes are irrelevant to present-day English word-formation,
they belong in its diachronic study.
affixes may be easily singled out from a word, e. g. the noun-forming suffixes –ness,
–dom, –hood, –age, –ance, as in darkness, freedom, childhood,
marriage, assistance, etc. or the adjective-forming suffixes –en, –ous,
–ive, –ful, –y as in wooden, poisonous, active, hopeful, stony, etc.
all living derivational affixes of Modern English possess the ability to coin
new words. Some of them may be employed to coin new words on the spur of the
moment, others cannot, so that they are different from the point of view of
their productivity. Accordingly they fall into two basic classes — productive
and non-productive word-building affixes.
It has been
pointed out that linguists disagree as to what is meant by the productivity of
first approach all living affixes should be considered productive in varying
degrees from highly-productive (e. g. –er, –ish, –less, re–, etc.)
to non-productive (e. g. –ard, –cy, –ive, etc.).
it becomes important to describe the constraints imposed on and the factors
favouring the productivity of affixational patterns and individual affixes. The
degree of productivity of affixational patterns very much depends on the
structural, lexico-grammatical and semantic nature of bases and the meaning of
the affix. For instance, the analysis of the bases from which the suffix –ize
can derive verbs reveals that it is most productive with noun-stems,
adjective-stems also favour ifs productivity, whereas verb-stems and
adverb-stems do not, e. g. criticize (critic), organize (organ), itemize
(item), mobilize (mobile), localize (local), etc. Comparison of the
semantic structure of a verb in –ize with that of the base it is built
on shows that the number of meanings of the stem usually exceeds that of the
verb and that its basic meaning favours the productivity of the suffix –ize
to a greater degree than its marginal meanings, e. g. to characterize —
character, to moralize — moral, to dramatize — drama, etc.
of certain affixes as non-productive naturally also depends on the concept of
productivity. The current definition of non-productive derivational affixes as
those which cannot hg used in Modern English for the coining of new words is
rather vague and maybe interpreted in different ways. Following the definition
the term non-productive refers only to the affixes unlikely to be used for the
formation of new words, e. g. –ous, –th, fore– and some others (famous,
accepts the other concept of productivity mentioned above, then non-productive
affixes must be defined as those that cannot be used for the formation of
occasional words and, consequently, such affixes as –dom, –ship, –ful, –en,
–ify, –ate and many others are to be regarded as non-productive.
The theory of
relative productivity of derivational affixes is also corroborated by some
other observations made on English word-formation. For instance, different
productive affixes are found in different periods of the history of the
language. It is extremely significant, for example, that out of the seven
verb-forming suffixes of the Old English period only one has survived up to the
present time with a very low degree of productivity, namely the suffix –en
(e. g. to soften, to darken, to whiten).
affix may become productive in just one meaning because that meaning is
specially needed by the community at a particular phase in its history. This
may be well illustrated by the prefix de– in the sense of ‘undo what has
been done, reverse an action or process’, e. g. deacidify (paint spray),
decasualize (dock labour), decentralize (government or management), deration
(eggs and butter), de-reserve (medical students), desegregate (coloured
children), and so on.
there are cases when a derivational affix being nonproductive in the
non-specialized section of the vocabulary is used to coin scientific or
technical terms. This is the case, for instance, with the suffix –ance
which has been used to form some terms in Electrical Engineering, e. g. capacitance,
impedance, reactance. The same is true of the suffix –ity
which has been used to form terms in physics, and chemistry such as alkalinity,
luminosity, emissivity and some others.
Conversion, one of the principal
ways of forming words in Modern English is highly productive in replenishing
the English word-stock with new words. The term conversion, which some
linguists find inadequate, refers to the numerous cases of phonetic identity
of word-forms, primarily the so-called initial forms, of two words belonging to
different parts of speech. This may be illustrated by the following cases: work
— to work; love — to love; paper — to paper; brief — to brief, etc. As
a rule we deal with simple words, although there are a few exceptions, e.g. wireless
— to wireless.
It will be
recalled that, although inflectional categories have been greatly reduced in
English in the last eight or nine centuries, there is a certain difference on
the morphological level between various parts of speech, primarily between
nouns and verbs. For instance, there is a clear-cut difference in Modern
English between the noun doctor and the verb to doctor —
each exists in the language as a unity of its word-forms and variants, not as
one form doctor. It is true that some of the forms are identical
in sound, i.e. homonymous, but there is a great distinction between them, as
they are both grammatically and semantically different.
If we regard
such word-pairs as doctor — to doctor, water — to water, brief — to brief
from the angle of their morphemic structure, we see that they are all
root-words. On the derivational level, however, one of them should be referred
to derived words, as it belongs to a different part of speech and is understood
through semantic and structural relations with the other, i.e. is motivated by
it. Consequently, the question arises: what serves as a word-building means in
these cases? It would appear that the noun is formed from the verb (or vice
versa) without any morphological change, but if we probe deeper into the
matter, we inevitably come to the conclusion that the two words differ in the
paradigm. Thus it is the paradigm that is used as a word-building means. Hence,
we may define conversion as the formation of a new word through changes in its
necessary to call attention to the fact that the paradigm plays a significant
role in the process of word-formation in general and not only in the case of
conversion. Thus, the noun cooker (in gas-cooker) is formed from
the word to cook not only by the addition of the suffix –er, but also by
the change in its paradigm. However, in this case, the role played by the
paradigm as a word-building means is less obvious, as the word-building suffix
–er comes to the fore. Therefore, conversion is characterized not simply
by the use of the paradigm as a word-building means, but by the formation of a
new word solely by means of changing its paradigm. Hence, the change of
paradigm is the only word-building means of conversion. As a paradigm is a
morphological category conversion can be described as a morphological way of
Compounding or word-composition is one of
the productive types of word-formation in Modern
English. Composition like all other ways of deriving words has its own peculiarities
as to the means used, the nature of bases and their distribution, as to the
range of application, the scope of semantic classes and the factors conducive
has been mentioned elsewhere, are made up of two ICs which are both
derivational bases. Compound words are inseparable vocabulary units. They are
formally and semantically dependent on the constituent bases and the semantic
relations between them which mirror the relations between the motivating units.
The ICs of compound words represent bases of all three structural types. The
bases built on stems may be of different degree of complexity as, for example,
week-end, office-management, postage-stamp, aircraft-carrier,
fancy-dress-maker, etc. However, this complexity of structure of
bases is not typical of the bulk of Modern English compounds.
connection care should be taken not to confuse compound words with polymorphic
words of secondary derivation, i.e. derivatives built according to an affixal
pattern but on a compound stem for its base such as, e. g. school-mastership
([n + n] + suf), ex-housewife (prf + [n + n]), to weekend, to spotlight ([n
+ n] + conversion).
Structurally compound words are
characterized by the specific order and arrangement in which bases follow one
another. The order in which the two bases are placed within a compound is
rigidly fixed in Modern English and it is the second IC that makes the
head-member of the word, i.e. its structural and semantic centre. The
head-member is of basic importance as it preconditions both the
lexico-grammatical and semantic features of the first component. It is of interest
to note that the difference between stems (that serve as bases in compound
words) and word-forms they coincide with is most obvious in some
compounds, especially in compound adjectives. Adjectives like long, wide,
rich are characterized by grammatical forms of degrees of comparison
longer, wider, richer. The corresponding stems functioning as
bases in compound words lack grammatical independence and forms proper to the
words and retain only the part-of-speech meaning; thus compound adjectives
with adjectival stems for their second components, e. g. age-long, oil-rich,
inch-wide, do not form degrees of comparison as the compound adjective
oil-rich does not form them the way the word rich does,
but conforms to the general rule of polysyllabic adjectives and has analytical
forms of degrees of comparison. The same difference between words and stems is
not so noticeable in compound nouns with the noun-stem for the second
Phonetically compounds are also
marked by a specific structure of their own. No phonemic changes of bases occur
in composition but the compound word acquires a new stress pattern, different
from the stress in the motivating words, for example words key and
hole or hot and house each
possess their own stress but when the stems of these words are brought together
to make up a new compound word, 'keyhole — ‘a hole in a lock into
which a key fits’, or 'hothouse — ‘a heated building for growing
delicate plants’, the latter is given a different stress pattern — a unity
stress on the first component in our case. Compound words have three stress
high or unity stress on the first component as in 'honeymoon, 'doorway,
b) a double stress, with a
primary stress on the first component and a weaker, secondary stress on the
second component, e. g. 'blood-ֻvessel, 'mad-ֻdoctor, 'washing-ֻmachine,
not infrequent, however, for both ICs to have level stress as in, for instance,
'arm-'chair, 'icy-'cold, 'grass-'green, etc.
Graphically most compounds have two
types of spelling — they are spelt either solidly or with a hyphen. Both types
of spelling when accompanied by structural and phonetic peculiarities serve as
a sufficient indication of inseparability of compound words in contradistinction
to phrases. It is true that hyphenated spelling by itself may be sometimes
misleading, as it may be used in word-groups to emphasize their phraseological
character as in e. g. daughter-in-law, man-of-war, brother-in-arms or in
longer combinations of words to indicate the semantic unity of a string of
words used attributively as, e.g., I-know-what-you're-going-to-say
expression, we-are-in-the-know jargon, the young-must-be-right attitude.
The two types of spelling typical of compounds, however, are not rigidly
observed and there are numerous fluctuations between solid or hyphenated
spelling on the one hand and spelling with a break between the components on
the other, especially in nominal compounds of the n+n type. The spelling
of these compounds varies from author to author and from dictionary to
dictionary. For example, the words war-path, war-time, money-lender are
spelt both with a hyphen and solidly; blood-poisoning, money-order,
wave-length, war-ship— with a hyphen and with a break; underfoot,
insofar, underhand—solidly and with a break. It is noteworthy that new compounds
of this type tend to solid or hyphenated spelling. This inconsistency of
spelling in compounds, often accompanied by a level stress pattern (equally
typical of word-groups) makes the problem of distinguishing between compound
words (of the n + n type in particular) and word-groups especially difficult.
In this connection it
should be stressed that Modern English nouns (in the Common Case, Sg.) as has
been universally recognized possess an attributive function in which they are
regularly used to form numerous nominal phrases as, e. g. peace years,
stone steps, government office, etc. Such variable nominal phrases
are semantically fully derivable from the meanings of the two nouns and are
based on the homogeneous attributive semantic relations unlike compound words.
This system of nominal phrases exists side by side with the specific and numerous
class of nominal compounds which as a rule carry an additional semantic component
not found in phrases.
It is also important to
stress that these two classes of vocabulary units — compound words and free
phrases — are not only opposed but also stand in close correlative relations to
Semantically compound words are
generally motivated units. The meaning of the compound is first of all derived
from the combined lexical meanings of its components. The semantic peculiarity
of the derivational bases and the semantic difference between the base and the
stem on which the latter is built is most obvious in compound words. Compound
words with a common second or first component can serve as illustrations. The
stem of the word board is polysemantic and its multiple meanings
serve as different derivational bases, each with its own selective range for
the semantic features of the other component, each forming a separate set of
compound words, based on specific derivative relations. Thus the base board
meaning ‘a flat piece of wood square or oblong’ makes a set of compounds chess-board,
notice-board, key-board, diving-board, foot-board, sign-board; compounds
paste-board, cardboard are built on the base meaning ‘thick,
stiff paper’; the base board– meaning ‘an authorized body of men’,
forms compounds school-board, board-room. The same can be
observed in words built on the polysemantic stem of the word foot. For
example, the base foot– in foot-print, foot-pump, foothold,
foot-bath, foot-wear has the meaning of ‘the terminal part of the leg’, in
foot-note, foot-lights, foot-stone the base foot– has the meaning of
‘the lower part’, and in foot-high, foot-wide, footrule — ‘measure of
length’. It is obvious from the above-given examples that the meanings of the
bases of compound words are interdependent and that the choice of each is
delimited as in variable word-groups by the nature of the other IC of the word.
It thus may well be said that the combination of bases serves as a kind of
minimal inner context distinguishing the particular individual lexical meaning
of each component. In this connection we should also remember the significance
of the differential meaning found in both components which becomes especially
obvious in a set of compounds containing identical bases.
Compound words can be
described from different points of view and consequently may be classified
according to different principles. They may be viewed from the point of view:
(1) of general relationship
and degree of semantic independence of components;
(2) of the parts of speech
compound words represent;
(3) of the means of
composition used to link the two ICs together;
(4) of the type of ICs that
are brought together to form a compound;
(5) of the correlative
relations with the system of free word-groups.
From the point of view of
degree of semantic independence there are two types of relationship between
the ICs of compound words that are generally recognized in linguistic
literature: the relations of coordination and subordination, and accordingly
compound words fall into two classes: coordinative compounds (often
termed copulative or additive) and subordinative (often termed
compounds the two ICs are semantically equally important as in fighter-bomber,
oak-tree, girl-friend, Anglo-American. The constituent bases belong to the
same class and той often to the same semantic group. Coordinative compounds make up
a comparatively small group of words. Coordinative compounds fall into three
Reduplicative compounds which are made
up by the repetition of the same base as in goody-goody, fifty-fifty,
hush-hush, pooh-pooh. They are all only partially motivated.
b) Compounds formed by
joining the phonically variated rhythmic twin forms which either
alliterate with the same initial consonant but vary the vowels as in chit-chat,
zigzag, sing-song, or rhyme by varying the initial consonants as in clap-trap,
a walky-talky, helter-skelter. This subgroup stands very much apart. It is
very often referred to pseudo-compounds and considered by some linguists
irrelevant to productive word-formation owing to the doubtful morphemic status
of their components. The constituent members of compound words of this subgroup
are in most cases unique, carry very vague or no lexical meaning of their own,
are not found as stems of independently functioning words. They are motivated
mainly through the rhythmic doubling of fanciful sound-clusters.
Coordinative compounds of both subgroups (a, b) are
mostly restricted to the colloquial layer, are marked by a heavy emotive
charge and possess a very small degree of productivity.
bases of additive compounds such as a queen-bee, an actor-manager,
unlike the compound words of the first two subgroups, are built on stems of the
independently functioning words of the same part of speech. These bases often
semantically stand in the genus-species relations. They denote a person or an
object that is two things at the same time. A secretary-stenographer is
thus a person who is both a stenographer and a secretary, a
bed-sitting-room (a bed-sitter) is both a bed-room and a
sitting-room at the same time. Among additive compounds there is a specific
subgroup of compound adjectives one of ICs of which is a bound root-morpheme.
This group is limited to the names of nationalities such as Sino-Japanese,
Anglo-Saxon, Afro-Asian, etc.
Additive compounds of this group are mostly fully
motivated but have a very limited degree of productivity.
must be stressed that though the distinction between coordinative and subordinative
compounds is generally made, it is open to doubt and there is no hard and fast
border-line between them. On the contrary, the border-line is rather vague. It
often happens that one and the same compound may with equal right be
interpreted either way — as a coordinative or a subordinative compound, e. g. a
woman-doctor may be understood as ‘a woman who is at the same time a
doctor’ or there can be traced a difference of importance between the
components and it may be primarily felt to be ‘a doctor who happens to be a
woman’ (also a mother-goose, a clock-tower).
subordinative compounds the components are neither structurally nor
semantically equal in importance but are based on the domination of the
head-member which is, as a rule, the second IC. The second IC thus is the
semantically and grammatically dominant part of the word, which preconditions
the part-of-speech meaning of the whole compound as in stone-deaf, age-long which
are obviously adjectives, a wrist-watch, road-building, a baby-sitter
which are nouns.
compounds are viewed as words of different parts of speech. It is the
head-member of the compound, i.e. its second IC that is indicative of the
grammatical and lexical category the compound word belongs to.
are found in all parts of speech, but the bulk of compounds are nouns and
adjectives. Each part of speech is characterized by its set of derivational
patterns and their semantic variants. Compound adverbs, pronouns and
connectives are represented by an insignificant number of words, e. g. somewhere,
somebody, inside, upright, otherwise moreover, elsewhere, by means of, etc.
No new compounds are coined on this pattern. Compound pronouns and adverbs
built on the repeating first and second IC like body, ever, thing make
closed sets of words
On the whole
composition is not productive either for adverbs, pronouns or for connectives.
Verbs are of
special interest. There is a small group of compound verbs made up of the
combination of verbal and adverbial stems that language retains from earlier
stages, e. g. to bypass, to inlay, to offset. This type according
to some authors, is no longer productive and is rarely found in new compounds.
many polymorphic verbs that are represented by morphemic sequences of two
root-morphemes, like to weekend, to gooseflesh, to spring-clean, but
derivationally they are all words of secondary derivation in which the
existing compound nouns only serve as bases for derivation. They are often
termed pseudo-compound verbs. Such polymorphic verbs are presented by two
(1) verbs formed by means of
conversion from the stems of compound nouns as in to spotlight from a
spotlight, to sidetrack from a side-track, to handcuff from
handcuffs, to blacklist from a blacklist, to pinpoint from a
(2) verbs formed by
back-derivation from the stems of compound nouns, e. g. to baby-sit from
a baby-sitter, to playact from play-acting, to housekeep from
house-keeping, to spring-clean from spring-cleaning.
From the point of view of the means by which the components
are joined together, compound words may be classified into:
(1) Words formed by merely
placing one constituent after another in a definite order which thus is
indicative of both the semantic value and the morphological unity of the
compound, e. g. rain-driven, house-dog, pot-pie (as opposed to
dog-house, pie-pot). This means of linking the components is typical of the
majority of Modern English compounds in all parts of speech.
As to the
order of components, subordinative compounds are often classified as:
asyntactic compounds in which the
order of bases runs counter to the order in which the motivating words can be
brought together under the rules of syntax of the language. For example, in
variable phrases adjectives cannot be modified by preceding adjectives and
noun modifiers are not placed before participles or adjectives, yet this kind
of asyntactic arrangement is typical of compounds, e. g. red-hot,
bluish-black, pale-blue, rain-driven, oil-rich. The asyntactic order is
typical of the majority of Modern English compound words;
b) syntactic compounds whose
components are placed in the order that resembles the order of words in free
phrases arranged according to the rules of syntax of Modern English. The order
of the components in compounds like blue-bell, mad-doctor, blacklist (
a + n ) reminds one of the order and arrangement of the corresponding words
in phrases a blue bell, a mad doctor, a black list ( A + N ),
the order of compounds of the type door-handle, day-time, spring-lock
( n + n ) resembles the order of words in nominal phrases with
attributive function of the first noun ( N + N ), e. g. spring time,
stone steps, peace movement.
(2) Compound words whose ICs
are joined together with a special linking-element — the linking vowels
[ou] and occasionally [i] and the linking consonant [s/z] — which is indicative
of composition as in, for example, speedometer, tragicomic, statesman.
Compounds of this type can be both nouns and adjectives, subordinative and
additive but are rather few in number since they are considerably restricted by
the nature of their components. The additive compound adjectives linked with
the help of the vowel [ou] are limited to the names of nationalities and
represent a specific group with a bound root for the first component, e. g. Sino-Japanese,
subordinative adjectives and nouns the productive linking element is also [ou]
and compound words of the type are most productive for scientific terms. The
main peculiarity of compounds of the type is that their constituents are
nonassimilated bound roots borrowed mainly from classical languages, e. g. electro-dynamic,
filmography, technophobia, videophone, sociolinguistics, videodisc.
A small group
of compound nouns may also be joined with the help of linking consonant [s/z],
as in sportsman, landsman, saleswoman, bridesmaid. This small
group of words is restricted by the second component which is, as a rule, one
of the three bases man–, woman–, people–. The commonest of them is man–.
Compounds may be also
classified according to the nature of the bases and the interconnection with
other ways of word-formation into the so-called compounds proper and
Derivational compounds, e. g. long-legged,
three-cornered, a break-down, a pickpocket differ from compounds
proper in the nature of bases and their second IC. The two ICs of the compound
long-legged — ‘having long legs’ — are the suffix –ed meaning
‘having’ and the base built on a free word-group long legs whose
member words lose their grammatical independence, and are reduced to a single
component of the word, a derivational base. Any other segmentation of such
words, say into long– and legged– is impossible because
firstly, adjectives like *legged do not exist in Modern English
and secondly, because it would contradict the lexical meaning of these words.
The derivational adjectival suffix –ed converts this newly formed base into a
word. It can be graphically represented as long legs à [ (long–leg) + –ed]
à long–legged. The suffix –ed becomes the grammatically and
semantically dominant component of the word, its head-member. It imparts its
part-of-speech meaning and its lexical meaning thus making an adjective that
may be semantically interpreted as ‘with (or having) what is denoted by the
motivating word-group’. Comparison of the pattern of compounds proper like baby-sitter,
[ n + ( v + –er ) ] with the pattern of
derivational compounds like long-legged [ (a + n) + –ed ] reveals
the difference: derivational compounds are formed by a derivational means, a
suffix in case if words of the long-legged type, which is applied
to a base that each time is formed anew on a free word-group and is not
recurrent in any other type if words. It follows that strictly speaking words
of this type should be treated as pseudo-compounds or as a special group of
derivatives. They are habitually referred to derivational compounds because of
the peculiarity of their derivational bases which are felt as built by composition,
i.e. by bringing together the stems of the member-words of a phrase which lose
their independence in the process. The word itself, e. g. long-legged,
is built by the application of the suffix, i.e. by derivation and thus may
be described as a suffixal derivative.
Derivational compounds or
pseudo-compounds are all subordinative and fall into two groups according to
the type of variable phrases that serve as their bases and the derivational
compound adjectives formed with the help of the highly-productive adjectival suffix
–ed applied to bases built on attributive phrases of the A + N, Num + N,
N + N type, e. g. long legs, three corners, doll face. Accordingly
the derivational adjectives under discussion are built after the patterns [
(a + n ) + –ed], e. g. long-legged, flat-chested, broad-minded;
[ ( пит + n) + –ed], e. g. two-sided,
three-cornered; [ (n + n ) + –ed], e. g. doll-faced,
b) derivational compound nouns formed mainly by conversion applied
to bases built on three types of variable phrases — verb-adverb phrase,
verbal-nominal and attributive phrases.
The commonest type of
phrases that serves as derivational bases for this group of derivational
compounds is the V + Adv type of word-groups as in, for instance, a
breakdown, a breakthrough, a castaway, a layout. Semantically derivational
compound nouns form lexical groups typical of conversion, such as an act
or instance of the action, e. g. a holdup — ‘a
delay in traffic’' from to hold up — ‘delay, stop by use of force’; a
result of the action, e. g. a breakdown — ‘a failure in machinery
that causes work to stop’ from to break down — ‘become disabled’;
an active agent or recipient of the action, e. g. cast-offs
— ‘clothes that he owner will not wear again’ from to cast off — ‘throw
away as unwanted’; a show-off — ‘a person who shows off’ from to show
off — ‘make a display of one's abilities in order to impress people’.
Derivational compounds of this group are spelt generally solidly or with a
hyphen and often retain a level stress. Semantically they are motivated by
transparent derivative relations with the motivating base built on the
so-called phrasal verb and are typical of the colloquial layer of vocabulary.
This type of derivational compound nouns is highly productive due to the
productivity of conversion.
The semantic subgroup of
derivational compound nouns denoting agents calls for special mention. There is
a group of such substantives built on an attributive and verbal-nominal type of
phrases. These nouns are semantically only partially motivated and are marked
by a heavy emotive charge or lack of motivation and often belong to terms as,
for example, a kill-joy, a wet-blanket — ‘one who kills enjoyment’; a turnkey
— ‘keeper of the keys in prison’; a sweet-tooth — ‘a person who
likes sweet food’; a red-breast — ‘a bird called the robin’. The
analysis of these nouns easily proves that they can only be understood as the
result of conversion for their second ICs cannot be understood as their
structural or semantic centres, these compounds belong to a grammatical and
lexical groups different from those their components do. These compounds are
all animate nouns whereas their second ICs belong to inanimate objects. The
meaning of the active agent is not found in either of the components but is
imparted as a result of conversion applied to the word-group which is thus
turned into a derivational base.
These compound nouns are
often referred to in linguistic literature as "bahuvrihi"
compounds or exocentric compounds, i.e. words whose semantic head is outside
the combination. It seems more correct to refer them to the same group of
derivational or pseudo-compounds as the above cited groups.
This small group of
derivational nouns is of a restricted productivity, its heavy constraint lies
in its idiomaticity and hence its stylistic and emotive colouring.
The linguistic analysis
of extensive language data proves that there exists a regular correlation
between the system of free phrases and all types of subordinative (and
Correlation embraces both the structure and the meaning of compound words, it
underlies the entire system of productive present-day English composition
conditioning the derivational patterns and lexical types of compounds.
Randolph Quirk, Ian Svortik. Investigating Linguistic Acceptability.
Walter de Gruyter. Inc., 1966. P. 127-128.
Robins, R. H. A short history of linguistics. London: Longmans, 1967. P.
Henry Sweet, History of Language. Folcroft Library Editions,1876. P.
Zellig S. Harris, Structural Linguistics. University of Chicago Press,
1951. P. 255.
Leonard Bloomfield, Language. New York, 1933
Noam Avram Chomsky, Syntactic Structures. Berlin, 1957.
Ibidem, p. 15.
Ibidem, p. 4.
Ibidem, p. 11.
Ibidem, p. 10.
Jukka Pennanen, Aspects of Finnish Grammar. Pohjoinen, 1972. P. 293.
K. Zimmer, Levels of Linguistic Description. Chicago, 1964. P. 18.
A. Ross Eckler’s letters to Daria Abrossimova, 2001.
Kucera, H. & Francis, W. N. Computational analysis of present-day
American English. University Press of New England, 1967.
 Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English
Language. Random House Value Pub. 1996.
A. Ross Eckler’s letters to Daria Abrossimova, 2001.
Dmitri Borgmann. Beyond Language. Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1965.
 The Times Atlas of the World. Times Books. 1994.
 Rand McNally Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide. Rand
McNally & Co. 2000.
Prof. Smirnitsky calls them “potential words” in his book on English Lexicology
 Ginzburg R. A Course in Modern
English Lexicology. Moscow, 1979. P. 113.
Ibidem. P. 114-115.
 Marchand H. Studies in Syntax and Word-Formation. Munich, 1974.
 Ginzburg R. A Course in Modern
English Lexicology. Moscow, 1979. P. 115.
The spelling is given according to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary,
1956 and H.C. Wyld. The Universal English Dictionary, 1952.
Prof. A. I. Smirnitsky as far back as the late forties pointed out the rigid
parallelism existing between free word-groups and derivational compound
adjectives which he termed “grammatical compounds”.