Compounds - Main Properties and Problems

Seminararbeit, 2008
15 Seiten, Note: 2,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition
2.1. Formal classification of compounds
2.2. Endocentric compounds
2.3. Exocentric compounds
2.4. Copulative compounds
2.5. Hybrid formations or neoclassical compounds
2.6. Productivity of compounds

3. Problems of compounds
3.1. Stress in compounds
3.2. Categorization problems

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This termpaper deals with compounding, an important process of word formation.

Ingo Plag wrote that compounding was the most productive type of word formation but also the most controversial one, he forewarns his readers because “compounding is a field of study where intricate problems abound, numerous issues remain unsolved and convincing solutions are generally not so easy to find” (Plag 2006, 132). Due to this high productivity, compounding can be regarded as the most fundamental complex cognitive representations of the mental lexicon (Libben 2006, vi). Compounds are “extremely widespread among the world´s languages and represent perhaps the easiest way to form a new cognitive representation from two or more existing ones” (Libben 2006, vi). Laurie Bauer claims that “no known language is without compounds, and in many languages compounds are the main type of a new lexeme” (Bauer 1988, 33/34).

This termpaper focuses on compounds and their properties including subcategories, productivity and the problems that can occur among compounds like questions of stress and categorization difficulties.

The first part will deal with the definition of compounds, all the compound subcategories and also with productivity of compounds.

In the second part, questions of stress and difficulties of categorization will be examined.

2. Definition

Alice Morton Ball defines a compound word as “a single word composed of any two or more words joined together, either with or without a hyphen (brass-smith; redcoat)” (Morton Ball 1951, 3).

This definition is not wrong but too simple, probably due to its antiqueness: Morton Ball´s work “The Compounding and Hyphenation of English Words” features the rather short definition, fourteen pages of rules governing compounding and hyphenation of words and finally 218 pages of an impressive alphabetic list of compound words (Morton Ball 1951, 3- 239).

Wolfgang U. Dressler states that the term componding or composition goes back to the Latin “vocabulorum genus quod appellant compositicum “the word class which is called composite” and figura nominum composita “composed structure of nouns” of the Ancient Roman grammarians Priscianus, Donatus, etc., where Latin com-positum is a literal translation of Greek sýn-theton. This focus on noun-noun compounds corresponds to a general preference for this type of compound in most languages” (Dressler 2006, 23).

Due to Dressler, compounds can be loosely defined as grammatical combinations of words, that is of lexical items or lexemes, to form new words (ebd 2006, 24). He assigns compounding to grammar and states that it is governed by non-conscious rules (Dressler 2006, 24).

Laurie Bauer states that “compounding is the formation of new lexemes by adjoining two or more lexemes” (Bauer 1988, 238).

Bernd Kortmann defines compounding as “the stringing together of two or more free morphemes to one complex free morpheme, the compound” (Kortmann 2005, 99). But these definitions do not represent compounding in an adequately differentiated manner. Alice Morton Ball´s definition lacks of the subcategories and further details of compounding, probably because they were not known yet.

There are several aspects we have to consider while scrutinizing compounding: The four subcategories of compounds, endocentric compounds, exocentric compounds, copulative compounds and neoclassical compounds and the productivity of compounding.

2.1. Formal classification of compounds

Rochelle Lieber states that “just about any combination” of the open class categories Noun, Verb and Adjective can be found in compounds (Lieber 1992, 80):

(1) Noun-Noun ➔ file cabinet, towel rack, catfood, steelmill

Noun-Adjective ➔ sky blue, leaf green, stone cold, rock hard

Adjective-Adjective ➔ icy cold, red hot, green-blue, wide awake

Adjective-Noun ➔ hard hat, bluebird, blackboard, poorhouse

Adjective-Verb ➔ dryfarm, wetsand, doublecoat, sweettalk

Noun-Verb ➔ handmake, babysit, spoonfeed, mashine wash

Verb-Noun ➔ drawbridge, cutpurse, pickpocket, pulltoy

Verb-Verb ➔ stir-fry, blow dry, jump shoot, jump start

(all examples of (1) Lieber 1992, 80).

In fact, most of the compounds containing verbs have not been formed by compounding, but instead by back-formation or conversion from compounds containing nouns (e.g. to babysit ← babysitter/babysitting or to short-list ← shortlist) (Kortmann 2005, 100). Because of this, Kortmann claims that verbal compounds should be called “pseudocompounds” (ebd, 100).

There are three orthographic ways to represent compounds:

1) the closed form (the constituents are written as one word), e.g. housewife and jetski.
2) the hyphenated form (the constituents are linked by a hyphen), e.g. green-blue and stir-fry.
3) the open form (with a space between the constituents), e.g. blow dry, stone cold.

It seems that there are no reliable rules which govern the use of one of these three orthographic forms: Plag states that orthography is often variable, for example, girlfriend is also attested with the spellings <girl-friend> and even <girl friend> (Plag 2006, 5). Valerie Adams employs an interesting footnote: “In none of these combinations is the hyphen needed to obviate any ambiguity, as it is in, for instance, a pair given by Fowler (...): a little-used car and a little used car. Fowler, incidentally - supported by Sir Winston Churchill: “Richly embroidered seems to me two words, and it is terrible to think of linking every adverb to a verb by a hyphen” - considers that hyphens should not be used except where they are necessary” (Adams1973, 103/104).

2.2. Endocentric compounds

Compounding is organised on the basis of the so-called “modifier head-structure”:

“The term head is generally used to refer to the most important unit in complex linguistic structures. In compounds it is the head which is modified by the other member of the compound. Semantically, this means that the set of entities possibly denoted by the compound (...) is a subset of the entities denoted by the head (...)” (Plag 2006, 135) or “the head in syntax is the central constituent of a phrase which comes closest to characterizing the phrase as a whole (Adams 2001, 3).

(2) hairdryer ➔ “a dryer for hair”

rubbish bin ➔ “a bin for rubbish”

doghouse ➔ “a house for dogs”

The example (2) shows quite clearly how the head is modified by the other member of the compound, e.g. in “doghouse”, “house” is obviously the unit with central meaning and “dog” modifies it so that semantical meaning becomes a special sort of house, namely a house for dogs. ”Endocentric compounds are those where the compound denotes a hyponym of the HEAD element in the compound” (Bauer 1988, 239).

In this example the meaning of the compounds is quite predictable, the three items are all endocentric compounds, which means that the semantic head is inside of the compound (Dressler 2006, 33). All endocentric compounds have a common property: Their head usually occurs on the right-hand side, this is the so-called right-hand rule stated by Williams in 1981 (Plag 2006, 135).

The whole compound is influenced by its head, because the head gives most of its semantic and syntactic information to the word combination (Plag 2006, 135). “Thus, if the head is a verb, the compound will be a verb (e.g. deep-fry), if the head is a count noun, the compound will be count noun (e.g. beer bottle), if the head has a feminine gender, the compound will have feminine gender (e.g. head waitress)” (Plag 2006, 135). But not all compounds are endocentric, there are also compounds which do not have their head within them.


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Compounds - Main Properties and Problems
Philipps-Universität Marburg  (Anglistik)
Morphology and Syntax
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
489 KB
Compounds, Endocentric, Exocentric, Hybrid Formations, Neoclassical Compounds, Productivity, Stress, Categorization
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Philipp Kock (Autor), 2008, Compounds - Main Properties and Problems, München, GRIN Verlag,


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