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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e 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.


In this 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 component.


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 patterns:


  1. a high or unity stress on the first component as in 'honeymoon, 'doorway, etc.
  2. 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, etc.
  3. It is 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, underhandsolidly 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 each other.


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 determinative).


In coordinative 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. Coord

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