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Modern English Word-Formation



In linguistic literature there is another interpretation of derivational productivity based on a quantitative approach. A derivational pattern or a derivational affix are qualified as productive provided there are in the word-stock dozens and hundreds of derived words built on the pattern or with the help of the suffix in question. Thus interpreted, derivational productivity is distinguished from word-formation activity by which is meant the ability of an affix to produce new words, in particular occasional words or nonce-words. For instance, the agent suffix er is to be qualified both as a productive and as an active suffix: on the one hand, the English word-stock possesses hundreds of nouns containing this suffix (e.g. writer, reaper, lover, runner, etc.), on the other hand, the suffix er in the pattern v + er à N is freely used to coin an unlimited number of nonce-words denoting active agents (e.g. interrupter, respecter, laugher, breakfaster, etc.).


The adjective suffix ful is described as a productive but not as an active one, for there are hundreds of adjectives with this suffix (e.g. beautiful, hopeful, useful, etc.), but no new words seem to be built with its help.


For obvious reasons, the noun-suffix th in terms of this approach is to be regarded both as a non-productive and a non-active one.


Now let us consider the basic ways of forming words in the English language.


Affixation is generally defined as the formation of words by adding derivational affixes to different types of bases. Derived words formed by affixation may be the result of one or several applications of word-formation rule and thus the stems of words making up a word-cluster enter into derivational relations of different degrees. The zero degree of derivation is ascribed to simple words, i.e. words whose stem is homonymous with a word-form and often with a root-morpheme (e.g. atom, haste, devote, anxious, horror, etc.). Derived words whose bases are built on simple stems and thus are formed by the application of one derivational affix are described as having the first degree of derivation (e.g. atomic, hasty, devotion, etc.). Derived words formed by two consecutive stages of coining possess the second degree of derivation (e.g. atomical, hastily, devotional, etc.), and so forth.


In conformity with the division of derivational affixes into suffixes and prefixes affixation is subdivided into suffixation and prefixation. Distinction is naturally made between prefixal and suffixal derivatives according to the last stage of derivation, which determines the nature of the immediate constituents of the pattern that signals the relationship of the derived word with its motivating source unit, e.g. unjust (un + just), justify (just + ify), arrangement (arrange + ment), non-smoker (non + smoker). Words like reappearance, unreasonable, denationalize, are often qualified as prefixal-suffixal derivatives. R. S. Ginzburg[22] insists that this classification is relevant only in terms of the constituent morphemes such words are made up of, i.e. from the angle of morphemic analysis. From the point of view of derivational analysis, such words are mostly either suffixal or prefixal derivatives, e.g. sub-atomic = sub + (atom + ic), unreasonable = un + (reason + able), denationalize = de + (national + ize), discouragement = (dis + courage) + ment.


A careful study of a great many suffixal and prefixal derivatives has revealed an essential difference between them. In Modern English, suffixation is mostly characteristic of noun and adjective formation, while prefixation is mostly typical of verb formation. The distinction also rests on the role different types of meaning play in the semantic structure of the suffix and the prefix. The part-of-speech meaning has a much greater significance in suffixes as compared to prefixes which possess it in a lesser degree. Due to it, a prefix may be confined to one part of speech as, for example, enslave, encage, unbutton, or may function in more that one part of speech as over in overkind, overfeed, overestimation. Unlike prefixes, suffixes as a rule function in any one part of speech often forming a derived stem of a different part of speech as compared with that of the base, e.g. careless care; suitable suit, etc. Furthermore, it is necessary to point out that a suffix closely knit together with a base forms a fusion retaining less of its independence that a prefix which is as a general rule more independent semantically, e.g. reading the act of one who reads; ability to read; and to re-read to read again.


Prefixation is the formation of words with the help of prefixes. The interpretation of the terms prefix and prefixation now firmly rooted in linguistic literature has undergone a certain evolution. For instance, some time ago there were linguists who treated prefixation as part of word-composition (or compounding). The greater semantic independence of prefixes as compared with suffixes led the linguists to identify prefixes with the first component part of a compound word.


At present the majority of scholars treat prefixation as an integral part of word-derivation regarding prefixes as derivational affixes which differ essentially both from root-morphemes and non-derivational prepositive morphemes. Opinion sometimes differs concerning the interpretation of the functional status of certain individual groups of morphemes which commonly occur as first component parts of words. H. Marchand[23], for instance, analyses words like to overdo, to underestimate as compound verbs, the first component of which are locative particles, not prefixes. In a similar way he interprets words like income, onlooker, outhouse qualifying them as compounds with locative particles as first elements.


R. S. Ginzburg[24] states there are about 51 prefixes in the system of Modern English word-formation.


Unlike suffixation, which is usually more closely bound up with the paradigm of a certain part of speech, prefixation is considered to be more neutral in this respect. It is significant that in linguistic literature derivational suffixes are always divided into noun-forming, adjective-forming and so on; prefixes, however, are treated differently. They are described either in alphabetical order or sub-divided into several classes in accordance with their origin,. Meaning or function and never according to the part of speech.


Prefixes may be classified on different principles. Diachronically distinction is made between prefixes of native and foreign origin. Synchronically prefixes may be classified:


(1)  According to the class of words they preferably form. Recent investigations allow one to classify prefixes according to this principle. It must be noted that most of the 51 prefixes of Modern English function in more than one part of speech forming different structural and structural-semantic patterns. A small group of 5 prefixes may be referred to exclusively verb-forming (en, be, un, etc.).


(2)  As to the type of lexical-grammatical character of the base they are added to into: (a) deverbal, e.g. rewrite, outstay, overdo, etc.; (b) denominal, e.g. unbutton, detrain, ex-president, etc. and (c) deadjectival, e.g. uneasy, biannual, etc. It is interesting that the most productive prefixal pattern for adjectives is the one made up of the prefix un and the base built either on adjectival stems or present and past participle, e.g. unknown, unsmiling, untold, etc.


(3)  Semantically prefixes fall into mono and polysemantic.


(4)  As to the generic denotational meaning there are different groups that are distinguished in linguistic literature: (a) negative prefixes such as un, non, in, dis, a, im/in/ir (e.g. employment à unemployment, politician à non-politician, correct à incorrect, advantage à disadvantage, moral à amoral, legal à illegal, etc.); (b) reversative of privative prefixes, such as un, de, dis, dis (e.g. tie à untie, centralize à decentralize, connect à disconnect, etc.); (c) pejorative prefixes, such as mis, mal, pseudo (e.g. calculate à miscalculate, function à malfunction, scientific à pseudo-scientific, etc.); (d) prefixes of time and order, such as fore, pre, post, ex (e.g. see à foresee, war à pre-war, Soviet à post-Soviet, wife à ex-wife, etc.); (e) prefix of repetition re (e.g. do à redo, type à retype, etc.); (f) locative prefixes such as super, sub, inter, trans (e.g. market à supermarket, culture à subculture, national à international, Atlantic à trans-Atlantic, etc.).


(5)  When viewed from the angle of their stylistic reference, English prefixes fall into those characterized by neutral stylistic reference and those possessing quite a definite stylistic value. As no exhaustive lexico-stylistic classification of English prefixes has yet been suggested, a few examples can only be adduced here. There is no doubt, for instance, that prefixes like un, out, over, re, under and some others can be qualified as neutral (e. g. unnatural, unlace, outgrow, override, redo, underestimate, etc.). On the other hand, one can hardly fail to perceive the literary-bookish character of such prefixes as pseudo, super, ultra, uni, bi and some others (e. g. pseudo-classical, superstructure, ultra-violence, unilateral, bifocal, etc.).


Sometimes one comes across pairs of prefixes one of which is neutral, the other is stylistically coloured. One example will suffice here: the prefix over occurs in all functional styles, the prefix super is peculiar to the style of scientific prose.


(6)  Prefixes may be also classified as to the degree of productivity into highly-productive, productive and non-productive.


Suffixation is the formation of words with the help of suffixes. Suffixes usually modify the lexical meaning of the base and transfer words to a different part of speech. There are suffixes however, which do not shift words from one part of speech into another; a suffix of this kind usually transfers a word into a different semantic group, e. g. a concrete noun becomes an abstract one, as is the case with childchildhood, friendfriendship, etc.


Chains of suffixes occurring in derived words having two and more suffixal morphemes are sometimes referred to in lexicography as compound suffixes: ably = able + ly (e. g. profitably, unreasonably) ically = ic + al + ly (e. g. musically, critically); ation = ate + ion (e. g. fascination, isolation) and some others. Compound suffixes do not always present a mere succession of two or more suffixes arising out of several consecutive stages of derivation. Some of them acquire a new quality operating as a whole unit. Let us examine from this point of view the suffix ation in words like fascination, translation, adaptation and the like. Adaptation looks at first sight like a parallel to fascination, translation. The latter however are first-degree derivatives built with the suffix ion on the bases fascinate, translate. But there is no base adaptate, only the shorter base adapt. Likewise damnation, condemnation, formation, information and many others are not matched by shorter bases ending in ate, but only by still shorter ones damn, condemn, form, inform. Thus, the suffix ation is a specific suffix of a composite nature. It consists of two suffixes ate and ion, but in many cases functions as a single unit in first-degree derivatives. It is referred to in linguistic literature as a coalescent suffix or a group suffix. Adaptation is then a derivative of the first degree of derivation built with the coalescent suffix on the base adapt.


Of interest is also the group-suffix manship consisting of the suffixes man and ship. It denotes a superior quality, ability of doing something to perfection, e. g. authormanship, quotemanship, lipmanship, etc.


It also seems appropriate to make several remarks about the morphological changes that sometimes accompany the process of combining derivational morphemes with bases. Although this problem has been so far insufficiently investigated, some observations have been made and some data collected. For instance, the noun-forming suffix ess for names of female beings brings about a certain change in the phonetic shape of the correlative male noun provided the latter ends in er, or, e.g. actress (actor), sculptress (sculptor), tigress (tiger), etc. It may be easily observed that in such cases the sound [∂] is contracted in the feminine nouns.


Further, there are suffixes due to which the primary stress is shifted to the syllable immediately preceding them, e.g. courageous (courage), stability (stable), investigation (investigate), peculiarity (peculiar), etc. When added to a base having the suffix able/ible as its component, the suffix ity brings about a change in its phonetic shape, namely the vowel [i] is inserted between [b] and [l], e. g. possible à possibility, changeable à changeability, etc. Some suffixes attract the primary stress on to themselves, there is a secondary stress on the first syllable in words with such suffixes, e. g. 'employ'ee (em'ploy), govern'mental (govern), 'pictu'resque (picture).


There are different classifications of suffixes in linguistic literature, as suffixes may be divided into several groups according to different principles:


(1)  The first principle of classification that, one might say, suggests itself is the part of speech formed. Within the scope of the part-of-speech classification suffixes naturally fall into several groups such as:

a)     noun-suffixes, i.e. those forming or occurring in nouns, e. g. er, dom, ness, ation, etc. (teacher, Londoner, freedom, brightness, justification, etc.);

b)    adjective-suffixes, i.e. those forming or occurring in adjectives, e. g. able, less, ful, ic, ous, etc. (agreeable, careless, doubtful, poetic, courageous, etc.);

c)     verb-suffixes, i.e. those forming or occurring in verbs, e. g. en, fy, ize (darken, satisfy, harmonize, etc.);

d)    adverb-suffixes, i.e. those forming or occurring in adverbs, e. g. ly, ward (quickly, eastward, etc.).

(2)  Suffixes may also be classified into various groups according to the lexico-grammatical character of the base the affix is usually added to. Proceeding from this principle one may divide suffixes into:

a)     deverbal suffixes (those added to the verbal base), e. g. er, ing, ment, able, etc. (speaker, reading, agreement, suitable, etc.);

b)    denominal suffixes (those added to the noun base), e. g. less, ish, ful, ist, some, etc. (handless, childish, mouthful, violinist, troublesome, etc.);

c)     de-adjectival suffixes (those affixed to the adjective base), e. g. en, ly, ish, ness, etc. (blacken, slowly, reddish, brightness, etc.).

(3)  A classification of suffixes may also be based on the criterion of sense expressed by a set of suffixes. Proceeding from this principle suffixes are classified into various groups within the bounds of a certain part of speech. For instance, noun-suffixes fall into those denoting:

a)     the agent of an action, e. g. er, ant (baker, dancer, defendant, etc.);

b)    appurtenance, e. g. an, ian, ese, etc. (Arabian, Elizabethan, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, etc.);

c)     collectivity, e. g. age, dom, ery (ry), etc. (freightage, officialdom, peasantry, etc.);

d)    diminutiveness, e. g. ie, let, ling, etc. (birdie, girlie, cloudlet, squirreling, wolfing, etc.).

(4)  Still another classification of suffixes may be worked out if one examines them from the angle of stylistic reference. Just like prefixes, suffixes are also characterized by quite a definite stylistic reference falling into two basic classes:

a)     those characterized by neutral stylistic reference such as able, er, ing, etc.;

b)    those having a certain stylistic value such as old, i/form, aceous, tron, etc.

Suffixes with neutral stylistic reference may occur in words of different lexico-stylistic layers. As for suffixes of the second class they are restricted in use to quite definite lexico-stylistic layers of words, in particular to terms, e.g. rhomboid, asteroid, cruciform, cyclotron, synchrophasotron, etc.

(5)  Suffixes are also classified as to the degree of their productivity.


Distinction is usually made between dead and living affixes. Dead affixes are described as those which are no longer felt in Modern English as component parts of words; they have so fused with the base of the word as to lose their independence completely. It is only by special etymological analysis that they may be singled out, e. g. d in dead, seed, le, l, el in bundle, sail, hovel; ock in hillock; lock in wedlock; t in flight, gift, height. It is quite clear that dead suffixes are irrelevant to present-day English word-formation, they belong in its diachronic study.


Living affixes may be easily singled out from a word, e. g. the noun-forming suffixes ness, dom, hood, age, ance, as in darkness, freedom, childhood, marriage, assistance, etc. or the adjective-forming suffixes en, ous, ive, ful, y as in wooden, poisonous, active, hopeful, stony, etc.


However, not all living derivational affixes of Modern English possess the ability to coin new words. Some of them may be employed to coin new words on the spur of the moment, others cannot, so that they are different from the point of view of their productivity. Accordingly they fall into two basic classes productive and non-productive word-building affixes.


It has been pointed out that linguists disagree as to what is meant by the productivity of derivational affixes.


Following the first approach all living affixes should be considered productive in varying degrees from highly-productive (e. g. er, ish, less, re, etc.) to non-productive (e. g. ard, cy, ive, etc.).


Consequently it becomes important to describe the constraints imposed on and the factors favouring the productivity of affixational patterns and individual affixes. The degree of productivity of affixational patterns very much depends on the structural, lexico-grammatical and semantic nature of bases and the meaning of the affix. For instance, the analysis of the bases from which the suffix ize can derive verbs reveals that it is most productive with noun-stems, adjective-stems also favour ifs productivity, whereas verb-stems and adverb-stems do not, e. g. criticize (critic), organize (organ), itemize (item), mobilize (mobile), localize (local), etc. Comparison of the semantic structure of a verb in ize with that of the base it is built on shows that the number of meanings of the stem usually exceeds that of the verb and that its basic meaning favours the productivity of the suffix ize to a greater degree than its marginal meanings, e. g. to characterize character, to moralize moral, to dramatize drama, etc.


The treatment of certain affixes as non-productive naturally also depends on the concept of productivity. The current definition of non-productive derivational affixes as those which cannot hg used in Modern English for the coining of new words is rather vague and maybe interpreted in different ways. Following the definition the term non-productive refers only to the affixes unlikely to be used for the formation of new words, e. g. ous, th, fore and some others (famous, depth, foresee).

If one accepts the other concept of productivity mentioned above, then non-productive affixes must be defined as those that cannot be used for the formation of occasional words and, consequently, such affixes as dom, ship, ful, en, ify, ate and many others are to be regarded as non-productive.


The theory of relative productivity of derivational affixes is also corroborated by some other observations made on English word-formation. For instance, different productive affixes are found in different periods of the history of the language. It is extremely significant, for example, that out of the seven verb-forming suffixes of the Old English period only one has survived up to the present time with a very low degree of productivity, namely the suffix en (e. g. to soften, to darken, to whiten).

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