A linguistic analysis of the word forming element 'pseudo-'

Seminar Paper, 2007

24 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Methodology

3 Meaning and origin

4 Properties
4.1 Morphological and syntactic properties
4.2 Phonological properties
4.3 Semantic properties

5 Morphological status

6 Transparency

7 Frequency and productivity

8 Comparisons, rivalling elements

9 Conclusion


Appendix (data from dwds and google)

1 Introduction

In this term-paper I will examine the German word-forming element pseudo-/Pseudo- in order to find out about its meaning and function, its properties but also about its transparency and productivity.

First of all I describe the procedure of collecting data and go into some essential basics. I will handle this in chapter two: Methodology. In chapter three I highlight meaning and origin of the element with information from dictionaries. Chapter four is about the different properties of pseudo-. The subparagraph “morphological and syntactic properties” deals with the classification of morphemes according to Kortmann but also with the lexical category of the base and with the finding of particular suffixes. The phonological properties offer an analysis concerning syllables, stress pattern and pronunciation whereas the semantic properties is about pseudo- as an pejorative prefix. Chapter five is called “morphological status” and here I make a discussion about combining forms. In chapter six “transparency”, I define this term and describe how transparent the element is. The chapter of frequency and productivity (Chapter 7) is about how often the element occurs and from this it follows a debate about its productivity rate. In the last chapter I compare pseudo- with möchtegern- and analyze it concerning a certain rivalry between the two morphemes.

2 Methodology

The analysis of the element pseudo- is based on the data collection of several corpora. I used the online dictionary and linguistic data base DWDS (Das Digitale Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache des 20. Jh.). One of the eight corpora that the DWDS provides is called Corpus Berliner Zeitung. This corpus contains all online articles that have been appeared in the Berliner Zeitung from 3.1.1994 to 31.12.2005. It’s scale is about 252 million tokens in 869.000 articles.

I searched for pseudo* and I got 9 pages full of different pseudo- combinations. I tried to sort out the words that were not useful regarding to my analysis. Therefore I eliminated proper nouns or word formations that are well-established. For example pseudoisidorische Dekretalen (kirchenrechtliche Fälschungen) or pseudocýperus (Pflanzenname). I put the words that can be found in a dictionary in brackets and therefore I did not include them in my analysis because dictionary words are not useable concerning an analysis of neologism.

There was no indication for frequency or productivity so I had to count the word formations that occurred more than once. I collected all the data and put them in a table ordered by the year of first publication. The DWDS-corpus is case-sensitive and distinguishes between upper and lower case. So I made a new search and typed in Pseudo* because I wanted to ensure that substantives were also taken into consideration in my analysis. Here I had to separate the words, too. Again I eliminated proper nouns and well-established words for example Pseudokrupp or Pseudonym. Pseudonym is of course a pseudo- word formation but not a new one. So I eliminated it due to the fact that I want to concentrate on neologisms.

Another source to find data is the world wide web. I typed in pseudo* in the search box of www.google.de and I got lots of word formations with pseudo. I took the first 25 words that were useable and eliminated as stated above proper nouns, formations that are already registered in a dictionary or words which did not seem very useful to me. Later I extended my list up to 50 words to stabilize data and the analysis out of it.

I did not eliminate the word formation Pseudowissenschaft(lich) because I figured it out too late that this is a dictionary-registered word formation. So I did not want to eliminate it after thinking about it and after including it into my analysis. I just put it in brackets to make clear that it is not a matter of neologism.

To clean up my crawled data completely, I corrected the inflections. I changed pseudopolitischen (Skandal) into pseudopolitisch for example.

3 Meaning and origin

In common parlance one can say that >pseudo-< is an determinative element of compounds with the meaning “false, spurious, simulated” (cf. Duden, Herkunftswörterbuch) or it is used to mark something as false, fraudulent, or pretending to be what is denoted by the following word. In Webster’s Dictionary (cf. Merriam 2002:45) the element >pseudo-> occurs in the 15th century (Middle English). It has derived from Late Latin pseud-, pseudo-, and from Greek pseudes, pseudein, ψευδής (to lie, cheat, falsify) so it is a foreign word. >pseudo-< has got several meanings, but there is not much of a difference in the particular meanings:

1. false: a) sham, feigned, fake: >pseudodramatic< >pseudoserious<

b) counterfeit, spurious >pseudoantique<

c) quack >pseudoanalyst<

d) fictitious >pseudobiography<

e) unreal, illusory >pseudohallucination<

2. a) substance deceptively resembling (a specified thing) >pseudomalachite<

b) temporary or substitute formation similar to (a specified thing) >pseudobranchia< >pseudopodium<

3. a) chemical compound resembling, isomeric with, or related to (a specified compound) >pseudocumene<

4. a) abnormal, aberrant >pseudarthrosis< >pseudembryo< >pseu- dovum<

4 Properties

4.1 Morphological and syntactic properties

To search out to which kind of affix pseudo- belongs to I found a classification system in Kortmann (2005: 86). He classifies morphemes according to the three criteria autonomy, function/meaning and position. Running through theses criteria with the affix pseudo- we can figure out that pseudo- must be a prefix. In the criteria of autonomy pseudo- must be a bound morpheme because pseudo- cannot stand alone. It always needs to be attached to another morpheme. Now in reference to the criteria of function/meaning Kortmann distinguishes between derivational and inflectional affixes. In our case it must be an derivational affix because pseudo- does not produce word forms but creates new lexemes via affixation. These lexemes have always the meaning as stated above. After discussing the function one has to decide whether the derivational affix is a prefix or suffix. Pseudo- is always attached in front of the base so it must be a prefix.

The lexical categories of the attached bases and the derived word are either nouns or adjectives (cf. Stein 2007). I got this information from different dictionaries but also by taking a closer look to the data. Here only nouns and adjectives were found. In the “Berliner Zeitung” corpus I found 323 nouns whereas the google-results emerged 40 nouns. A tendency to noun-formations is clearly visible because in contrast the “Berliner Zeitung” corpus had only 196 adjective-formations and google offers just ten.

I thought about verbs and asked myself why a verb cannot be attached to pseudo-. I tried to think for some word formations with a verb and so I had for example pseudo-singen and pseudotanzen in my mind. These words sound quite correct to me but I realized that I cannot form a sentence with the new verb-formation. Every sentence that came into my mind made a adjective or a noun out of the verb. No one would say “Wir pseudotanzten im Raum.”, but “Wir tanzten pseudomäßig im Raum.”. I changed the verb automatically in a noun (das Pseudotanzen) or in an adjective (pseudotanzend). So the assumption that pseudo- can be attached to a verb was eliminated.

Particular attention should be given to the conspicuous observation that the endings of some bases accord with each other. In the corpus “Berliner Zeitung” for example we can find 84 bases with the suffix –isch. This suffix is part of the most common suffixes in the adjective formation as it is defined in the online dictionary and grammar of german “canoo.net”. Besides - isch there are two other suffixes that belong to the most productive adjective suffixes in german present-day language: -lich and –ig (cf. Fleischer (1969: 244)) . The numerous occurrence of these suffixes is another evidence for the attachment of adjectives to our word forming element pseudo-.

Other suffixes of adjective formations that I found in the data are for example:

- lich (occurs 15 times)
- ig (occurs 10 times)
- är (occurs 6 times)
- ell (occurs 8 times)
- iv (occurs 11 times)

These suffixes are not as frequent as the suffix –isch. But they all occur more than once. So we can conclude that our prefix prefers particular adjectival suffixes.

4.2 Phonological properties

Phonology (linguistics) scientific study of the organization of speech sounds (including phonemes), esp. in particular languages.“ (OED)

According to this quotation from the OED, I analyzed the element concerning its syllables, its stress pattern and the pronunciation.

By looking through the DWDS-data of the adjectives it becomes obvious that the affix prefers being attached to polysyllabic bases. I found only 10 monosyllabic bases in the corpus “Berliner Zeitung“ namely: pseudoklug, pseudohart, pseudoschrill, pseudoforsch, pseudoschlau, pseudocool, pseudodeutsch, pseudolinks, pseudoneu and pseudoschräg.

Occurrence of polysyllabic bases:

2-syllabled: 46 times (pseudoklassich, pseudosportlich , pseudoethisch)

3-syllabled: 64 times (pseudo-jugendlich , pseudoliberal , pseudo-poetisch)

4-syllabled: 48 times (pseudo-realistisch , pseudo-unbeholfen , pseudomilitärisch)

5-syllabled: 24 times (pseudo-investigativ , pseudo-amerikanisch, pseudoideologisch)

6-syllabled: twice only (pseudo-emanzipatorisch , Pseudoexistenzialistisch)

7-syllabled: once only (pseudo-individualisiert)

But nevertheless pseudo- can also be attached to monosyllabic bases. By natural introspection (that means “that we simply use our own intuition as competent speakers to decide whether certain formations are possible or impossible” Plag 2003: 33) it becomes clear that pseudo - can be attached to every monosyllabic noun or adjective. I tested this by myself and attached pseudo- to any monosyllabic word that came in my mind. Nearly everything works subject to the condition that the base is a noun or an adjective. (e.g. Pseudoklein, Pseudomensch, pseudoblöd. Nonsense words: Pseudomit*, Pseudodoch*, Pseudound*)

And of course also polysyllable nouns and adjectives like to merge with the given affix. We find the highest occurrence with 3-syllabled bases (64 times). From 4-syllabled bases on there is an obvious downward drift of frequency. For example a 7-syllabled base occurs only once in the whole corpora. But I think the explanation for this downward drift is that polysyllables with many syllables are not very frequent at all.

Pseudo- prefers a certain stress pattern. The data do not show the usual leftward stress pattern, but have their main stress on the right-hand member of the compound. So pseudo- is always unstressed and the following word is stressed.

But I cannot figure out a certain stress pattern for the following word. That is an indicator therefore that the following word does not change in any way and that it is always taken over in the form of its origin.

First I thought that pseudo- prefers bases that start with an unstressed syllable or bases with the stress in the ending because I found many examples e.g. pseudo-industriell, pseudofamiliär or pseudo-neutral. But exceptions like pseudo-tiefsinnig, pseudo-weltmännisch or pseudoheroisch overthrew my observations. So pseudo- can be attached to nearly every noun or adjective as far as I can evaluate and estimate the data.

Independent from the following base, the pronunciation of pseudo- is always the same. And the base does not change in pronunciation, too. Pseudo- is just added to the original base word and gives this base word therefore a new sense, but no new manner of articulation.

4.3 Semantic properties

After Quirk (1986) p seudo- is a prefix that announces attitude and estimation of the speaker concerning the base word. He calls prefixes like mis- and mal- but also a prefix like pseudo- pejorative prefixes. That means that the given prefix depreciates the following base word.

Furthermore the base word never has the same meaning or a similar meaning as pseudo- already has. For example I found zero hits when I entered pseudofalsch in the search box of google or the dwds corpus Berliner Zeitung.


Excerpt out of 24 pages


A linguistic analysis of the word forming element 'pseudo-'
University of Marburg  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Morphology and Syntax
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Morphology, Syntax, linguistic
Quote paper
Sandra Thillmann (Author), 2007, A linguistic analysis of the word forming element 'pseudo-', Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/88693


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