Clippings. The development of usage and its distribution regarding formal and informal registers

Term Paper, 2019

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of content

1. Introduction

2. Clipping
2.1. Definition and scientific approach
2.2. Development and function
2.3. Types of clipping

3. Corpus-based study
3.1. Example 1 Phone and telephone
3.2. Example 2 Flu and influenza

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

Clippings - The development of usage and its distribution regarding formal and informal registers

A corpus-based study

1. Introduction

Morphology is a broad field of linguistics which deals with word-formation processes apart from many other subject areas. This paper focuses on the shortening process of clipping since the shortening of words in the English language already existed four centuries ago. The process is still gaining in importance as clipping is a frequently realized process in current English (Marchand 1969 448). Most linguistic definitions of the term clipping agree that the process does not involve a semantic change, thus the meaning of the original word and the clipped form remains identical. Even if the meaning of an original word and its clipped form is interchangeable, "frequently clipping results in a change of stylistic level" (Bauer 1983 233). Generally, clippings are used in less formal contexts and colloquial speech, whereas the original form is used in more formal circumstances and written English (Mattiello 2013 69). Therefore, regardless of the unchanged meaning of a shortened word, clippings are not interchangeable in the same type of speech and are restricted to either formal or informal register (Marchand 1969 441).

However, some clippings like phone and flu seem to be even more popular than their original lexemes telephone and influenza. The question comes up if the usage of clippings regarding overall frequency and its limitation to formal and informal contexts has changed through time. Is it possible that some clippings nearly replaced their original form and are more frequent in common language? If that is the case, does a restriction of these clippings towards formal registers still exist?

This paper will answer those question by presenting, analyzing and interpreting the results of a corpus-based study of two clippings and their original lexemes. To be able to examine a potentially existing change of usage, the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) were used.

At first, the term clipping is defined and the academic perspective towards clipping is presented. Besides, the development and function of clipping and its different types are stated. Then the corpora used for this study are shortly introduced.

After that the frequency and the usage in different registers of two clippings and their original lexemes are analyzed with the help of COCA and COHA. As a conclusion, the results of the corpus-based study will be used to answer the question how the frequency of clippings develops through time and if popular clippings are still excluded from formal registers.

2. Clipping

Clipping is superficially described as a word-formation process of shortening a word without resulting in a semantic change (Bauer 2003 40). In literature the term truncation (Plag 2003 13) is also used to describe the same phenomenon. At first, the following section will go more into depth regarding the definition and scientific approach to clipping. Secondly, the development of clipping and its main functions are outlined. Thirdly, the different types of clipping including English examples are presented.

2.1. Definition and scientific approach

Clipping is a process which reduces a multisyllabic word to a shorter form, mostly to a monosyllabic or disyllabic word (Yule 2010 56). Since most of the clipped words in the English language are nouns (Tournier 1985 299), clipping can be called a process of nominal nature.

In contrast to other word-formation processes like affixation, shortenings referring to acronyms, initialism and clippings do not attract much scientific interest. On the one hand, this can be ascribed to the fact that clipping is an irregular and unpredictable process compared to affixation and compounding. Formation rules of clipping which predict which words will be clipped do not exist (Mattiello 2013 65). The unpredictability of clipping is the main reason why clipping is not in scholars' main focus. In consequence, Haspelmath (2002) and others (Aronoff 1976; Scalise 1984; Spencer 1991) even exclude the process of clipping from morphological theory. On the other hand, "most clippings follow specific, phonologically determined patterns, though, and don't pay attention to morpheme boundaries" (Harley 2006 95). The fact that the deleted material of clippings are not morphs in combination with the unpredictability of clippings challenges the clear allocation to the field of morphology. Clipping rather belongs to the research field of extra-grammatical morphology than to grammatical morphology at least, since "the processes through which they are obtained are not clearly identifiable and their output does not allow a prediction of a regular output" (Mattiello 2013 1).

To keep the completeness of current research, it needs to be added at this point that scholars do not only challenge the categorization of clipping to the field of morphology. Clipping as a process of word-formation is also often discussed because in many cases clipping does not generate a lot of new words. Some scholars like Haspelmath (2002 25) generally exclude clipping from word-formation and as an alternative label clipping as word-creation. In contrast, Plag (2003 117) classifies clippings as a word-formation process considering that clippings imply a speaker's attitude and carry a different connotation than its base lexeme. According to Marchand (1969 441), only those clippings belong to word-formation which completely lose their connection to its original word so that speakers do not perceive the clipped form as a shortening. The whole discussion about the question whether clipping is a word- formation process includes morphological, phonological and semantic aspects. Due to the limited size of this term paper the full discussion cannot be presented.

However, even if the classification of clipping into a linguistic subdiscipline is controversial as well as clipping as a distinct process of word-formation, clipping is an important subject of research which should not be neglected. Particularly because the number of clippings continuously increases and they become more important in daily life (Kortmann 2005 95).

2.2. Development and function

Most clippings originate as words from the slang of a specific social or occupational group. Many of the existing clippings rather belong to the slang of students, soldiers, doctors and teenagers (Mattiello 2013 64 - 65) than to the standard vocabulary of English. Thus, most clippings are extremely colloquial and their usage is often limited to informal contexts and their specific group (Kortmann 2005 106). The group of people who are placed in the environment of schools, for example, presumably prefers the usage of exam, lab and math instead of examination, laboratory and mathematics. The usage of clippings can be explained by their functions. On the one hand, "the use of clipped forms [.] signals familiarity and closeness in a conceptual as well as a social way" (Schmid 2011 215). By using the clipped form of a word, the speaker indicates his familiarity with the referred concept as well as his membership of a social group. Due to the mutual membership of a group, the use of the longer form is not necessary anymore since both interlocutors are familiar with the concept referred to. But some clippings like gas for gasoline pass into common usage and lose their in-group character (Plag 2003 121). This often happens to words describing a concept that is embedded in almost every speaker's daily life. Sticking to the example of gas, nearly all Americans own a car and its tank needs to be filled with gas regularly. As a result of the increasing frequency of a word in language due to the concept's omnipresence, words are often clipped (Harley 2006 95). Consequently, clipping often functions as a process of economizing and practicability as clippings can be articulated faster and are easier to pronounce. Apart from that Marchand adds "the desire for shortness" (1969 446) and "English tendency towards shortness" (1969 448) as main reasons for the increasing production of clippings.

As initially assumed, some clippings such as gas have the potential to cross the border from slang into common language and compete against their original form regarding frequency. How clippings can develop through time regarding frequency and if they are to replace their original form also in formal contexts will be analyzed by the corpus-based study in the following section.

2.3. Types of clipping

Clippings can be classified according to which part of the base is deleted through the process. The most frequent case is back-clipping which means that the final part of a word is deleted. Typical examples of this type of clipping are ad for advertisement and prof for professor. In contrast, when the initial part of the word is deleted, the process is called fore-clipping. Phone for telephone and plane for airplane belong to this category. A third type is referred to as edge-clipping which implies that only the middle part of a word remains after deleting the initial and final part. It is generally admitted that this clipping process is extremely rare but an often mentioned example is flu for influenza. Even less popular is middle-clipping referring to examples like ana for anorexia and cortisone for corticosterone. Often clipping appears in combination with suffixation which means that one part of a word is deleted and a suffix is added. An example for this is barbie for barbecue (Mattiello 2013 82). The wide variety of clipping processes shows that it is linguistically easy to apply the process. Incidentally, clipping is the process which is predominantly used by the production of nick names, for example Lisa for Elisabeth and Chris for Christopher (Harley 2006 96).

3. Corpus-based study

The following corpus-based study aims to answer the question how the usage of clippings regarding frequency has changed through time and if popular clippings are still excluded from formal registers. The words of research are the clippings phone for telephone and flu for influenza since both words seem to be extremely popular in the English language.

The Corpus of Historical American English (COHA), which was created by Mark Davies, contains about more than 400 million words of text from 1810s - 2000s. Each decade is balanced concerning the genres of fiction, popular magazines, newspapers and academic texts. The analysis of the clippings using COHA will show the development of its usage concerning overall frequency over time in comparison to the original lexeme.

The second corpus used in this paper is the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), which was also created by Mark Davies. The corpus contains more than 560 million words of text and is equally divided among spoken, fiction, popular magazines, academic texts and newspapers and covers the time period from 1990 until 2017. Focusing on the distribution of words regarding different mediums, the following analysis of clippings aims to answer the question whether clippings are only used in text types with a low degree of formality. The order of the COCA registers - beginning with spoken, followed by fiction, magazine, newspaper, and finally academic - is presumably not random. The first one may be the least formal one, and the degree of formality may increase with each register. To be able to compare the distribution of clippings in different text types, the number of words of every register has to be quite equal which is applicable for COCA.

3.1. Example 1: Phone and telephone

The development of usage of the word telephone and its clipped form phone is shown in the chart below based on COHA's data. Until the 1960s telephone was used more often than its clipping but then the usage of telephone has gradually decreased. In contrast, phone occurs more often than telephone since the 1960s and in the 2000s its frequency can be described by 224,33 tokens per million words. The normalized frequency of telephone only reaches 34,90 tokens per million words. Apparently, the usage of the clipped form phone compared to telephone regarding frequency has increased through time. This result can be explained by the steady technologization back then. Telephones evolved into an omnipresent technical device which is used by most people until today. As so many speakers are familiar with this concept it is no longer necessary to use the long inconvenient version to identify the concept (Harley 2006 95). The high frequency of phone proves that in this case the clipping is not only limited to a specific social group but has passed into common usage. The decreasing use of the longer word telephone compared with phone can be explained by speaker's tendency to prefer short expressions whenever possible due to practicability (Harley 2006 95; Marchand 1969 446). If the lexeme telephone will be completely replaced by phone in the long term can only be presumed at this point.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1 Normalized frequency of phone and telephone in COHA from the 1870s - 2000s


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Clippings. The development of usage and its distribution regarding formal and informal registers
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
Morphology, Clippings, Corpus-based study, Word-formation
Quote paper
Lisa Graap (Author), 2019, Clippings. The development of usage and its distribution regarding formal and informal registers, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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