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Composition

This type of word-building, in which new words are produced by combining two or more stems, is one of the three most productive types in Modern English, the other two are conversion and affixation. Compounds, though certainly fewer in quantity than derived or root words, still represent one of the most typical and specific features of English word-structure.

There are at least three aspects of composition that present special interest.

The first is the structural aspect. Compounds are not homogeneous in structure. Traditionally three types are distinguished: neutral, morphological and syntactic.

In neutral compounds the process of compounding is realised without any linking elements, by a mere juxtaposition of two stems, as in blackbird, shop-window, sunflower, bedroom, tallboy, etc. There are three subtypes of neutral compounds depending on the structure of the constituent stems.

The examples above represent the subtype which may be described as simple neutral compounds: they consist of simple affixless stems.

Compounds which have affixes in their structure are called derived or derivational compounds. E. g. absent-mindedness, blue-eyed, golden-haired, broad-shouldered, lady-killer, film-goer, music-lover, honey-moon-


er, first-nighter, late-comer, newcomer, early-riser, evildoer. The productivity of this type is confirmed by a considerable number of comparatively recent formations, such as teenager, babysitter, strap-hanger, fourseater ("car or boat with four seats"), doubledecker ("a ship or bus with two decks"). Numerous nonce-words are coined on this pattern which is another proof of its high productivity: e. g. luncher-out ("a person who habitually takes his lunch in restaurants and not at home"), goose-flesher ("murder story") or attention getter in the following fragment:

"Dad," I began ... "I'm going to lose my job." That should be an attention getter, I figured.

(From A Five-Colour Buick by P. Anderson Wood)

The third subtype of neutral compounds is called contracted compounds. These words have a shortened (contracted) stem in their structure: TV-set (-program, -show, -canal, etc.), V-day (Victory day), G-man (Government man "FBI agent"), H-bag (handbag), T-shirt, etc.

Morphological compounds are few in number. This type is non-productive. It is represented by words in which two compounding stems are combined by a linking vowel or consonant, e. g. Anglo-Saxon, Franko-Prussian, handiwork, handicraft, craftsmanship, spokesman, statesman (see also p. 115).

In syntactic compounds (the term is arbitrary) we once more find a feature of specifically English word-structure. These words are formed from segments of speech, preserving in their structure numerous traces of syntagmatic relations typical of speech: articles, prepositions, adverbs, as in the nouns lily-of-the-valley, Jack-of-all-trades, good-for-nothing, mother-in-law, sit-at-home. Syntactical relations and grammatical patterns current in present-day English can be clearly traced in the structures of such compound nouns as


pick-me-up, know-all, know-nothing, go-between, get-together, whodunit. The last word (meaning "a detective story") was obviously coined from the ungrammatical variant of the word-group who (has) done it.

In this group of compounds, once more, we find a great number of neologisms, and whodunit is one of them. Consider, also, the two following fragments which make rich use of modern city traffic terms.

Randy managed to weave through a maze of oneway-streets, no-left-turns, and no-stopping-zones ...

(From A Five-Colour Buick by P. Anderson Wood)

"... you go down to the Department of Motor Vehicles tomorrow and take your behind-the-wheel test."

(Ibid.)

The structure of most compounds is transparent, as it were, and clearly betrays the origin of these words from word-combinations. The fragments below illustrate admirably the very process of coining nonce-words after the productive patterns of composition.

"Is all this really true?" he asked. "Or are you pulling my leg?"

... Charlie looked slowly around at each of the four old faces... They were quite serious. There was no sign of joking or leg-pulling on any of them.

(From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by R. Dahl)

"I have decided that you are up to no good. I am well aware that that is your natural condition. But I prefer you to be up to no good in London. Which is more used to up-to-no-gooders."

(From The French Lieutenant's Woman by J. Fowles)

"What if they capture us?" said Mrs. Bucket. "What if they shoot us?" said Grandma Georgina. "What if my beard were made of green spinach?" cried Mr. Wonka. "Bunkum and tommyrot! You'll


never get anywhere if you go about what-iffing like that. ...We want no what-iffers around, right, Charlie?"

(From Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by R. Dahl)

The first of the examples presents the nonce-word leg-pulling coined on the pattern of neutral derivational compounds. The what-iffing and what-iffers of the third extract seem to represent the same type, though there is something about the words clearly resembling syntactic compounds: their what-if-nucleus is one of frequent patterns of living speech. As to the up-to-no-gooders of the second example, it is certainly a combination of syntactic and derivational types, as it is made from a segment of speech which is held together by the -er suffix. A similar formation is represented by the nonce-word breakfast-in-the-bedder ("a person who prefers to have his breakfast in bed").

* * *

Another focus of interest is the semantic aspect of compound words, that is, the question of correlations of the separate meanings of the constituent parts and the actual meaning of the compound. Or, to put it in easier terms: can the meaning of a compound word be regarded as the sum of its constituent meanings?

To try and answer this question, let us consider the following groups of examples.

(1) Classroom, bedroom, working-man, evening-gown, dining-room, sleeping-car, reading-room, dancing-hall.

This group seems to represent compounds whose meanings can really be described as the sum of their constituent meanings. Yet, in the last four words we can distinctly detect a slight shift of meaning. The first component in these words, if taken as a free form, denotes an action or state of whatever or whoever is characterised by the word. Yet, a sleeping-car is not a car


that sleeps (cf. a sleeping child), nor is a dancing-hall actually dancing (cf. dancing pairs).

The shift of meaning becomes much more pronounced in the second group of examples.

(2) Blackboard, blackbird, football, lady-killer, pick
pocket, good-for-nothing, lazybones, chatterbox.

In these compounds one of the components (or both) has changed its meaning: a blackboard is neither a board nor necessarily black, football is not a ball but a game, a chatterbox not a box but a person, and a lady-killer kills no one but is merely a man who fascinates women. It is clear that in all these compounds the meaning of the whole word cannot be defined as the sum of the constituent meanings. The process of change of meaning in some such words has gone so far that the meaning of one or both constituents is no longer in the least associated with the current meaning of the corresponding free form, and yet the speech community quite calmly accepts such seemingly illogical word groups as a white blackbird, pink bluebells or an entirely confusing statement like: Blackberries are red when they are green.

Yet, despite a certain readjustment in the semantic structure of the word, the meanings of the constituents of the compounds of this second group are still transparent: you can see through them the meaning of the whole complex. Knowing the meanings of the constituents a student of English can get a fairly clear idea of what the whole word means even if he comes across it for the first time. At least, it is clear that a blackbird is some kind of bird and that a good-for-nothing is not meant as a compliment.

(3) In the third group of compounds the process of
deducing the meaning of the whole from those of the
constituents is impossible. The key to meaning seems to
have been irretrievably lost: ladybird is not a bird, but
an insect, tallboy not a boy but a piece of furniture,


bluestocking, on the contrary, is a person, whereas bluebottle may denote both a flower and an insect but never a bottle.

Similar enigmas are encoded in such words as man-of-war ("warship"), merry-to-round ("carousel"), mother-of-pearl ("irridescent substance forming the inner layer of certain shells"), horse-marine ("a person who is unsuitable for his job or position"), butter-fingers ("clumsy person; one who is apt to drop things"), wall-flower ("a girl who is not invited to dance at a party"), whodunit ("detective story"), straphanger (1. "a passenger who stands in a crowded bus or underground train and holds onto a strap or other support suspended from above"; 2. "a book of light genre, trash; the kind of book one is likely to read when travelling in buses or trains").

The compounds whose meanings do not correspond to the separate meanings of their constituent parts (2nd and 3rd group listed above) are called idiomatic compounds, in contrast to the first group known as non-idiomatic compounds.

The suggested subdivision into three groups is based on the degree of semantic cohesion of the constituent parts, the third group representing the extreme case of cohesion where the constituent meanings blend to produce an entirely new meaning.

The following joke rather vividly shows what happens if an idiomatic compound is misunderstood as non-idiomatic.

Patient: They tell me, doctor, you are a perfect lady-killer.

Doctor: Oh, no, no! I assure you, my dear madam, I make no distinction between the sexes.

In this joke, while the woman patient means to compliment the doctor on his being a handsome and irresistible man, he takes or pretends to take the word lady-killer literally, as a sum of the direct meanings of its constituents.


The structural type of compound words and the word-building type of composition have certain advantages for communication purposes.

Composition is not quite so flexible a way of coining new words as conversion but flexible enough as is convincingly shown by the examples of nonce-words given above. Among compounds are found numerous expressive and colourful words. They are also comparatively laconic, absorbing into one word an idea that otherwise would have required a whole phrase (cf. The hotel was full of week-enders and The hotel was full of people spending the week-end there).

Both the laconic and the expressive value of compounds can be well illustrated by English compound adjectives denoting colours (cf. snow-white — as white as snow).

In the following extract a family are discussing which colour to paint their new car.

"Hey," Sally yelled, "could you paint it canary yellow, Fred?"

"Turtle green," shouted my mother, quickly getting into the spirit of the thing.

"Mouse grey," Randy suggested.

"Dove white, maybe?" my mother asked.

"Rattlesnake brown," my father said with a deadpan look...

"Forget it, all of you," I announced. "My Buick is going to be peacock blue."

(From A Five-Colour Buick by P. Anderson Wood)

It is obvious that the meaning of all these "multi-coloured" adjectives is based on comparison: the second constituent of the adjective is the name of a colour used in its actual sense and the first is the name of an object (animal, flower, etc.) with which the comparison is drawn. The pattern immensely extends the possibilities of denoting all imaginable shades of each co-


lour, the more so that the pattern is productive and a great number of nonce-words are created after it. You can actually coin an adjective comparing the colour of a defined object with almost anything on earth: the pattern allows for vast creative experiments. This is well shown in the fragment given above. If canary yellow, peacock blue, dove white are quite "normal" in the language and registered by dictionaries, turtle green and rattlesnake brown1 are certainly typical nonce-words, amusing inventions of the author aimed at a humorous effect.

Sometimes it is pointed out, as a disadvantage, that the English language has only one word blue for two different colours denoted in Russian by синий and голубой.

But this seeming inadequacy is compensated by a large number of adjectives coined on the pattern of comparison such as navy blue, cornflower blue, peacock blue, chicory blue, sapphire blue, china blue, sky-blue, turquoise blue, forget-me-not blue, heliotrope blue, powder-blue. This list can be supplemented by compound adjectives which also denote different shades of blue, but are not built on comparison: dark blue, light blue, pale blue, electric blue, Oxford blue, Cambridge blue.

* * *

A further theoretical aspect of composition is the criteria for distinguishing between a compound and a word-combination.

This question has a direct bearing on the specific feature of the structure of most English compounds which has already been mentioned: with the exception

1 R. "цвета гремучей змеи". The father of the family is absolutely against the idea of buying the car, and the choice of this word reflects his mood of resentment.


of the rare morphological type, they originate directly from word-combinations and are often homonymous to them: cf. a tall boy a tallboy.

In this case the graphic criterion of distinguishing between a word and a word-group seems to be sufficiently convincing, yet in many cases it cannot wholly be relied on. The spelling of many compounds, tallboy among them, can be varied even within the same book. In the case of tallboy the semantic criterion seems more reliable, for the striking difference in the meanings of the word and the word-group certainly points to the highest degree of semantic cohesion in the word: tallboy does not even denote a person, but a piece of furniture, a chest of drawers supported by a low stand.

Moreover, the word-group a tall boy conveys two concepts (1. a young male person; 2. big in size), whereas the word tallboy expresses one concept.

Yet the semantic criterion alone cannot prove anything as phraseological units also convey a single concept and some of them are characterised by a high degree of semantic cohesion (see Ch. 12).

The phonetic criterion for compounds may be treated as that of a single stress. The criterion is convincingly applicable to many compound nouns, yet does not work with compound adjectives:

cf. 'slowcoach, blackbird, 'tallboy,

but: blие-'eyed, 'absent-'minded, 'ill-'mannered.

Still, it is true that the morphological structure of these adjectives and their hyphenated spelling leave no doubt about their status as words and not word-groups.

Morphological and syntactic criteria can also be applied to compound words in order to distinguish them from word-groups.


In the word-group a tall boy each of the constituents is independently open to grammatical changes peculiar to its own category as a part of speech: They were the tallest boys in their form.

Between the constituent parts of the word-group other words can be inserted: a tall handsome boy.

The compound tallboy — and, in actual fact, any other compound — is not subject to such changes. The first component is grammatically invariable; the plural form ending is added to the whole unit: tallboys. No word can be inserted between the components, even with the compounds which have a traditional separate graphic form.

All this leads us to the conclusion that, in most cases, only several criteria (semantic, morphological, syntactic, phonetic, graphic) can convincingly classify a lexical unit as either a compound word or a word group.

Semi-Affixes

Consider the following examples.

"... The Great Glass Elevator is shockproof, waterproof, bombproof, bulletproof, and Knidproof1 ..." (From Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by R. Dahl)

Lady Malvern tried to freeze him with a look, but you can't do that sort of thing to Jeeves. He is look-proof.

(From Carry on, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse)

Better sorts of lip-stick are frequently described in advertisements as kissproof. Some building materials may be advertised as fireproof. Certain technical devices are foolproof meaning that they are safe even in a fool's hands.

1 Knids — fantastic monsters supposed to inhabit the Cosmos and invented by the author of this book for children.


All these words, with -proof for the second component, stand between compounds and derived words in their characteristics. On the one hand, the second component seems to bear all the features of a stem and preserves certain semantic associations with the free form proof. On the other hand, the meaning of -proof in all the numerous words built on this pattern has become so generalised that it is certainly approaching that of a suffix. The high productivity of the pattern is proved, once more, by the possibility of coining nonce-words after this pattern: look-proof and Knidproof, the second produced from the non-existent stem Knid.

The component -proof, standing thus between a stem and an affix, is regarded by some scholars as a semi-affix.

Another example of semi-affix is -man in a vast group of English nouns denoting people: sportsman, gentleman, nobleman, salesman, seaman, fisherman, countryman, statesman, policeman, chairman, etc.

Semantically, the constituent -man in these words approaches the generalised meaning of such noun-forming suffixes as -er, -or, -ist (e. g. artist), -ite (e. g. hypocrite). It has moved so far in its meaning from the corresponding free form man, that such word-groups as woman policeman or Mrs. Chairman are quite usual. Nor does the statement Lady, you are no gentleman sound eccentric or illogical for the speaker uses the word gentleman in its general sense of a noble upright person, regardless of sex. It must be added though that this is only an occasional usage and that gentleman is normally applied to men.

Other examples of semi-affixes are -land (e. g. Ire land, Scotland, fatherland, wonderland), -like (e. g. ladylike, unladylike, businesslike, unbusiness like, starlike, flowerlike, etc.), -worthy (e. g. seaworthy, trustworthy, praiseworthy).


Shortening (Contraction)

This comparatively new way of word-building has achieved a high degree of productivity nowadays, especially in American English.

Shortenings (or contracted/curtailed words) are produced in two different ways. The first is to make a new word from a syllable (rarer, two) of the original word. The latter may lose its beginning (as in phone made from telephone, fence from defence), its ending (as in hols from holidays, vac from vacation, props from properties, ad from advertisement) or both the beginning and ending (as in flu from influenza, fridge from refrigerator).

The second way of shortening is to make a new word from the initial letters of a word group: U.N.O. ['ju:neu] from the United Nations Organisation, B.B.C. from the British Broadcasting Corporation, M.P. from Member of Parliament. This type is called initial shortenings. They are found not only among formal words, such as the ones above, but also among colloquialisms and slang. So, g. f. is a shortened word made from the compound girl-friend. The word, though, seems to be somewhat ambiguous as the following conversation between two undergraduates clearly shows:

— Who's the letter from?

— My g. f.

— Didn't know you had girl-friends. A nice girl?

— Idiot! It's from my grandfather!

It is commonly believed that the preference for shortenings can be explained by their brevity and is due to the ever-increasing tempo of modern life. Yet, in the conversation given above the use of an ambiguous contraction does not in the least contribute to the brevity of the communication: on the contrary, it takes the speakers some time to clarify the misunderstand-


ing. Confusion and ambiguousness are quite natural consequences of the modern overabundance of shortened words, and initial shortenings are often especially enigmatic and misleading.

Both types of shortenings are characteristic of informal speech in general and of uncultivated speech particularly. The history of the American okay seems to be rather typical. Originally this initial shortening was spelt O.K. and was supposed to stand for all correct. The purely oral manner in which sounds were recorded for letters resulted in O.K. whereas it should have been AC. or aysee. Indeed, the ways of words are full of surprises.

Here are some more examples of informal shortenings. Movie (from moving-picture), gent (from gentleman), specs (from spectacles), circs (from circumstances, e. g. under the circs), I. O. Y. (a written acknowledgement of debt, made from I owe you), lib (from liberty, as in May I take the lib of saying something to you?), cert (from certainty, as in This enterprise is a cert if you have a bit of capital), metrop (from metropoly, e. g. Paris is a gay metrop), exhibish (from exhibition), posish (from position).

Undergraduates' informal speech abounds in words of the type: exam, lab, prof, vac, hol, co-ed (a girl student at a coeducational school or college).

Some of the Minor Types of Modern Word-Building. Sound-Imitation (Onomatopoeia1)

Words coined by this interesting type of word-building are made by imitating different kinds of sounds that may be produced by animals, birds, insects, human beings and inanimate objects.

1 [onemaete'pie]. This type of word-formation is now also called echoism (the term was introduced by O. Jespersen).


It is of some interest that sounds produced by the same kind of animal are. frequently represented by quite different sound groups in different languages. For instance, English dogs bark (cf. the R. лаять) or howl (cf. the R. выть). The English cock cries cock-a-doodle-doo (cf. the R. ку-ка-ре-ку). In England ducks quack and frogs croak (cf. the R. крякать said about ducks and квакать said about frogs). It is only English and Russian cats who seem capable of mutual understanding when they meet, for English cats mew or miaow (meow). The same can be said about cows: they moo (but also low).

Some names of animals and especially of birds and insects are also produced by sound-imitation: crow, cuckoo, humming-bird, whip-poor-will, cricket.

The following desperate letter contains a great number of sound-imitation words reproducing sounds made by modern machinery:

The Baltimore & Ohio R. R. Co.,

Pittsburg, Pa.

Gentlemen:

Why is it that your switch engine has to ding and fizz and spit and pant and grate and grind and puff and bump and chug and hoot and toot and whistle and wheeze and howl and clang and growl and thump and clash and boom and jolt and screech and snarl and snort and slam and throb and soar and rattle and hiss and yell and smoke and shriek all night long when I come home from a hard day at the boiler works and have to keep the dog quiet and the baby quiet so my wife can squawk at me for snoring in my sleep?

Yours

(From Language and Humour by G. G. Pocheptsov.)

There is a hypothesis that sound-imitation as a way of word-formation should be viewed as something much wider than just the production of words by the imitation of


purely acoustic phenomena. Some scholars suggest that words may imitate through their sound form certain unacoustic features and qualities of inanimate objects, actions and processes or that the meaning of the word can be regarded as the immediate relation of the sound group to the object. If a young chicken or kitten is described as fluffy there seems to be something in the sound of the adjective that conveys the softness and the downy quality of its plumage or its fur. Such verbs as to glance, to glide, to slide, to slip are supposed to convey by their very sound the nature of the smooth, easy movement over a slippery surface. The sound form of the words shimmer, glimmer, glitter seems to reproduce the wavering, tremulous nature of the faint light. The sound of the verbs to rush, to dash, to flash may be said to reflect the brevity, swiftness and energetic nature of their corresponding actions. The word thrill has something in the quality of its sound that very aptly conveys the tremulous, tingling sensation it expresses.

Some scholars have given serious consideration to this theory. However, it has not yet been properly developed.

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