Semantic and Structural Types of English Compounds in Novels

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2016
18 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents


Theoretical Background


Results for Novels




Compounding is regarded as the most productive word-formation process in English. Numerous aspects of compounds have been examined so far – and surely the examinations will continue, as a high production in the formation of new words provides a wide range of data analysis and eventually new findings in the field of linguistics.

When we are talking about a compound, we mean “a word that consists of two elements, the first of which is either a root, a word or a phrase, the second of which is either a root or a word.” (Plag, Word formation in English 135) .

The following report is based on a research project investigating the subject of English compounds with a special focus on their semantic and structural types in novels. Some leading research questions will investigate whether any semantic and structural types are more prominent than other ones, what kind of different spellings occur and to which word-class the majority of compounds belongs.

I will start my report with the theoretical background and the methodology including some important facts about the used data, the data-collection and the procedure of my analysis. Then, I will go on with presenting my results, and at the end I’ll briefly sum up the main findings.

Theoretical Background

First, let us clarify some significant properties of English compounds. All English compounds are assumed to have a grammatical head which is considered as the grammatically most important part, meaning that it determines all semantic and syntactical features of the given compound (Plag, Word formation in English 135). In the example blackleg, we have the first part black which is an adjective and the second part leg which is a noun. As leg is the grammatical head, the combination of the two parts in blackleg consults in a noun, too. “With regard to their head, compounds have a very important systematic property: their head usually occurs on the right-hand side.” (Plag, Word formation in English 135).

Further, the semantic type is divided into endocentric, exocentric and copulative compounds. Semantic heads of endocentric compounds are inside the compound, and they are also the grammatical heads. The semantic head carries the main meaning of the compound. The example ‘mail room’ is a kind of room, whereas ‘room’, as the right-hand member, is the grammatical head and it also carries the main semantic meaning of the compound. Therefore it can be regarded as the semantic head, too (Plag, Word formation in English 145). Besides that we can conclude that compounds “denote a subclass of the referents of the head” (Plag, Word formation in English 145), so we can paraphrase for example ‘nutshell’ as a kind of shell, a ‘management car’ as a kind of car etc. This kind of head is called ‘modifier-head’.

In the example car worker, the head is assumed to be an argument-head because the modifying element car “serve[s] as an argument of [the] base” worker (Plag, Word formation in English 148). Argument-heads usually occur in “compounds whose right-hand member is a noun that is derived from a verb [i.e. worker], and whose left-hand member serves as an argument of the verb [i.e. car]” (Plag, Word formation in English 149). Summing up, it can be said that endocentric compounds are assumed to have their semantic heads inside the compound and they can be paraphrased as a subclass of their head. Their heads can either function as modifier-heads or argument-heads.

Compounds whose semantic heads are outside, are referred to as exocentric compounds. The grammatical head still remains the right-hand member but there is no ‘X is some kind of the head’- structure like in endocentric compounds. Considering the example childhood, we cannot paraphrase the given compound as a subclass of its head. So childhood is not some kind of hood but the life period of being a child (Plag, Word formation in English 145).

If we have two semantic heads, “neither of the two members of the compound seems in any sense more important than the other” (Plag, Word formation in English 146), we call this certain compound copulative i.e. singer-songwriter. The given example defines a person who is singer and songwriter at the same time, both elements carry out the meaning of the compound equally; therefore, we deal with two heads in this case.

Finally, we also have neoclassical compounds which we can define as “neoclassical formations as forms in which lexemes of Latin or Greek origin are combined to form new combinations that are not attested in the original languages” (Plag, Word formation in English 155) i.e. psychological.

Let’s move on to the category of structural types of compounds. Dealing with the structural types leads us to three subcategories which are namely the type of the compound, the subtype of the compound and, in the case of endocentric compounds, the type in terms of the relation between the head and the non-head.

The first subcategory is dealing with the type of a certain compound which we could redefine as the word-class of the head. If the head is a noun, we can refer to a nominal compound. If the head is a verb, the compound is called verbal compound and in the case of the head being an adjective, we refer to it as an adjectival compound (Plag, Braun and Lappe 103).

The second subcategory, which is called the subtype of the compound, can be paraphrased as the word-classes of each member of the given compound. In English, a wide range of combinations are possible: noun-noun (NN), noun-verb (NV), noun-adjective (NA), verb-noun (VN), verb-verb (VV), adjective-noun (AN), adjective-verb (AV), adjective-adjective (AA) and preposition-noun (PN) (Plag, Word formation in English 144). The third subcategory, which is only applicable to endocentric compounds, investigates whether the head is a modifier-head or an argument-head.

The next coding category is the spelling, which can be either open, solid or hyphenated. Eventually, we are dealing with three possible spellings of compounds. In the open spelling, both compound members are orthographically separated with a blank space in between as in school corridor. In the solid spelling, the two members are ‘melted’ into one orthographical word, meaning that the compound is spelled without a blank space in between as in notebook. Finally, we have the hyphenated spelling where the two members are spelled with a hyphen as in anti-Irish. It is important to note that “there are no hard and fast rules for compound orthography in English, but one important determinant of the spelling is frequency of occurrence. Compounds that are infrequent are unlikely to be spelled as one word or to be hyphenated” (Plag, Braun and Lappe 102).


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Semantic and Structural Types of English Compounds in Novels
University of Siegen
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compounding, word formation, English, language
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Incinur Cakir (Author), 2016, Semantic and Structural Types of English Compounds in Novels, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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