AD's English Literature : Key Factors of Word Formation in English Language

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Key Factors of Word Formation in English Language


Introduction: Word formation, it should be noted, does not mean absolutely new creations, words whose components have had no associations is a rarity today. In fact, the English vocabulary has changed continually over more than 1,500 years of development which has more than 1 million words, including obsolete forms and variant spellings. The English vocabulary is more extensive than that of any other language in the world which has a word-building capacity equal to that of Chinese. There are many reasons for this upgradation .Interestingly, the most common way of adding to the vocabulary is by making some new use of words or word elements already existing in the language. Let us now discuss most common ways by which new words are formed and added to the vocabulary.

Compounding: This word formation process involves combining two or more existing word into a single new word. It has flourished at every period of the English language. They can be written as one word or as two words joined with a hyphen.
 Almost any combination of the parts of speech may be employed in this process of compounding, through some combinations are far more common than others, some are unusual, and some have not been favoured equally in every period. Among the most common are: rail-road, house top, weekend, woodshed, note + book → notebook, Hinglish (a variety of English used by speakers of Hindi, characterized by frequent use of Hindi vocabulary or constructions)etc (noun-noun compound); air-tight, foot-sore, blue + berry → blueberry etc. (noun-adj compound); up-shot, over-head (adv-noun compound); over-due, ever-green, bitter + sweet → bittersweet etc (adv-adj compound) etc.

Clipping: It is a process involving the shortening of a long word by dropping some part of it without changing the meaning of the word. Clipping does not seem to follow any definite rules. However, we can note three type of clipping –

Fore clipping- (clipping of the initial part): examples- (aero) plane, (cara) van, (tele) phone, (uni) varsity, (earth) quake, (alli) gator.

Back clipping-(end elements are dropped) bike - bicycle, hippo (potamus), lab (oratory), exam (ination), Pram – perambulator, ad (vertisement), gym (nasium), photo  (graph) .

Fore and after clipping- (the middle part of the word is retained)
Liz - Elizabeth, (in) flu (enza), (re)fridge (rator).

Derivation: In this process, a new entity is derived not from independent words (as in compounding) but from a single full word plus a prefix or suffix. Suffixes or prefixes, known as collectively affixes, may not stand alone as words; they occur only in combination with a word. The suffixes like –sun, -wis, -dom, -had, -ig, -full, -leas, -lice, -nes and prefixes like a-, be-, for-, fore-, ge-, mis-, of-, ofer-, on-, to-, un-, under-, wip- etc are randomly used to form new words even from limited stem.

Here is the list of common prefixes:
 (away) abrupt, absent, absolve
 (to) adverb, advertisment,
 (not) incapable, indecisive, intolerable
 (between, among) intercept, interdependent, interprovincial
 (within) intramural, intrapersonal, intraprovincial
 (before) prefabricate, preface, prefer
 (after) postpone, postscript, postwar
 (under) submarine, subscription
 (across) transfer, transit, translate

Here is the list of common Suffixes:

 (capable of) portable, legible
 (full of) eloquent, verdant
 (doctrine, belief) socialism, monotheism
 (state of) fortitude, certitude
 (to make) harmonize, revolutionize

Back-formation: By means of back – formation, which involves the removal of affixes, which form new words by shortening or clipping, short words are included in our language. It is the very opposite of compounding and derivation in which longer words are added to the vocabulary. Thus the new verb ‘edit’ has been produced by back-formation from the noun‘editor’, beg from ‘beghard’ (French word), ‘burgle’ from ‘burglar’, ‘orate’ from ‘oration’, ‘wig’ from ‘periwig’, ‘still’ from ‘distiller’ ‘spot’ from ‘disport’, ‘fence’ from ‘defence’, ‘mend’ from ‘amend’, ‘lone’ from ‘alone’, ‘pram’ from ‘perambulator’ etc.

Conversion: Another process by which the vocabulary is increased is by conversion of one part of speech into another – also known as ‘functional shift’. Here, the form of the word remains unchanged but it is used in a different grammatical functions, which, in effect, maker it a new word. A progress in Modern English in this device can be exampled in the word ‘feature’ which is a noun can be used in the modifying position, in ‘feature picture’ or it may be used as a verb in the phrase ‘to feature (a certain player)’. The most common conversion is that of a noun into a verb. ‘Bell’, ‘bridge’, ‘color’, ‘ink’, ‘paper’, ‘stone’ and ‘ditch’ are a few random examples of the numerous nouns that may be used as verbs. Other words that can be used both as noun and verbs are contemporary borrowings from French, ‘sabotage’ and ‘camouflage’.

Blending: In word formation process the beginning of one word is added to the end of another, and subtracting what’s between. To take some examples, ‘flaunt is a blend of ‘flout’ and ‘vaunt’, ‘slide’ of ‘slip’ and ‘guide’ and ‘swirl’, of ‘twist’ and ‘whirl’. An even word like ‘flush’ is an amalgamation of ‘flash’ and ‘blush’ and ‘squash’ of ‘squeeze’ and ‘crash’. Lewis Carroll sets his journey in ‘portmanteau’, ‘chortle’ (chucke and snort) and ‘galumphing’ (gallop and triumphing) in popular vine. Contemporary journalists are sure of ‘airmada’ (airplane + armada) crashing, ‘motel’ (motorist + hotel), smog (smoke +fog), advertainment (advertisement + entertainment), spork (spoon + fork) etc.

Foreign Borrowings: All the major languages are on record as sources of English present-day vocabulary. While much change takes place in a given language without outside interference, many changes can result from contact with other languages. This whole gamut of borrowing is controlled by different parameters like sociology, politics, culture, time line of history, colonialism, economics etc.

Foreign Borrowings

Latin *after the arrival of Christianity
Bishop, church, priest.
Scandinavian * Viking invasion (8th Cent)
Egg, sky, window
French * Norman Conquest (11th Cent)
Warden, reward, mansion café, lingerie, envelope, and avalanche
Latin * End of Renaissance (16th Cent)
cheese, street, campanile, and exodus

Borrowings from other countries:

Australia: boomerang, kangaroo , Wombat
New Zealand: kiwi, pakeha
Javanese: batik, lahar
Japanese: geisha, hibachi, sushi, bonsai, and origami
Spanish: Puma, quinine, pueblo, guacamole, fajita, Mosquito, Sherry, canon, comrade matador, siesta and macho
India: chutney, bungalow, pajamas, amok, bungalow, cashmere, pajamas, khaki, gymkhanas, polo, swastika, loot and polo
Chinese- tea, rickshaw (jinrikisha)
Malay- Sago, bamboo, teak, raffia
Mexico- Cacao, tomato
Brazil- cayenne, tapioca
Arabia- orange, lemon, algebra, assassin harem, Moslem, Islam


Author’s contribution: Apart from the above processes by which words are formed leading to the enrichment of the vocabulary, certain individuals, in their own right, have immensely contributed to the growth of the English word stock. If not poet Geoffrey Chaucer we are sure to miss our ‘attention’, ‘duration’, ‘fraction’, ‘position’ and soon. If not Shakespeare finds the world ‘dull’, and answer ‘abrupt’, speeches ‘flowery’, and plain faces ‘homely’ our language would have been epithet less. To ‘breathe one’s last’ or ‘backing a horse’ or ‘catching a cold’ we must thank our grand master. To enlarge the list we are ‘dimensionless’ without Milton, can’t be in ‘full-throated case’ without Keats, ‘bored’ without Byron, ‘gruesome’, ‘uncanny’ and ‘glamour less’ without Scott.

   Ardhendu De

Ref: IGNOU study guide, In search of Meaning- W. W. Banter, Wiki

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