Lexical Blending. Analysis of blends found in magazines according to the typology of Adrienne Lehrer and Elke Ronneberger-Sibol

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2015

19 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Thea Resbot (Author)


Table of Contents


Theoretical Foundation
The purpose of blends
Lexical Blending as a process of word formation
Typology according to Adrienne Lehrer
Typology according to Elke Ronneberger-Sibold

The Research Project




This research paper deals with the topic of lexical blending. There newly created words though this process of word formation are called blends or hybrids or portmanteau words. The latter was popularized in Lewis Carroll’s poem Through the Looking Glass in which he e.g. describes a frabjous day, a day that is both fabulous and joyous.1 One of the first blends known of, which is still in our vocabulary is the word smash. It is a blend of smack and mash, which is known since early 1700.2 Smash is a perfect example of a blend that is very well integrated into the modern Standard English. Therefore most likely most people would not have defined it as a blend. So this example indicates, that it is sometimes difficult to identify a word as a blend and moreover to identify its constituents.

For a long time blends were considered as a process of word formation that only occurs seldom. This appears to have changed over the years. Blends nowadays often occur in newspaper headlines to catch our attention. The newspaper magazine The Times is known for it in particular, which is why the term Timese was invented: Blends are supposed to catch our attention but, as illustrated above, it is sometimes difficult to identify the meaning of it. Therefore Times and Chinese was blended into one word to have a title for the phenomenon of confusing newspaper headlines. Another term, which is not as specific is headlinese.

When we started our research, blending seemed to us like a highly irregular process, but we came across different authors who managed to find a systematic nature in blends. First of all it is Adrienne Lehrer and second of all it is Elke Ronneberger-Sibold. Both of them published their works on lexical blending within the last decade and had a different approach regarding the typology of blends. Lehrer was focused on the structure of blends and Ronneberger-Sibold was focused on the structure of blends in relation to their level of transparency. In our research project we tried to analyze blends on our own according to the typology of Lehrer and Ronneberger-Sibold. To do so we tried to create our own corpus of blends out of different types of magazines that were all published within a week, in order to have comparable data. Afterwards we would compare the results we gained by analyzing blends according to the typology of Lehrer with the results we gained by analyzing blends according to the typology of Ronneberger-Sibold and conclude our results. In order to do this practical part, we needed a theoretical foundation, which is given in the following chapters.

Theoretical Foundation

The purpose of blends

As already mentioned it is not always easy to understand the meaning of a blend, especially when it appears to be impossible to figure out the constituents. The reader or listener, whoever is confronted with the blend, most of the time needs to figure out the meaning on his or her own, there is no instruction to it.3 So there is a need to clarify the purpose of blends.

One possible reason is that people feel the need to shorten a phrase that seems too long. Steinmetz and Kipfer also argue that it is most appropriate to invent blends for things, which are blends or hybrids themselves, e.g. beefalo as a name for a mixture of buffalo and beef cattle or language hybrids such as Spanglish (Spanish + English). The most useful blends are those that fill in a lexical gap which supply names for new concepts such as smoke (smoke + fog).4 At last there is a purpose of blends mentioned by Lehrer, which is not to underestimate, namely the one to attract our attention that is how she explains the relatively high occurrence of blends in advertisement and the media.5

Lexical Blending as a process of word formation

Word formation is a branch of morphology, which is the study on the structure and form of words. In opposite to word formation, inflectional morphology focuses on the study of words in certain grammatical categories. So to say inflectional morphology does not create new lexemes, but through word formation new words are created, and therefore word formation is considered as a process that expands the vocabulary of a language.6 Not every process of word formation is equally productive. Types of word formations which are highly productive, meaning that many neologisms are created, are compounding, conversion and derivation,

whereas derivation is subdivided into prefixation and suffixation. The lower productivity forms of word formation are called shortenings, which include clippings, back-formations, blends and acronyms. So in those processes not as many neologisms are created. A similarity of the different types of shortenings is the length of their output in relation to their input: As the name indicates the newly created word is shorter than its constituents. Lexical blending fits into the group of shortenings, and in orders to differentiate it from the other kinds they will be explained briefly.7

In clippings, one part of the word, usually the final part, is omitted, e.g. gas for gasoline or lab for laboratory. Clippings are often used in colloquial speech and are most common among people who often make use of the clipped words, e.g. researchers who work in a laboratory may refer to it as lab, simply because it is shorter.8 This explains why there is only a comparably low number of clippings that has found their way into the Standard English, such as flu for influenza or plane for airplane.

Another type of shortenings are the initialisms, which are again subdivided into acronyms and alphabetisms. In both forms a new word is created from the first letters of several words. The only difference between those two is, that acronyms are also pronounced like a word, e.g. laser (Lightwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation). In contrary alphabetisms are pronounced letter by letter, e.g. IPA (International Phonetic Association).9

The two described shortening processes do not involve a change of word class nor a change of the meaning. In contrary back-formations result from withdrawing a real or an assumed derivational suffix. That is how the root or base morpheme is created which has not existed before, e.g. the verb to babysit derived from the noun babysitter. It is most common that verbs develop out of nouns. Now there is only one type of shortening left to explain, namely blending. This will now be described in more detail.

In literature on morphology various definitions on blending exist, e.g. Plag 2003; 155: “Blends [are] words that combine two (rarely three or more) words into one, deleting material from one or both of the source words”. Furthermore he differentiates between blends, which are only shortened but already existing, e.g. motel (motor hotel), sci-fi (science-fiction) and proper blends. In those shortened compounds the meaning of the second element is modified by the first element.10 On the contrary Bauer notes that those clipping-compounds should be clearly separated from blends in general11, which illustrates the already mentioned existing ambiguity concerning the definition of blends.

In contrast to abbreviated compounds the base words of proper blends are no compounds in their full form, but rather “denote entities that share properties of the referents of both elements” (Plag 2003: 155), so to speak brunch is a mixture of breakfast and lunch. Furthermore Plag invented a blending rule, which is AB + CD  AD. According to Plag this rule applies for the majority of blends and means that the first part of the first base word is combined with the last part of the second base words. Additionally a study of Kubozno corresponds to Plags hypothesis, stating that only four to six percent of all blends do not follow this rule.12 But even if acknowledging this blending rule, the process of the creation of blends still appears to be arbitrary. Therefore some further restrictions are to mention that Plag found out about.

The first one is, that the creation of blends is restricted due to their syllable structure: A syllable consists of four constituents, the onset, nucleus and coda, whereas nucleus and coda combined form the rime. One of the restrictions is that syllabic constituents can only be deleted as a whole.13

The second restriction is due to the size of the base words, since mostly two words are combined that have the same amount of syllables. If that is the case than the blend needs to have the same number of syllables as both of their constituents. If this is not the case than the newly created blend has the same amount of syllables as the second base word. The second one of Plags theories is meanwhile disproved by Lehrer, who stated that in her corpus only 55.7% of the analyzed blends correspond to Plags theory14 Other than that both of the authors whose typology this research project leans on, agree with Plags theories about lexical blending. As already mentioned in the introduction the two linguists, Adrienne Lehrer and Elke Ronneberger-Sibold managed to invent different typologies concerning the systematic nature of blends. The analysis of blends according to their typology was our central task in our research project, which is why both typologies will now be explained in more detail.

Typology according to Adrienne Lehrer

Lehrer defines blends as “underlying compounds which are composed of one word and part of another, or parts of two other words. The word part is called a splinter.” (Lehrer 2007:116). Linguistically a splinter is a clipping. Furthermore it is explained that a splinter usually cannot occur as a word, but there is a possibility for the splinter to become a combining form,15 e.g. the suffix -holic, which derived from alcoholic and illustrates the addictive habit of the consumer relating to the base word the suffix is added to as in workaholic, describing a person who works a lot. During our research a few of those splinters occurred. They will be explained in the presentation of the results of the project.

Apart from the clarification of splinters and clippings Lehrer differentiates between six types of blends according to their structure. The first one consists of a full word and a splinter (e.g. giftspiration) and occurs the most, according to Lehrer. In the second type the array is changed since the splinter is now followed by the full word (e.g. athleisure). Thirdly a blend can consist of two splinters (e.g. brunch). That is the type of blends that Plags blending rule can be applied to. The fourth type includes blendings that include a complete overlap of one or more phonemes (e.g. bromantic). It is especially important that the overlap is complete since a partial overlap occurs often (e.g. athleisure). In the fifth type one word or a clipping is embedded in a part of another source word (e.g. femanist). And lastly Lehrer mentioned the sixth type of blending, the shortened compounds.16

Typology according to Elke Ronneberger-Sibold

Similar to Lehrer, Ronneberger-Sibold developed a typology focusing on the structure of blendings. Additionally she assigned certain structural features to different degrees of transparency.


1 Cf. Steinmetz & Kipfer, 2006. p.159 - 160.

2 Cf. Ibid. p.161.

3 Cf. Lehrer, 2007. p 115.

4 Cf. Steinmetz & Kipfer, 2006. pp. 162 - 165.

5 Cf. Lehrer, 2007. pp. 116.

6 Cf. Kortmann, 2005. p. 94.

7 Cf. Ibid. p. 95

8 Cf. Ibid. p. 104

9 Cf. Kortmann, 2005. p. 106.

10 Cf. Plag, 2003. p. 155 - 156.

11 Cf. Beliaeva, 2013. p. 507.

12 Cf. Plag, 2003. p. 121 - 124.

13 I: Monosyllabic blends: Either onset of 1st element and rime of 2nd element or onset and nucleus of 1st element and rime of 2nd element. II: Polysyllabic blends: More constituents that can be combined.

14 Cf. Lehrer, 2007. pp. 119 - 120.

15 Cf. Lehrer, 2007. p. 116.

16 Cf. Ibid. pp. 117 - 119.

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Lexical Blending. Analysis of blends found in magazines according to the typology of Adrienne Lehrer and Elke Ronneberger-Sibol
University of Potsdam
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lexical, blending, analysis, adrienne, lehrer, elke, ronneberger-sibol
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Thea Resbot (Author), 2015, Lexical Blending. Analysis of blends found in magazines according to the typology of Adrienne Lehrer and Elke Ronneberger-Sibol, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/388876


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