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CONVERSION IN PRESENT-DAY ENGLISH




Recent research suggests that this regular or patterned or mod­elled homonymy has some characteristic features: statistical data ob­tained at Leningrad University show, for example, that it regularly in­volves monosyllabic words of a simple morphological structure.

Conversion from suffixed and prefixed words, although quite pos­sible (c f. commission n : : commission v) is uncommon. This is easily accounted for, as a word of complete divisibility is already a member of certain structural correlations. There is, of course, no point in form­ing a verb from the noun arrival by conversion when there exists a verb of the same root, arrive.

As the percentage of root words among adjectives is smaller than in other parts of speech and as English adjectives mostly show a complex morphological structure, it is but seldom that they serve as basis for conversion.

On the other hand conversion may be considered to be the predomi­nant method of EnglfsTi verb-formatiom\ Actually, apart from the stand up type there are no competitive ways "as far as English verbs are con­cerned: composition is almost non-existent, prefixation extremely scarce. One might think of the denominal verbs with the suffixes -ate, -ify, -ize, but these are stylistically limited to learned and technical forma­tions.

One more debatable point has to be dealt with Prof. A.I. Smirnits-ky and his school consider the paradigm to be the only word-forming means of conversion. A.I. Smirnitsky sees conversion as a case where

1 See: Смирницкий А.И. Лексикология английского языка, с. 78 and other works by the same author.

2 Prof. I.P. Ivanova uses the term "modelled homonymy". See: Иванова И.П. О морфологической характеристике слова в современном английском языке// Проблемы морфологического строя германских языков. М., 1963.


a word is transferred from one paradigm to another and the paradigm is the only means at work. It is difficult to accept this view as it ignores the syntactic pattern which is in fact of great importance.

If we bear in mind that a new word coined in this way appears not in isolation but only in a definite environment of other words, we shall invariably come to the conclusion that conversion is a combined morphological and syntactic way of word-building.1

The following example will make it clear: // one struck lucky, one had a good buy (C.P. Snow). Here buy is a noun, because it occupies the position of a noun and possesses the syntactical ties of а пэип (it is pre­ceded by the indefinite article and modified by an adjective) and not because being used in the plural it would take the ending -s and so enter the paradigm of nouns. Actually in this case the linguist can go by what he has before him. E.g.: The bus stops. The conductor rips off the platform mid round to the front for a lean on the radiator and a quick drag with the driver.

Conversion here is partly usual and partly occasional.

Moreover, it is impossible to identify the paradigm in the isolated form. Having the form buys one cannot say whether it is the plural of a noun or the third person singular (Present Indefinite Tense) of a verb. Thus, even the paradigm can be recognized only on the evidence of dis­tribution, i.e. by contrasting formal arrangements. It is the context that shows whether a word is to be taken as a noun or as a verb.

In the humorous complaint: Why when quitting a taxi do I invaria­bly down the door handle when it should be upped, and up it wlien it should be downed? (O. Nash) the fact that down and up are verbs is signalled not by the possibility of upped and downed but by the syntactical function and syntactical ties.

It also seems illogical to introduce a paradigm in an argument about nonce-words or rare words when we have no proof that the word occurs in the other form involved in the corresponding paradigm. There seems no point in arguing for the probability of madamed or madams, although she madams everybody is acknowledged by the English as quite possible. Compare the following: When he saw who it was7 he condescended a sar­castic Thank you, but no Madam. He did not madam anybody, even good customers like Mrs Moore (M. Dickens).

Also, if the paradigm is accepted as the only word-building means in conversion, it necessarily follows that conversion does not exist for the parts of speech or separate words where either the prototype or the derived word possess no paradigm, i.e. do not change. What is, for ex­ample, the word-building pattern in the following pairs?

must v — must n why adv — why particle down adv — down a2

1 This point of view was firs.t expressed by Prof. V.N. Yartseva. See: Ярцева В.Н. К. вопросу об историческом развития системы языка // Вопросы теории и истории языка. М., 1952.

2 Жлуктенко Ю.А. Конверсия в современном английском языке как морфо-лого-синтаксический способ словообразования // Вопр. языкознания. 1958. № 5.

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These very numerous cases remain then completely out of the general system and there is no telling how they are to be classified.

As has been mentioned above, the bulk of words coined by means of conversion is constituted by verbs. Among them we find those corre­lating not only with nouns (the predominating pattern) but with adjec­tives, adverbs and other parts of speech as well.

Among verbs derived from adverbs and other parts of speech there are some that are firmly established in the English vocabulary: to down, to encore, to pooh-pooh.

This pattern is highly productive so that many neologisms can be quoted by way of illustration, e. g. to chair 'to preside over a meeting'; to campaign 'to organize a campaign': Communists in Newcastle are campaigning against rent increases ("Morning Star"). Other examples are: to microfilm *to make a photographic film of a document or a book, which can be enlarged in projection'; to screen 'to make a motion picture of a novel or play'; to star 'to appear, or to present as a star actor'; to wireless 'to send a message by wireless'; to orbit 'to travel in orbit, to put into orbit'.





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