Modern English Word-Formation

  The first principle of classification that, one might say, suggests itself is the part of speech formed. Within the scope

Modern English Word-Formation

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eutral stylistic reference such as able, er, ing, etc.;
  • those having a certain stylistic value such as old, i/form, aceous, tron, etc.
  • Suffixes with 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.


    1. 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.


    Living 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.


    However, not 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 derivational affixes.


    Following the 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.).


    Consequently 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.


    The treatment 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, depth, foresee).


    If one 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).


    A derivational 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.


    Furthermore, 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 paradigm.


    It is 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 forming words.


    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 to productivity.


    Compounds, as has been mentioned elsewhere, are made up of two ICs which are both derivational bases. Compound words are inseparabl

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