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Definition. Structure and meaning


Word compounding (word composition) is a universal way of deriving new words. It is also one of the most ancient, productive and active types of word-formation in English. About one-third of all derived words in modern English are compounds.


Word compounding is a kind of word-formation based on combining two immediate constituents (IC) where each is a derivational base.


Derivational bases in compounds may have different degrees of complexity: one or each of them may be simple as in snow+man, derived as in shoe+(make+er) or even compound as in water+(boat+man) ‘a pond-bug’. But most English compounds have two simple bases, or, from the point of view of morphological analysis, two roots as in water-gun or snow-man. In other Germanic languages the number of roots in a compound is very often more than two.


In many cases, lexical meaning of a compound may be derived from the combined lexical meaning of its components and the structural meaning of its distributional pattern.


Usually the second derivational base is more important and determines lexical, grammatical and part-of-speech meanings of the whole compound: hall-mark is a noun meaning ‘an official mark stamped on gold and silver articles in England’, half-baked is an adjective meaning ‘imperfectly baked, underdone’.


Compounds that have the same elements but differ in their distribution are different in lexical meaning, too (cf.: ring finger ‘the third finger on the left hand (or in some parts of the world, the right hand) and finger-ring ‘a ring to wear on a finger’; piano-player ‘a person who plays the piano’ and player piano a piano containing a mechanical instrument’, see also armchair and chair-arm).


The types of semantic relations between the compound components are not formally expressed: they have to be deduced from the context and individually interpreted. The most frequent types, however, are:

in/on (water-house, garden-party, summer-house, oil-rich);

for (gun-powder, tooth-brush, baby-sitter, space-craft);


resemblance (bell-flower, egg-head, snow-white, golf-fish);

be (oak-tree, black-board, she-cat);

do (rattle-snake, skyscraper, cry-baby).


There are also relations between the components that may be expressed by the words have (sand-beach,), cause (hay-fever), use (hand-writing), and some others, and they still do not exhaust all possible relations of the compound constituents. Variations of their interpretations are diverse, and interpretation of compounds requires knowledge of their constituents’ lexical meaning, of their structural pattern and general world knowledge. Water-bailiff, for example, has the meaning ‘a construction to prevent poaching on preserved stretch of river’, but water-battery ‘series of voltaic cells immersed in water’, water-colour ‘artist’s colour ground with water’, water-closet ‘sanitary convenience flushed by water’, water-fall ‘fall of water of a river’.


From this point of view, restrictions on their interpretation seem to be more interesting than listing their possibilities, but this kind of study has not been carried out yet.


The meaning of many compounds is quite transparent and may be easily deduced from the lexical meaning of their constituent parts and common knowledge about the relations of the concepts they stand for, as in the examples above. Nevertheless, many compounds have non-transparent meaning because along with morphological derivational processing of compounding the process of lexical-semantic derivation may take place there.


As a result of these processes the idiomaticity and unpredictability of a new word derived in this way becomes greater which requires much memorizing on the part of the learner. A green-bug, for example, is ‘a green aphid very destructive to small grains’, green dragon is ‘an American arum with digitate leaves, slender greenish yellow spathe, and elongated spandix’, greenroom is ‘a room in a theater or concert hall where actors or musicians relax before, between or after appearances’, green-heart is a ‘tropical South American evergreen tree with a hard somewhat greenish wood’. Apple-jack is ‘brandy distilled from cider’, apple-maggota two-winged fly whose larva burrows in and feeds esp. on apples’, and apple-polishto curry favour (as by flattery) [fr. the traditional practice of schoolchildren bringing a shiny apple as a gift to their teacher].


Still another reason for meaning unpredictability in a compound is polysemy of its source words. The basic meaning of a polysemantic word is most actively used in one of the derivational bases of a compound but any other its sense being a separate nominative unit may become a derivational base for a word. Thus, the derivational base green in the compound green finch ‘a very common European finch having olive-green and yellow plumage’ employs the central meaning of the adjective green: ‘of the colour green’. But green in greenhorn ‘an inexperienced or unsophisticated person’ [fr. obs greenhorn ‘an animal with young horns] is used in its minor, less common meaning which, however, exists in the semantic structure of the word green: ‘fresh, new, as in a green wound’. Green in greenhouse ‘a glassed enclosure for the cultivation or protection of tender plants’ uses its still another minor meaning, ‘relating to green plants, and usually edible herbage, as in green salad’.


The whole compound word, like any other lexical unit, simple or derived in any way, may be both mono- and polysemantic. The compound word magpie, for example, had only one meaning, ‘any of numerous birds relating to the jays’, but the word greenhouse has at least two of them ‘1. a glassed enclosure for the cultivation or protection of tender plants’, 2. a clear plastic shell covering a section in an airplane’.



Compounds and word groups


Though structurally and semantically many English compounds look like word groups, compounds are more ‘word-like’ than free syntactic phrases.


Compounds, unlike free syntactic phrases, are inseparable vocabulary units thatshould be specially learned and presented in a dictionary as a special entry or sub-entry. This inseparability is usually established by graphical, morphological, phonetic, or semantic criteria.


Graphically a compound is usually one orthographic word and may be spelled with a hyphen between its parts (grass-green, dog-biscuit, dog-collar) or solidly (Sunday, handbook, penman, schoolmaster).


But spelling does not provide an accurate guide to differentiation between compounds and word groups because many compounds are written like word combinations with a space: bus stop, post office, jugular vein, jam session, freezing point, plate glass. There are few hardfast rules concerning spelling compound words in English. Compound words similar in meaning may be spelled differently in the same dictionary, as in tooth-paste but tooth powder,baby carriage but baby-sitter [LDCE], penknife but pen-pocket [NND]. Futhermore, different authors may use different spellings of the same words (for example, word-formation and word formation). Even in different dictionaries one and the same word may be presented in a different way: grapefruit [LLCE] — grape-fruit [OALDCE] [WNCD] — grape-fruit, grapefruit [LDCE]; skateboard [LLCE] — skate-board [LDCE] [WNCD][OALDCE]; grass roots [WNCD][LDCE] — grass-roots [OALDCE]; see also war-path and warpath, dog-house and doghouse, snow-man and snowman,snow-flake and snowflake. Solid orthography of compounds is especially characteristic of American English.So, graphic criterion is not always helpful in determining a compound word.


Many scholars suggest that a particular stress patternshould be taken into consideration as a criterion for compounds. Phoneticallycompounds acquire a new stress pattern that is different from the stress in motivating words. Their first component may have a high stress (a ´hot-house, a ´key-hole, a ´doorway, ´ice-cream, ´common-wealth, ´common-place, a ´common-room), or a double stress with a primary stress on the first syllable (a ´washing- machine; a ´dancing- girl).


This criterion is not universal either because it is important only for pronunciation of forms in isolation. In a text there is a lot of variation in forms’ pronunciation. Even when pronounced in isolation some compounds may have two level stresses (´icy-`cold; ´grass-`green, in apple- pie `order) which may be observed in word combinations (cf.: common knowledge, common sense) or they may have a high stress on the last component ( grass-`roots, grass-`widow, apple-`sauce {US=`apple-sauce}) which is more characteristic of free word groups. So, though there is a certain consistency in a speech community in stressing compounds, in some cases the general rules do not determine the ‘wordness’ of a form.


Morphologically compounds make up one inseparable unit with a strict order of components and a new or single paradigm (cf.: rich — richer — the richest and oil-rich — more oil-rich, the most oil-rich; a shipwreck — shipwrecks, a week-end — week-ends). Elements within the compound cannot be reordered, for additional items cannot be inserted between them.


However, this criterion is not always reliable, especially in N-N compounds (paper-basket) and similar structures with attributive noun use as in stone wall. In both cases the order of components is strict and the first noun component in the singular form does not display its usual paradigmatic forms (for e.g. in this construction it may not be used in plural).

Semantic criterion seems to be more valuable and has wider applicability. Semantically compounds differ from nominal phrases like peace years orstone wall because they usually carry additional idiomatic semantic component (a player piano ‘a piano that is played by machinery, the music being controlled by a piece of paper’, laughing-gas ‘gas which may cause laughter when breathed in, used for producing unconsciousness, esp. during short operations for removing teeth’, fiddle-sticks interj ‘Nonsense! How silly!’). Such components are usually not found in free phrases.


When the additional idiomatic component is very important or prevails in the lexical meaning of a compound, the latter may be considered to be partially motivated as in handcuffs,a flower-bed, laughing-gas, grass-roots or completely demotivated as in grass-widow,wet-blanket,fiddle-sticks.These compounds are very close to idioms, can hardly be differentiated from them, and often are presented in dictionaries of idioms with such word groups as red tape or small hours (see Chapter 6).


When this additional idiomatic component is minimal as in girl-friend or icy-cold, the compound may be regarded as fully motivated. The meaning of the whole unit may be deduced from the meaning of its constituent parts and their arrangement. Such compounds are most closely related to free word combinations.


So, there is not a single criterion that will distinguish compounds and word groups in English. This is especially the case with regards to fully motivated nominal compounds like girl-friend,dish cloth and nominal phrases corresponding to an of-phrase that have developed some referential unity, as in stone wall or life story. Yet, the phonological, syntactic and semantic features of compounds, especially when they work simultaneously, act like a binding force and make them distinct from phrases.



Classification of compounds


Classification of compounds may be done according to various principles.


1. First of all, from the derivational point of view one should distinguish between compounds proper that are made up of two derivational bases (sauce+pan) and derivational, or pseudo-compounds,that look like compounds only on the morphological level because they have more than one root but are derived by conversion, affixation, back-formation and other name derivational processes (a break-down, a pickpocket, long-legged).


Derivational compounds are further subdivided into three groups: derivational compound nouns, derivational compound adjectives and derivational compound verbs.


Derivational compound n o u n sare usually built by conversion on the basis of so-called phrasal verbs: cast-offs from to cast off,a break-through from to break through, by substantivization of a phrase often accompanied by productive suffixation as in(six inch-)+-er, (two deck-)+-er, or by prefixation applied to a compound derivational base as in ex-+(house+wife).

Many scholars believe that completely demotivated compounds like fiddle-sticks, grass-widow,scape-goat should also be referred to this group because their meaning is completely different from the lexical meanings of their constituents. They are believed to be the final results of lexical-semantic derivation.

Derivational compound a d j e c t i v e sare built by suffixation applied to a free word group reduced to a stem: (broad shoulder-)+-ed; (heart shape-)+-ed or by adjectivalization (cleanup adj from clean-up n from clean up v; apple-pie adj ‘of, relating to, or characterized by traditionally American values (as honesty or simplicity)’ (from the noun apple-pie).

Derivational compound v e r b sare created by means of conversion applied to a compound derivational base: to weekend from a week-end or by means of back-derivation applied to a compound derivational base where one of the IC is a suffixational derivative: to babysit from a baby-sitter, to dryclean from dry-cleaning.


2. Classification of compounds may also be done according to the part of speech they belong to.


In modern English word composition is mainly characteristic ofnouns(sunbeam, Sunday, sunshine). The most common patterns for noun compounds are: n+nN (ice-cream) and adj+nN(blackboard, software). Noun compounds may also be the result of compounding adverbial and nominal stems adv+n→N as in after-thought, back-talk. Compound nouns with a verb as the first or the second component (v+nNas insearchlight, or n+v→N as in sunshine) take place in English, too, though it is not quite clear whether it is really a verb or a converted noun.


Word composition in modern English is widespread among adjectives,too. The most common type of compound adjectives is the combination of two derivational bases: nominal and adjectival (n+adjAdj): airtight, life-long, stone-deaf, foolproof, and sugarfree.


There are also many other different patterns according to which compound adjectives may be derived: composition of two adjectival bases (adj+adj→Adj) as in deaf-mute, bitter-sweet, of nominal and participial bases (n+Ving/edAdj)as inpeace-loving, dog-tired, man-made, of adjectival and participial (adj+Ving/edAdj)as in hard-working, double-ended, or even adverbial and participial bases (adv+Ving/edAdj)as in well-read, over-qualified. But verbs do not combine with adjectives in English compounds.


Composition is not characteristic of modern English pronouns, though historical traces of former word composition processes are still observed there (somebody, anywhere, nothing, oneself).


In modern English verb composition does not occur nowadays, though it was quite common in the past and was effected by compounding adverbial and verbal stems: outgrow, offset, inlay. Verbs that look like compounds are usually the result of other derivational processes like conversion (to honeymoon, to snowball) and back-derivation (to proofread, to baby-sit, to dry-clean). Some verbs such as toapple-polish vi ‘to attempt to ingratiate oneself’ and vt ‘to curry favour with (as by flattery) are condensed and lexicalized expressions rather than derived words by composition. As with an idiom, we need to recall the verb’s original usage to understand its contemporary meaning. As it is stated in the dictionary of etymology, the verb appeared from the traditional practice of school children bringing a shiny apple as a gift to their teacher. So, in the case of verbs we usually deal with pseudo-compounds,orderivational compounds.


3. Semantically,compounds are divided into:

endocentric, or subordinative,where the second element is the head and hyperonym for the compound: sunshine, airtight, blackboard (they make up the bulk of modern English compounds);

— exocentric(orbahuvrihi) where neither the first nor the second element is the head or a hyperonym of a compound. This includes derivated compound nouns fiddle-sticks, grass-widow,scape-goat with the least degree of semantic motivation;

— coordinative, or copulative,(or dvandva), where both the derivational bases are equally important. They are subdivided into: r e d u p l i c a t i v e: fifty-fifty, hush-hush; p h o n e t i c a l l y v a r i e d r h y t h m i c t w i n f o r m s: chit-chat, zig-zag, a walkie-talkie; a d d i t i v e: girl-friend, sofa-bed,oak-tree, Anglo-American.

4. Compounds may be classified according to the means of composition into:

1) those without linking elements that are formed by merely placing one base after another; they are subdivided into:

a) s y n t a c t i c compounds that do not violate syntax laws of word combining in English: house-dog, day-time, a red-breast, a baby-sitter; and

b) a s y n t a c t i c compounds in which the order of constituents violates syntax laws in English: oil-rich,power-driven, early-riser;

2) those with a linking element o (most characteristic of scientific terms), i,ors (not productive in modern English): Anglo-Saxon, sociolinguistics, handicraft, sportsman.

5. Compounds may also be classified according to the part-of-speech meaning of their derivational bases. There are:

nominalcompounds with n+n bases: windmill;

nominal-verbal compounds built according to the patterns n+(v+-er) bottle-opener, n+(v+-ing) police-making, n+(v+-tion/ment) though the second element is seldom or never used in modern English as a free form, office-management, n+(v+conversion) dog-bite;

nominal-adjectivalwith the pattern n+adj: snow-white;

adjectival-nominal with the pattern adj+n: blackboard;

adverbial-verbal bases: outgrow, offset, inlay

verbal-adverbial (v + adv) + conversion: a break-down; and some others.


6. Compounds may also be classified according to the structure and semantics of free word groups with which they correlate. For example, the structural pattern of a compound noun n+n correlates with various verbal-nominal word groups of the V+N type (subject+verb, or verb+object) (to make image): ‘the one who makes image’ is an image-maker or ‘the result or process of making image’ is image-making.


7. A special type of compounds such as telegram, telephone, astronaut, aerophones is called neoclassical.In these compounds differentelements from classical languages Latin or Greek acting as roots and derivational bases combine with each other forming new words (see Classification of morphemesabove in this chapter).


Manynew words are created when elements that started out as segments in blends become combining forms making the new words look like compounds or at least a suffixal derivative: rice-a-rony,sport-a-rama, plant-o-rama, porn-o-topia, work-o-holic. This is especially common in advertising and commerce.


Compounds should not be mixed up with word groups of phraseological character like mother-in-law, brother-in-arms, bread-and-butter, milk-and-water, or longer combinations of words in attributive function that for stylistic purposes may be treated like unities and thus hyphenated: the-young-must-be-right attitude, the nothing-buts of his statements.These constructions are neither compounds nor phraseological units. They are usually treated as a result of lexicalization of syntactic structures (see also ‘Compression’ in ‘Minor types of word-formation’).



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