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Title: Noun Incorporation: Essentials and Extensions
Author(s): Diane Massam
Journal Title: Language and Linguistics Compass
Volume: 3
Issue: 4
Page Range: 1076 - 1096
Publication Date: Jun-2009
Abstract: This paper presents an overview of the principal debates in the literature on noun incorporation, citing key examples and references. There has been much discussion about which constructions can rightly fall under the term 'noun incorporation'; for example, compounding, denominal, deverbal, light verb, conflation, and narrow scope indefinite constructions have all been treated as noun incorporation constructions. In addition, there has been much discussion about where in the grammar noun incorporation should be handled: the lexicon or the syntax. This debate has shifted with the development of theories without a clear lexicon–syntax division. In the early studies, the main focus was on the morphology of noun incorporation, but in recent years, the focus has shifted to understanding the semantics of the construction, including semantic incorporation, pseudo noun incorporation, detransitivizing, and noun stripping constructions. In addition, there have been many empirical studies over the years exploring subject and modifier incorporation, incorporation of larger phrases and other topics. Noun incorporation studies also intersect with other areas such as bare nominals, complex predicates, possessor raising constructions, and classifier systems. These issues are reviewed in this paper.

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Comments on Massam's Noun Incorporation article   by Andrea Berez, Compass Panelist , 7-Jul-11
I appreciate the very thorough discussion of noun incorporation (NI) that Professor Massam presents here, not only for what she tell us about NI in particular, but also for insight into the debate over the divide between morphology and syntax the phenomenon has sparked over the decades. Massam gives an overview of the earliest attempts by Sapir and Kroeber to distinguish NI as either noun-verb compounding or the combining into a single word a predicate with its object. “The two views are reflected decades later in debates about the lexical or syntactic nature of NI,” (1077) a debate she then carefully recounts, citing important works by key scholars like Mithun, Sadock, Johns, Gerdts, Baker, and many others. Massam also provides a discussion of attempts to define NI on primarily semantic grounds. I have a number of comments and questions, but for now I’ll limit myself to one just to get the conversation started. I’d like to know a bit more about the Western Greenlandic Inuit controversy, exemplified by (6). The discussion involves two ways in which Mithun (1984) would not agree that N+V complexes like the one in (6) are examples of NI. First, “she maintains that the two parts of an NI complex must each exist as an independent word” (1080). Because the morpheme -qar- ‘have’ cannot stand alone, it is presumably not an example of NI. Second, and clearly more controversial in the decades since Mithun (1984), “[s]he also claims that NI derives lexical items and is not a syntactic phenomenon (‘…incorporation is a solidly morphological device that derives lexical items, not sentences’)” (1080). With the information given in this paper, it is hard to see how example (6) is a counterexample to Mithun’s claim. The given example, from what I can tell, is crucially a _word_, and not a sentence. Are Inuitologists working with a specific definition of ‘sentence’? It would be good to know that here. Indeed, the definition one holds for ‘sentence’ cuts to the core of both the categoriality and the syntax/morphology debates (and cf. the author’s not uncontroversial definition of polysynthetic languages as “languages in which entire sentences appear as words” (1077)). It would also be helpful to know more about Sadock’s (1980) paper on the “syntactic presence” of West Greenlandic incorporated nouns (e.g. ‘dog’ in example (6)), since it “raises serious issues for the widely held view that syntactic processes cannot see inside words” (1080). Unfortunately no further discussion is given, likely in the interest of saving space in an already abundant article. Finally, I would like to know a bit more about the process Inuit scholars call NI. As someone who works on Athabaskan, a language family with more that its fair share of confusing (to outsiders) terminology, I am aware that family-specific uses may not match up completely with definitions held in the wider linguistic community. Does Inuit NI exist in contrast to another construction for talking about objects? Does it exhibit any of the semantic changes that are seen to accompany NI in other languages, like nonreferentiality, modification, and/or classification? If so, example or two would be welcome to this conversation.
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