Recent Trends in English Word-Formation

Term Paper, 2008

13 Pages, Grade: 1.0



1 Introduction

2 Morphology and Word Formation

3 Recent Neologisms
3.1 Compounding
3.2 Clipping
3.3 Blending
3.4 Acronyms
3.5 Derivation
3.6 Coinage
3.7 Conversion
3.8 Borrowing

4 Sources of present day word formation
4.1 The Internet Age
4.2 Advertising and Trademarks
4.3 Science
4.4 Entertainment and Lifestyles
4.5 The Globalisation of English

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

This paper will discuss recent trends in English word formation. To elaborate on the subject it starts to define what word formation is and how it fits into morphology, the part of linguistics dealing with words and their basic units. In the first part it will discuss basic terms and promote the necessary understanding of word analysis. We will discuss what productivity is and what constitutes a new word. Included is also a short introduction in the theory of the lexicon, where the so called lexemes are stored.

The second part will go on with the introduction of recent neologisms that I found interesting, using the circumstance to discuss the basic patterns of word formation. It is not a complete list of recent neologisms, nor is it a statistical analysis of corpora. I will elaborate on certain aspects of word formation patterns with chosen examples. Most neologisms dealt with in this paper can be found in Maxwell (2006); few exceptions can be found the internet. We will also look for irregularities and ask ourselves whether there are any cases in which new words refer to old words. In the last part of the paper I will have a look at the sources of word formation. Are there any fields in which new words are especially frequent? Are those fields easy to distinguish from each other? Why are these fields important? The intention of this paper is to give a summary of recent development concerning new words and what such a development might mean to us.

2 Morphology and Word Formation

The branch of linguistics dealing with the structure of words is morphology. Morphology can be divided into two subgroups. These two subgroups are inflectional morphology (dealing with declension and conjugation in traditional grammar) and, in contrast to it, word formation including derivation (Plag 2003: 17). Derivation as opposed to inflection encodes lexical meaning, is not syntactically relevant and is often restricted in its productivity (Plag 2003: 17). Productivity according to Bauer (1983: 18) can be defined as whether new words are constantly emerging from an existing word formation pattern or not:

Basically, any process […] is said to be productive if it can be used synchronically in the production of new forms, and non-productive if it cannot be used synchronically in this way.

The “minimal unit of meaning” (Yule 1996: 75) is the morpheme, existing as free morpheme (that can occur alone) or bound morpheme (that occurs only as part of a word and cannot stand alone).

When we talk about word formation we are talking about lexeme formation. As rob and robbing are two different word forms, with differences in inflection. In this case there is an additional bound morpheme, the inflectional suffix for present participle in robb-ing. But both word forms are a variation of the lexeme ROB. Word Formation in contrast deals with new word forms that also constitute new lexemes, like robber baron. Such lexemes are stored in the mental lexicon of a language.

The English lexicon constantly changes by adding new words for new circumstances, inventions or social behaviour unknown before. Words heard by a human person can be added to its mental lexicon, but humans can also create new words with the process of word formation and use them immediately. This flexibility and creativity is in contrast to the fixed vocabulary of the dictionary (Aitchison 1994: 13). We can differentiate three stages in the process of storing a new word in the mental lexicon: Nonce formation, institutionalisation and finally lexicalisation. Nonce formation according to Kortmann (2005: 95) means the coining of a new word in a largely transparent way where the meaning can be deduced from its component parts. In the next step the word may be institutionalized if other speakers accept the new word as such and use it according to the intentional meaning. Lexicalisation in this context means the word is stored in a form that is no longer in accordance to the productive rules of the language.

3 Recent Neologisms

New words can be built with different patterns: Derivation and compounding are traditionally regarded as the most productive patterns of word formation (Yule 1996). But we do also find a number of blendings, borrowings, acronyms, clippings and a few coinages.

3.1 Compounding

Compounding is the process of two or more free morphemes forming together one new free morpheme. The most common type in English is the compound consisting of two nouns forming together a new noun (Kortmann 2005: 99). As the meaning of a compound is not immediately recognised by grasping the meaning of its parts, they are more or less lexicalised (Kortmann 2005: 100).

Furthermore it is usual that on part (A) of the compound specifies the other part (B). This kind of compound is called endocentric compound. Other possible compounds are the exocentric compound (both parts denote something that is not part of the compound), the appositional compound (both parts provide different descriptions for one referent) and the copulative compound (where both parts are added up to equal a referent) (Kortmann 2005: 101). Compounding is said to be one of the most productive word formation processes in the English language. Examples of recent compounds are numerous; suggesting the productivity of compounding is as high as assumed. One of the more recent compound nouns includes ambush marketing, the process of connecting a product brand with a special event without paying the fees for sponsoring (Maxwell 2006: 11). The semantic meaning of the word may not be clear first, but the likely first perception is that we are talking about a special kind of marketing, specified by the first word ‘ambush’. Thus ambush marketing is clearly an endocentric compound. ‘Ambush’ here describes the style of the marketing, making ambush marketing a special case of marketing.

The same principle can be found in the noun Googlewhacking, the difficult task of finding the query resulting in just one result with the search engine Google (Maxwell 2006: 85). Here we have a kind of ‘whacking’, namely the ‘whacking’ of Google.

Compounds today often tend to refer to brands. Looking at the compound BlackBerry thumb we see the combination of a neologism used for an electronic communication device combined with ‘thumb’ to mean a form of injury to the thumb while operating the BlackBerry (Maxwell 2006: 22).

We also see that compounds can occur written as one word, as well as being written as two. This can also be true for the exact same word. The recent example of the word blamestorming also suggests that it is possible to see new left-hand parts of a compound basically defining a compound that was build before, in this case brainstorming. The process of blamestorming does not intend to find new ideas, as does brainstorming, but to find a person responsible for failure at the workplace (Maxwell 2006: 23).


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Recent Trends in English Word-Formation
University of Dusseldorf "Heinrich Heine"  (English Linguistics)
English Word-Formation
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ISBN (Book)
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Word Formation, Morphology, Neologism, Neologisms, Words, Morpheme, Morphemes, English Linguistics, Linguistics, Linguistik, Morphologie, Wortbildung, Neologismus, Neologismen, Wörter, Compound, Compounding, Clipping, Blending, Acronyms, Derivation, Coinage, Conversion, Borrowing, Internet Language, Globalization, Advertising, Advertising Language, Globalisation, Science, Entertainment, English, Englisch, Lexicon
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Bastian Heynen (Author), 2008, Recent Trends in English Word-Formation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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