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How are new words created in English

Morphology needs to provide an account of our ability to work out the meaning of unfamiliar words and to make up new words. Word manufacture is not a task we leave to experts. We all do it. This work examines some of the ways in which we do it. New words come off the production line all the time. In most cases there is no record of who first used a particular word. Only in relatively rare cases are the names of the individuals responsible for lexical creations known. But a few people who have manufactured colourful words are remembered. For example S. Foote is remembered for coining the word panjandrum in 1755.

He intended this simply as a nonsense word; it acquired the meaning of ‘mock title for a pompous dignitary’ later. Some affixes are used with great freedom. They are said to be productive. The suffix -ness can be added to a very large number of adjectives to form a noun: obvious, obviousness; friendly, friendliness; fruitful, fruitfulness; cheap, cheapness; and so on. In fact the speaker of English is fairly free to make up new nouns on this model, although he is likely to feel somewhat reluctant to do so if there is an already existing noun with the meaning he desires.

For instance, gratefulness and legalness are likely to be thought rather odd words since they are trying to compete with gratitude and legality. Nevertheless, the tendency to coin new words on the model ‘adjective+ -ness’ can be observed when people say things like sincereness, if they are not aware of the existence of the word sincerity or are unable to think of it on the occasion in question (Crystal 1988). The case is different with suffixes like the -th in warmth.

There is only a handful of nouns formed on this pattern, and even some of these have stems that have become less recognizable in the course of history: width is based upon wide, length upon long, health upon a now obsolete forerunner of the word whole, in the sense ‘healthy’. In fact, the suffix -th is fossilized and almost totally unproductive. In between the two extremes of -ness and -th there are many gradations of productiveness (or is it productivity? ). The suffix-ation is obviously less widely used than-ness, but more productive than -th.

Think of words like hospitalization; most words that end in -ize seem to accept the further ending fairly readily. Patterns of composition are also highly constrained. Breakfast, based upon break and fast is an unproductive model. We could not call a garage mechanic a mend-tyre. On the other hand, there are highly productive patterns for combining nouns with nouns to form new nouns: key ring, key chain, key case, key wallet, doorknob, door handle, door hook, notepaper Of words newly created the most obvious kind is that produced by vocal imitation of sounds in nature.

This kind of words, usually called onomatopoetic, but recently more happily named ‘echoic,’ is known to all languages. Many of them have been inherited by English. Such words as bomb, murmur, cuckoo, go back through French and Latin, to an antiquity hard to determine. Words like papa, mama, baby, originating in baby speech, belong to practically all languages. Among ‘echoic’ words that originated independently in English may be cited: buzz, fizz, purr, quack, hiss, boom, gibber, jabber, giggle, titter, whirr, ding-dong, hee-haw, tick-tack, hoot, chatter.

The creation of words of this kind is never at an end. In the South African War the sounds of the machine-gun gave origin to pom-pom. In the World War in the same way originated words like crumps, dud, and whizz-bang (Minkova 2001). Closely related to words of this kind are a number of new creations which aptly express certain shades of meaning and which have been appropriately named ‘blends. ‘ In words of this type, as the name applied to them indicates, two words have been fused, only a part of each remaining, and the meaning, as well as the resulting form, is a blend of that in the two component words.

As examples of words of this type that have become well established in standard speech, may be mentioned: lambast (lam + baste), grumble (growl + rumble), dumbfound (dumb + confound), gerrymander ( Gerry, name of Governor Gerry, of Massachusetts + salamander), scurry (skirr or scour + hurry), flaunt (fly or flout + vaunt), squirm (squir + swarm or worm), dang (damn + hang), squawk (squall + squeak), lunch (lump + hunch or bunch), luncheon (lunch + nuncheon), flurry (fly or flaw + hurry), boost (boom + hoist), squash (squeeze + crash), splatter (splash + spatter), foist (fist + hoist), blurt (blow or blare + spurt), chump (chop + lump).

The natural processes at work creating new words may be discerned in the case of the words mentioned. There remains, however, to be mentioned a number of words of the most everyday type, which if not actually created ‘out of the blue,’ at least as yet have never had their origin otherwise satisfactorily explained.

From these words without known etymology may be mentioned dog, and curse, which made their appearance before the Conquest; girl, boy, lad, lass, big, bad, pig, and cut, before Chaucer; bet, jump, and dodge, before 1600; pun, in the seventeenth century; fun, bore, slang, fudge, in the eighteenth; rollicking and loaf (verb), in the nineteenth, not to speak of such word phenomena in modern slang as stunt and hooch. The very casual nature of the origin of these slang terms doubtless affords a clue to the origin of the other words which at an earlier period have found their way into standard speech.

The ways in which the meaning of English words relate to one another The way in which words are related in meaning by gradation may be best described by means of an illustration. We have, for example, the verb drive, with its principal parts drive, drove, driven. The form drive may also be a noun, as in the phrase a long drive; so also drove appears as a noun in a drove of cattle; and the first three letters of driven in a drift of snow. We have, therefore, in these words a sort of root-form of word for the general idea of driving, which might be expressed by merely the consonant framework of it as drv or drf.

To differentiate this generalized rootmeaning, the language places different vowels in this consonant frame, in this instance the vowels ai, o, and i. Gradation is most readily observed in Modern English in the tense formation of the irregular or strong verbs, as sing, sang, sung, to which add also the noun song; ride, rode, ridden (Bauer 1983). Many of the words of the language are thus held together in such gradation groups, all of the words of the respective groups having the same general meaning but each being a specific application of that meaning.

Not all words, however, are members of gradation groups, some of the oldest and most familiar words in the language, such as house, stone, water, etc. , apparently standing quite separate and independent. Words of this sort are, therefore, the only recognizable surviving representatives of the original root-words. If a word is made up of a single morpheme (e. g. zebra, tree, saddle), there is no way one can work out its meaning. Such words simply have to be committed to memory.

However, if a word contains several morphemes and if you know what the morphemes mean, you are usually able to work out what the word as a whole means, even if you have never encountered it before. The point is illustrated by the non-institutionalised word Hollywoodisation which I heard in a radio discussion in which someone lamented ‘the growing Hollywoodisation of the Cannes Film Festival’ (Katamba 1994). Idioms are a theoretically challenging class of lexical items for they share the characteristics of both words and phrases.

Structurally, idioms are like ordinary syntactic phrases. But their meanings are unpredictable, just like the meanings of simple words. So they must be listed in the dictionary. Finally, in addition to affixes, we need to recognise a separate class of bound morphemes appended to the hosts. These are the clitics which are attached to words to form clitic groups after words have been grouped into syntactic phrases. Some clitics are always bound morphemes but others are capable of appearing in some contexts as independent words.

All clitics have a phonological deficiency which disqualifies them from appearing as independent words. Further, unlike suffixes, clitics are capable of attaching to a phonological host that is distinct from their syntactic/semantic host. The genitive ‘s construction in English is used to indicate that a noun (to be precise, NP) on the left which hosts the ‘s is a syntactic modifier which specifies more narrowly the meaning of the noun on the right which is the head of the entire NP.

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