Composition

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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 realized 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-mooner, first-nighter, late-comer, newcomer, early-riser, evil-doer.The productivity of this type is confirmed by a considerable number of comparatively recent formations, such as teenager, babysitter, strap-hanger, four-seater( "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 getterin 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 Buickby 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 5type 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-o f-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 isone 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 one-way-streets, no-left-turns, and no-stopping-zones ...

(From A Five-Colour Buickby 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 Factoryby 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 Womanby 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 Elevatorby R. Dahl)

The first of the examples presents the nonce-word leg-pullingcoined on the pattern of neutral derivational compounds. The what-iffingand what-iffersof the third extract seem to represent the same type, though there is something about the words clearly resembling syntactic compounds: their what-if-nucleusis one of frequent patterns of living speech. As to the up-to-no-goodersof 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 -ersuffix. A similar formation is represented by the nonce-word break fast-in-the-bedder( "A person who prefers to have his breakfast in bed").

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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 characterized by the word. Yet, a sleeping-car is not a car that sleeps (cf. a sleeping child),nor is a dancing-hail 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 can not 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 oran 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 blackbirdis some kind of bird and that a good-for-nothingis 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: ladybirdis not a bird, but an insect, tallboynot a boy but a piece of furniture, bluestocking, onthe contrary, is a person, whereas bluebottlemay 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.

Dtr: 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-killerliterally, 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-endersand 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 dead-pan look ...

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

(From A Five-Colour Buickby 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 colour, 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 whiteare 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 bluefor two different colours denoted in Russian by and .

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.

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Afurther 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 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 graphiccriterion of distinguishing between a word and a word-group seems to be sufficiently convincing, yet in many cases it can not wholly be relied on. The spelling of many compounds, tallboy among them, can be varied even within the same book. In the case of tallboythe semanticcriterion 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: tallboydoes 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 boyconveys two concepts (1. a young male person; 2. big in size), whereas the word tallboyexpresses one concept.

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

The phoneticcriterion 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: 'Blue-'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.

Morphologicaland syntacticcriteria can also be applied to compound words in order to distinguish them from word-groups.

In the word-group a tall boyeach 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.




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