Word-formation: some things to consider


Useful sources for reports:

Overview: Nevalainen’s chapter in volume 3 of the <I>Cambridge History of the English Language</I>; Barber’s Early Modern English; Gorlach’s Introduction to Early Modern English 7.5.

Data: OED under each affix (e.g., -ate, suffix3); Jespersen volume VI in a pinch; and especially <B>Marchand</B>.

See <A HREF=”6362book.htm”>the booklist</A> for more details.


How does a language extend its vocabulary? Mainly

·         borrowing

·         most important in 16th and 17th centuries (Nevalainen 351)

·         brought in new affixes as well as new words

·         its own resources: compounding, derivation (prefixes and suffixes)

·         now (and in OE) the most productive

·         modern English: compounds from classical elements that were never combined in classical times

·         Tyrannosaurus rex: Greek “tyrant” and “lizard”; Latin “king”


What is the difference between compounding and derivation?

·         compounds are formed from two free-standing words (“independent lexical items”): fleabite, bookseller (C16th)

·         derivation involves adding an affix to a free-standing word: non-toxic

·         prefixes tend to change meaning (toxic!)

·         suffixes tend to change word class (toxicity)

·         borderline: neo-classical formations like astronaut

·         can’t stand alone: electro-, -phile

·         but can form entire words: hydrophobe


Derivation in EModE:

·         it’s important to emphasize that “the most productive individual suffixes [were] native”: “-ness and –er produce the most nouns in the period 1500-1700. Similarly, -ed and –y are the most frequently attested adjective suffixes.” (Nevalainen 391, quoting Barber). Gorlach adds verbal noun –ing to the list (172).

·         verbs: EModE had inherited three productive native verb suffixes (-en) being one

·         usually with adjectives, e.g. glad

·         “to make”

·         “to become”

·         however, many prefixes and suffixes were “of foreign origin”:

·         EModE had generalized 3 non-native verb suffixes: -ate is one

·         indeed, in Early Modern English there was “a sharp increase in non-native elements as productive affixes”


What is productivity?

·         “the capacity of a word element ... to produce new words”

·         Maria’s Brian-iz-er

·         unputdownable

·         in contrast to the unproductive transparency of –th

·         recognize it as having formed abstract nouns like truth, warmth, growth, length, breadth, width

·         but the few new formations are jocular: coolth, thickth


How do foreign affixes become productive?

·         first, borrowed words appear that are complex, i.e. that contain affixes

·         I’m going to use –ate

·         -ate first appeared in Middle English in participial forms adapted from the second participle of the Latin first conjugation (creare “to create”, creatus “was created”; there were also related nouns like creatio, creationem, anglicized as –ation)

·         ex: “Man was create”

·         ex: “The opponents were separate”

·         cf. adjectives like inveterate, immediate

·         One theory for early lack of ed: reinforced by other paradigms with infinitives identical in form to participles or adjectives:

·         Romance words like clear: CLEAR the table so that it is CLEAR

·         Native verbs like cut: CUT the fabric so that it is CUT

·         Native verbs like dry: DRY the dishes so that they are DRY.

·         “after about 1400, appeared with other verb forms”, e.g. infinitives with causative meaning

·         ex: “He saw St Peter consecrate him king” (1387, supposed to be earliest instance of a full verb in ate)

·         the past participle consecrate is first attested around the same time

·         ex: “God will create man”

·         ex: “They will separate the opponents”

·         once there were enough pairs

·         you didn’t need to have the participle come in first

·         the present/infinitive form of the loanword can come first

·         the suffix ­­–ate  become morphologically transparent: base and a separate meaningful affix

·         you can make up new words within the language

·         usually then combines with borrowed bases

·         “from the sixteenth century onwards, used to form verbs from

·         Latin nominal stems: Latin pagina -> paginate; facility -> facilitate

·         and Romance bases: adjective vaccine (“vaccine disease, cow pox”) -> vaccinate

·         or from French vacciner (French –er || -ate)?

·         it’s usually impossible to tell whether new forms are in fact back-derivations from nouns in –ation, which are often older than the verb

·         e.g. is American orate back-formed from oration or directly taken from Latin orare

·         appears intermittently in OED since 1600 (earlier occasions more likely from Latin)

·         “I denounce the allegations and I denounce the allegators”

·         Why is this funny? (Back-forming allegate from allegation and then deriving allegator from it)

·         now many verbs that never existed in Latin

·         some not scientific:

·         hyphenate, orchestrate

·         very productive in scientific English

·         chlorinate, dehydrate

·         (likes to combine with de-): defibrilate

·         or in pseudo-scientific or slangy English

·         garburator (would have to back-form the verb)

·         absquatulate, discombobulate


What might block new formations?

·         existing synonyms “preemption by synonymy”) (McMahon 195): domestic blocks housely or housey; vernal blocks springly (Gorlach 172)

·         existing verbs in ify or ize might block new ones in ate: no edificate, deificate, pulverizate

·         weren’t necessarily such norms in EModE before dictionaries: verbs attested glad, gladden, englad, engladden and beglad (Gorlach 172)

·         phonological characteristics of the base form

·         we don’t usually make adverbs out of adjectives in –ly (friendlily tends to be avoided)