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Конверсия, подходы к изучению конверсии, диахронический и синхронический подходы к проблеме конверсии

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 is fairly obvious that in the case of a noun and a verb not only are the so-called initial forms (i.e. the infinitive and the common case singular) phonetically identical, but all the other noun forms have their homonyms within the verb paradigm, cf. (my) work [wэ:k]) — (I) work [wэ:k]; (the) dog’s [dogz] (head)(many) dogs [dogz] — (he) dogs [dogz], etc.

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 characterised not simply by the use of the paradigm as a word-building means, but by the formation of a new word sоlelу 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. The following indisputable cases of conversion have bееn discussed in linguistic literature:

1. formation of verbs from nouns and more rarely from other parts of speech, and

2. formation of nouns from verbs and rarely from other parts of speech.

Opinion differs on the possibility of creating adjectives from nouns through conversion. In the so-called “stone wall” complexes the first members are regarded by some linguists as adjectives formed from the corresponding noun-stems by conversion, or as nouns in an attributive function by others, or as substantival stems by still others so that the whole combination is treated as a compound word. In our treatment of conversion on the pages that follow we shall be mainly concerned with the indisputable cases, i.e. deverbal substantives and denominal verbs.

Conversion has been the subject of a great many linguistic discussions since 1891 when H. Sweet first used the term in his New English Grammar. Various opinions have been expressed on the nature and character of conversion in the English language and different conceptions of conversion have been put forward.

The treatment of conversion as a morphological way of forming words accepted in the present book was suggested by the late Prof. A. I. Smirnitsky in his works on the English language.

Other linguists sharing, on the whole, the conception of conversion as a morphological way of forming words disagree, however, as to what serves here as a word-building means. Some of them define conversion as a non-affixal way of forming words pointing out that the characteristic feature is that a certain stem is used for the formation of a different word of a different part of speech without a derivational affix being added. Others hold the view that conversion is the formation of new words with the help of a zero-morpheme.

The treatment of conversion as a non-affixal word-formation process calls forth some criticism, it can hardly be accepted as adequate, for it fails to bring out the specific means making it possible to form, for instance, a verb from a noun without adding a derivational affix to the base. Besides, the term a non-affixal word-formation process does not help to distinguish between cases of conversion and those of sound-interchange, e.g. to sing — song; to feed — food; full — to fill, etc. which lie outside the scope of word-formation in Modern English.

The conception of conversion as derivation with a zero-morpheme, however, merits attention. The propounders of this interpretation of conversion rightly refer to some points of analogy between affixation and conversion. Among them is similarity of semantic relations between a derived word and its underlying base, on the one hand, and between words within a conversion pair, e.g.:

1. action — doer of the action: to walk — a walker (affixation) to tramp — a tramp (conversion);

2. action — result of the action: to agree — agreement (affixation), to find — a find (conversion), etc.

They also argue that as the derivational complexity of a derived word involves a more complex semantic structure as compared with that of the base, it is but logical to assume that the semantic complexity of a converted word should manifest itself in its derivational structure, even though in the form of a zero derivational affix.

There are also some other arguments in favour of this interpretation of conversion, which for lack of space cannot be considered here. If one accepts this conception of conversion, then one will have to distinguish between two types of derivation in Modern English: one effected by employing suffixes and prefixes, the other by using a zero derivational affix.

There is also a point of view on conversion as a morphological-syntactic word-building means,1 for it involves, as the linguists sharing this conception maintain, both a change of the paradigm and a change of the syntactic function of the word, e.g. I need some good paper for my rooms and He is papering his room. It may be argued, however, that as the creation of a word through conversion necessarily involves the formation of a new word-stem, a purely morphological unit, the syntactic factor is irrelevant to the processes of word-formation proper, including conversion.

Besides, there is also a purely syntactic approach commonly known as a functional approach to conversion. Certain linguists and lexicographers especially those in Great Britain and the USA are inclined to regard conversion in Modern English as a kind of functional change. They define conversion as a shift from one part of speech to another contending that in Modern English a word may function as two different parts of speech at the same time. If we accept this point of view, we should logically arrive at the conclusion that in Modern English we no longer distinguish between parts of speech, i.e. between noun and verb, noun and adjective, etc., for one and the same word cannot simultaneously belong to different parts of speech. It is common knowledge, however, that the English word-stock is subdivided into big word classes each having its own semantic and formal features. The distinct difference between nouns and verbs, for instance, as in the case of doctor — to doctor discussed above, consists in the number and character of the categories reflected in their paradigms. Thus, the functional approach to conversion cannot be justified and should be rejected as inadequate.

Diachronic Approach

A diachronic survey of the present-day stock of conversion pairs reveals, however, that not all of them have been created on the semantic patterns just referred to. Some of them arose as a result of the disappearance of inflections in the course of the historical development of the English language due to which two words of different parts of speech, e.g. a verb and a noun, coincided in pronunciation. This is the case with such word-pairs, for instance, as love n (OE. lufu) — love v (OE. lufian); work n (OE. wēōrc) — work v (OE. wyrcan); answer n (OE. andswaru) — answer v (OE. andswarian) and many others. For this reason certain linguists consider it necessary to distinguish between homonymous word-pairs which appeared as a result of the loss of inflections and those formed by conversion. The term conversion is applied then only to cases like doctor n — doctor v; brief a — brief v that came into being after the disappearance of inflections, word-pairs like work n — work v being regarded exclusively as cases of homonymy.

Other linguists share Prof. Smirnitsky’s views concerning discrimination between conversion as a derivational means and as a type of word-building relations between words in Modern English. Synchronically in Modern English there is no difference at all between cases like taxi n — taxi v and cases like love n — love v from the point of view of their morphological structure and the word-building system of the language. In either case the only difference between the two words is that of the paradigm: the historical background is here irrelevant. It should be emphatically stressed at this point that the present-day derivative correlations within conversion pairs do not necessarily coincide with the etymological relationship. For instance, in the word-pair awe n — awe v the noun is the source, of derivation both diachronically and synchronically, but it is quite different with the pair mould v — mould n: historically the verb is the derived member, whereas it is the other way round from the angle of Modern English (cf. the derivatives mouldable, moulding, moulder which have suffixes added to verb-bases).

A diachronic semantic analysis of a conversion pair reveals that in the course of time the semantic structure of the base may acquire a new meaning or several meanings under the influence of the meanings of the converted word. This semantic process has been termed reconversion in linguistic literature. There is an essential difference between conversion and reconversion: being a way of forming words conversion leads to a numerical enlargement of the English vocabulary, whereas reconversion only brings about a new meaning correlated with one of the meanings of the converted word. Research has shown that reconversion only operates with denominal verbs and deverbal nouns. As an illustration the conversion pair smoke n — smoke v may be cited.

Synchronic approach

Synchronically we deal with pairs of words related through conversion that coexist in contemporary English. The two words, e.g. to break and a break, being phonetically identical, the question arises whether they have the same or identical stems, as some linguists are inclined to believe. It will be recalled that the stem carries quite a definite part-of-speech meaning; for instance, within the word-cluster to dress — dress — dresser — dressing — dressy, the stem dresser — carries not only the lexical meaning of the root-morpheme dress-, but also the meaning of substantivity, the stem dressy- the meaning of quality, etc. These two ingredients — the lexical meaning of the root-morpheme and the part-of-speech meaning of the stem — form part of the meaning of the whole word. It is the stem that requires a definite paradigm; for instance, the word dresser is a noun primarily because it has a noun-stem and not only because of the noun paradigm; likewise, the word materialise is a verb, because first and foremost it has a verbal stem possessing the lexico-grammatical meaning of process or action and requiring a verb paradigm.

What is true of words whose root and stem do not coincide is also true of words with roots and stems that coincide: for instance, the word atom is a noun because of the substantival character of the stem requiring the noun paradigm. The word sell is a verb because of the verbal character of its stem requiring the verb paradigm, etc. It logically follows that the stems of two words making up a conversion pair cannot be regarded as being the same or identical: the stemhand- of the noun hand, for instance, carries a substantival meaning together with the system of its meanings, such as:

1. the end of the arm beyond the wrist;

2. pointer on a watch or clock;

3. worker in a factory;

4. source of information, etc.;

the stem hand- of the verb hand has a different part-of-speech meaning, namely that of the verb, and a different system of meanings:

1. give or help with the hand,

2. pass, etc.

Thus, the stems of word-pairs related through conversion have different part-of-speech and denotational meanings. Being phonetically identical they can be regarded as homonymous stems.

A careful examination of the relationship between the lexical meaning of the root-morpheme and the part-of-speech meaning of the stem within a conversion pair reveals that in one of the two words the former does not correspond to the latter. For instance, the lexical meaning of the root-morpheme of the nounhand corresponds to the part-of-speech meaning of its stem: they are both of a substantival character; the lexical meaning of the root-morpheme of the verbhand, however, does not correspond to the part-of-speech meaning of the stem: the root-morpheme denotes an object, whereas the part-of-speech meaning of the stem is that of a process. The same is true of the noun fall whose stem is of a substantival character (which is proved by the noun paradigm fall — falls — fall’s — falls’, whereas the root-morpheme denotes a certain process.

It will be recalled that the same kind of non-correspondence is typical of the derived word in general. To give but two examples, the part-of-speech meaning of the stem blackness — is that of substantivity, whereas the root-morpheme black- denotes a quality; the part-of-speech meaning of the stem eatable- (that of qualitativeness) does not correspond to the lexical meaning of the root-morpheme denoting a process. It should also be pointed out here that in simple words the lexical meaning of the root corresponds to the part-of-speech meaning of the stem, cf. the two types of meaning of simple words like black a, eat v, chair n, etc. Thus, by analogy with the derivational character of the stem of a derived word it is natural to regard the stem of one of the two words making up a conversion pair as being of a derivational character as well. The essential difference between affixation and conversion is that affixation is characterised by both semantic and structural derivation (e.g. friend — friendless, dark — darkness, etc.), whereas conversion displays only semantic derivation, i.e. hand — to hand, fall — to fall, taxi — to taxi, etc.; the difference between the two classes of words in affixation is marked both by a special derivational affix and a paradigm, whereas in conversion it is marked only by paradigmatic forms.


Типичные семантические отношения между членами конвертируемых пар (синхронический подход)

As one of the two words within a conversion pair is semantically derived from the other, it is of great theoretical and practical importance to determine the semantic relations between words related through conversion. Summing up the findings of the linguists who have done research in this field we can enumerate the following typical semantic relations.

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