LINGUIST List 10.193

Mon Feb 8 1999

Disc: Adjectives to Verbs

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <>


  1. Fachschaft Sprachwissenschaft an der RUB, Adjectives to Verbs

Message 1: Adjectives to Verbs

Date: Thu, 4 Feb 1999 22:43:45 +0100
From: Fachschaft Sprachwissenschaft an der RUB <>
Subject: Adjectives to Verbs

Dear conversion specialists,

[there appear to exist a couple more exceptions to the general ban in
English on the zero derivation of V's from unambiguous A's beside and above
those Joseph Davis cited (10.97) if I understand him correctly. Cf. book
titles like The Greening of America, The Greening of the White House, where
either occurrence of the derivation-base color term is to some extent
metaphorical but not a different part of speech than Adj as was suggested
for the 'Newed' case, most likely not even any of the various readings of
GREEN the noun.)]

More importantly and more generally (subsuming the "greening" instances)
what recent/recently re-derived*) exceptions to the ban on A > V
conversion, as "to dumb down" (usually abstract objects like TV programs,
curricula, etc. not the recipients. even though they too grow 'dumber' in
the process), "to void" (a check, ...), "to blank" (a tape), appear to have
in common is that they collocate with a more restricted set of objects than
the whole range the base adjective can modify attributively or be
predicated of. To put it differently, A > V conversion would thus (have)
be(come) one of the word formation processes that require immediate
lexicalization of their output. A > N conversion is another for which that
same basic requirement holds (a weekly is not just anything the term for
which may felicitously appear in the context "a weekly __"; an inflatable
is just one specific type of object out of a thousand whose designations
the adjective might be predicated of; ...) Yet its output far outnumbers
that of the A > V type. Whether the forces determining that this should be
so are system-internal or purely pragmatic remains a question yet to be
settled, all the more so, among other points, in view of the following.

Closely related languages (like German and English) may both have a
particular pattern at their disposal that is subject to the lexicalization
criterion in both of them, in the presence of (presumably) identical
communicative needs for naming new (classes of) objects, yet outputs may
differ widely in quantity. A pattern I have in mind is A-N compounding.
While English (readers: correct me by counterexemplifying my haphazard
guess please) has arrived at a point where the process, while leaving a
large residue behind, has lost its productivity except for the occasional
analogical formation like (bluebook, whitebook >>) Redbook, German allows
for newly formed such compounds to a point where even the most weakly
natural class of objects may be hypothesized into (virtual) existence by
calling it ADJECTIVENOUN (alongside compositionally read ADJECTIVE-AGR
NOUN phrases), e.g.der (transportfreundliche) Flachpfirsich (lit.,
"(shipping-friendly) flatpeach") that cropped up in a satirical TV program
some ten years ago, envisaged as one result of an agriculture seeking to
reduce costs at any cost. The only restrictions I know of are of a
thoroughly un-pragmatic, anti-communicative needs-type nature;

New "useful" patterns may creep into a language that has generally
excluded them (so far), and may in turn display systemic pressure-type
constraints strict enough to be in need of explanation. E.g. in German,
zero-suffix adjective formation is a very marginal phenomenon (as opposed
to English); nevertheless, ongoing research of mine on zero-suffix
adjectives in English suggested taking a look at such little studied
expressions in German as well. (So far) only a small fraction of the
English ZSA's allow of being rendered in this fashion, not conforming to
the written standard. (Attested) examples are not too hard to come by
though (die Straenbahn war zum Glck n/Niederflur Luckily/fortunately the
streetcar was "low-floor").
Among this marked lot, however, acronyms & abbreviations sound
significantly better when reclassified than the full nominals synonymous
with them:
(o.k.:) Der Zug ist bis Langenfeld VRR [in the sense of "VRR tickets/passes
are good for rides as far as L. on this train"] sharply contrasting (to my
ear) with
???Der Zug ist bis Langenfeld Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr.
[requiring(?), and susceptible of (???), an "explanation" focusing on the
individual case]

To cut a long story short (which for the most part is yet untold), suffice
it to say that the problem of (degree of) productivity in word formation
types, with the discussion's subject type figuring prominently among them,
and a just assessment of structural vs. functional factors is likely to
require a more fine-grained & multidimensional (terminology,) description &
analysis than has been usual. (Please pardon my pontificating ....)

Thanks in advance for comments,


Christian L. Duetschmann
Kreyenfeldstr. 85
44894 Bochum Germany
e-mail c/o: [subject, cld]

*) cf. the SOED sub dumb (down) v., blank v., void v., all of which appear
to have gone out of use more or less completely at one point to be replaced
by semantically restricted homonyms sooner or later thereafter.

- ---------------------------------------------------------------
Fachschaft Sprachwissenschaft an der RUB,
Universitaetsstrasze 150, D-44780 BOCHUM
Made with a Macintosh
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