Analysing Blends

Scientific Essay, 2008

20 Pages, Grade: 2,0

Franka Girod (Author)


Table of Contents


2.1 Definition
2.2 Meaning
2.3 Structure

3. Survey
3.1 Analyses
3.2 Conclusion of the Survey

4. Conclusion



1. Introduction “You see it’s like a portmanteau - there are two meanings packed up into one word” (Carroll 2002:186). That is what Humpty Dumpty told Alice about a poem, where words were mixed together out of other words. But not only in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass” words like these occur. If you take a newspaper, you will find a lot of mixtures. One of the most famous of the last years are names like Brangelina oder Bennifer, where popular couples were shortened to one name. These names caught the attention of readers and led to an increasing usage. Some words are part of our language and a division into the original parts becomes difficult. Take brunch as an example. Most people would describe it as a second breakfast, but would they think of a mixture of breakfast and lunch in the first place? Portmanteau words, as Humpty Dumpty calls them, in Linguistics are known as blends. It is a part of morphology which is often discussed, because there are a lot of contradictions. The question arises if there are general rules which can be used to form blends and if there are major categories of blends.

The paper will show the most important characteristics of blends and their structure. Furthermore it tries to find some answers to the above mentioned questions and proves or disproves generalisations. With the help of a survey the characteristics shall be looked at in a critical way.

2. Characteristics

2.1 Definition

Blends are words “that combine two (rarely three or more) words into one, deleting material from one or both of the source words” (Plag 2003:122). This combination is realised phonetically as well as orthographically. Some would describe blends as a type of compound nouns, because they function in a similar way. If you take an exocentric compound, where the head is outside the compound, you will have the same effect as a blend has, namely that its meaning is a mixture of both words.

The same is true for acronyms. An acronym is a word which is created from the initials of other words. This means that words are combined into a new one by deleting material from these words. This would fit into the definition of blends as well.

There are discussions if blends are part of morphology, because they cannot be divided into different morphs. This happens because material of the original words gets lost when combining them into a new word. By taking again brunch as an example it can be seen that there is no clear distinction of morphs. “Br-” cannot be seen as a morph, nor can be “-unch”.

In addition it is important that words which create a blend are from the same syntactic category. This means that a blend consist of two or more nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. These words have to be semantically related too, so that there is a connection between them. If we look for example at “Brangelina”, we see that two names or persons are mixed into one. This is also true for most of the other blends, i.e. Denglish, smog or modem. It can be noticed that most of the time words which form a blend are nouns.

Although the above mentioned definition by Ingo Plag sounds reasonable, there are plenty of restrictions that go along with blends and a lot of controversies exist.

2.2 Meaning

Plag divides blends into two types. There are blends where the first part of the word modifies the second, but also words where both parts of the word are important for the overall meaning. Motel for example belongs to the first type of blends. It is composed of motor and hotel, but does not describe a mixture of both parts. A motel is a hotel where travellers can go to by car and stay there over night. So motor describes the hotel in a specific way. This is different with the word boatel. It is composed of the words boat and hotel. Nevertheless a boatel is not a hotel where travellers with their boats can stay for one night, but it is a hotel which is located on a boat. This second type is in a way similar to copulative compounds like physician- geologist, because these compounds have no head (Plag 2003:123). So again it can be seen that there are great connections between blends and compound nouns.

2.3 Structure

Probably the most important characteristic of a blend is its structure. There are many assumptions about the structure of blends, but there goes a lot of disagreement with it. Therefore only the most important rules shall be looked at.

The generalised rule for the structure of blends is that the first part of the first word is connected to the second part of the second word. This is shown by the blending rule: AB + CD ^ AD. This rule is dependent on the syllabic structure of the words. If there are monosyllabic words, which are combined, A often refers to the onset of the first word; D is most of the time the rime of the second. If there are polysyllabic words, there will be more possibilities to match the words into a blend. But there also can be words, where A combines both, the onset and the nucleus, and D only takes the coda. Nevertheless a normal syllabic structure consisting of onset, nucleus and coda is needed to build up a new word. Some words are adopted in its full size. An example is guesstimate. Orthographically the word guess is combined without a loss of material. Nevertheless phonetically one could argue that estimate is not shortened either. Hence the question emerges, which criterion is more important. To answer this question one could argue that even guesstimate is a mixture out of both original words.

The generalised AD-structure cannot be used for every blend, because there are blends which show AC-structures too. Nevertheless these constructions form a minority. An example for an AC blend is modem, which is built up from modulator and demonstrator. A reason for the AC-structure could be the letter d in both words. Whereas the first syllable of modulator ends in a d, the first syllable of demonstrator begins with it. This similarity could have led to a differing blending structure. In the word modulator we find a different size too. Normally blends tend to be short words. Often a blend is combined of two words, which have the same size. If that is not the case a blend takes the size of the second word. The word brunch is a good example. Breakfast consists of 2 syllables, lunch only of one. The blended word becomes brunch, which has only one syllable. The same is true for boatel. The first word boat is monosyllabic; the second word hotel has two syllables. Boatel then has two syllables like hotel. If we switched the positions of both words and tried to combine them again, we probably would get words like *lunchfast or *hoat, where the syllabic structure changed. Nevertheless it is shown that this is only true for blends which were built according to the blending rule. Modulator differs because of its AC- structure.

Another argument is that the first element of the blend is likely to be the one which is shorter and more frequently used in everyday language (Gries 2004:648).


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Analysing Blends
University of Marburg
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Franka Girod (Author), 2008, Analysing Blends, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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