Review of The Oxford Handbook of Compounding
|EDITORS: Rochelle Lieber and Pavol Štekauer
TITLE: The Oxford Handbook of Compounding
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
Fredrik Heinat, Stockholm University
The Oxford Handbook of Compounding has the intention of being a resource for
scholars working on compounds and also a starting point for the non-initiated.
The book contains a short presentation of the contributors, 34 chapters divided
in 2 parts, references and an index. The first part deals with compounds from a
theoretical point of view. The 16 chapters in this part concentrate on how
compounds are treated in various theoretical frameworks, from a synchronic,
diachronic, psycholinguistic and developmental perspective. The second part has
a typological approach and contains chapters on 17 different languages from
various language families. This is, according to the editors, the largest number
of languages compiled on the topic.
Chapter 1: Introduction: status and definition of compounding, by Rochelle
Lieber and Pavol Štekauer, pp. 3-18. In the introductory chapter the editors
start by discussing definitions of compounds. They identify two problems that
make it difficult to come up with a general definition of compounds that holds
crosslinguistically; first, in some languages, the elements in a compound are
not free standing words (hence the definition cannot be that a compound is a
combination of two or more words) and second, in some languages it is not clear
how to make a distinction between compounds and derived words. The following
sections look at phonology, syntax, and inflection and the editors' conclusion
is that in none of these areas can we find criteria for picking out compounds
and that maybe compoundhood is best seen as a scale from more to less
compoundlike. The chapter concludes with an outline of the book. The editors
also distinguish what seem to be the three main problems that crop up in most of
the chapters: the definitional problem, the problem of interpretation, and the
component problem i.e. what do compounds tell us about the 'architecture of
grammar' and the relationship and interaction of its parts (syntax, semantics,
Chapter 2: Compounding and idiomatology, by Stanislav Kavka, pp. 19-33. Kavka
claims that compounds share features and properties with idiomatic expressions,
e.g. 'the way they arise, their existence proper and their interpretation' (p.
32). He says that compounds, just like idioms, are 'highly conventionalized,
context bound expressions'. The aim of the chapter is to 'give evidence by
citing some prototypical examples' (p. 28). Productivity is explicitly something
that is NOT going to be explained. Of course some compounds are like idiomatic
expressions, but the author picks a few of those and disregards the productive
processes of compounding. Kavka also disregards the fact that there are several
types of compounds and that the processes governing their semantic
interpretation may be of different kinds.
Chapter 3: The classification of compounds, by Sergio Scalise and Antonietta
Bisetto, pp. 34-53. Scalise and Bisetto go through some problems that arise in
the classification of compounds. Terminological problems arise because
researchers choose to include or exclude certain types of compounds under the
same term. Another problem is narrow empirical coverage. Compounds of other
types than N-N and Adj-N, such as Adj-Adj, V-V and others, have received
surprisingly little attention in the categorization of compounds. A final
problem the authors point out is the fact that researchers have used different
criteria in categorizing compounds. Particularly the difference between endo-
and exocentric compounds and the presence or lack of derivational morphology
seem to be the cases where proposals differ the most. In the final sections they
review one of their previous categorizations and propose a new one. They suggest
that compounds can be divided into three grammatical classes: subordination
('taxi driver'), attributive/appositive ('high school') and coordinating
('poet-doctor'). These classes are based on how the relations between the words
in the compound are formed syntactically. Another level of classification is
semantic in nature and deals with how the semantic relations between the words
are formed (this level is absent in coordinating compounds). The third level
divides the compounds into endo- and exocentric. Finally Scalise and Bisetto
points out that this classification leaves room for further subcategories where,
for example the lexical categories of the words play a role.
Chapter 4: Early generative approaches, by Pius ten Hacken, pp. 54-77. Ten
Hacken starts by reviewing works from the 60's. The general idea at that time
was that compounds were transformationally related to sentences. According to
ten Hacken, the specific research questions were 1. how are compounds related to
underlying sentences?, and 2. how can compound formation and [semantic]
classification be linked? With the introduction of lexicalism (Chomsky 1970)
the general consensus seemed to be that the answers to the two questions were 1.
they are not, and 2. it can't. Ten Hacken concludes the chapter with the
observation that lexicalism transferred the formation of compounds from syntax
to the lexical component and a number of new research questions emerged (these
are not specified by ten Hacken).
Chapter 5: A lexical semantic approach to compounding, by Rochelle Lieber, pp.
78-104. Lieber's chapter is an extension of a previous analysis of exocentric
compounds. According to Lieber, the semantic representation of morphemes can be
divided into a semantic/grammatical skeleton and a semantic/pragmatic body. She
assumes that the skeleton is made up of seven semantic features which may be
+,-, or absent in any particular morpheme. These seven features are specific for
English and are chosen from a universal set up of features (p. 83). The body
consists of perceptual, cultural and encyclopedic aspects of meaning and has (at
least) two layers. One layer consists of the universal features that are not
part of the skeleton, thus supposedly stable from speaker to speaker. The other
layer is purely encyclopedic and the content of this layer may vary from speaker
to speaker. Lieber also proposes a list of semantic features, based on previous
work on languages other than English. It is not necessary that these features be
binary. Lieber goes on to show how the matching of the skeletons and bodies of
the morphemes in various types of compounds gives rise to various
interpretations. The main conclusions from the analysis are that exocentricity
is not a unitary phenomenon (see also ch. 3) and that endocentric attributive
compounds (N+N such as 'file cabinet') receive a kind of semantic default
interpretation (which seems to be constrained only by context), unless the
semantic features of the skeleton and body of the morphemes constrain the
Chapter 6: Compounding in the parallel architecture and conceptual semantics, by
Ray Jackendoff, pp. 105-128. In the first section Jackendoff outlines his
'parallel architecture' (Jackendoff 1997). In the second section, he argues that
even though compounds can be freely produced and interpreted, they seem to obey
other rules than syntactic ones. He then claims that compounds are relics of a
so called proto-language (Bickerton 1990) and discusses how N+N compounds in
English may get their interpretation. Jackendoff identifies three components
that contribute to their meaning: profiling ('picking out a character in an
event and designating this character as the one being referred to' (p. 118)),
action modality (the difference between stage and individual level predicates,
for example), and finally cocomposition (the possibility to fill in unexpressed,
coerced functions expressed in nouns, for example 'finish the book' = 'finish
DOING something with the book' (p. 121)). In the next section he gives examples
of how these components interact in the interpretation of compounds. One of his
conclusions is that the failure of previous studies to list all possible
relations between the components of a compound is because some components
contain embedded coercions. This embedding, which in theory is indefinite, makes
the number of relations indefinite, but still systematic, since the number of
coercion functions is limited.
Chapter 7: Compounding in distributed morphology, by Heidi Harley, pp. 129-144.
In the first section Harley points out that compounding has not been a major
concern in distributed morphology (DM). This is indeed so, but there is at least
one work that treats compounds in DM, namely Josefsson 1998, which Harley does
not mention. The second section is a short introduction to the basic principles
of DM. Harley's conclusion is that there is basically no distinction between
inflectional and derivational affixes, they are all just bundles of different
kinds of features. This makes them different from roots which refer to
encyclopedic content. The general idea in DM is that word formation is
syntactic. As a consequence, roots are acategorial and have to be concatenated
('merged' in current syntactic terms) with category forming heads in the syntax.
In her analysis Harley argues that internal arguments are concatenated to the
root before it gets its categorial status. However, this way of forming
compounds gives rise to the familiar 'bracketing paradox', i.e. the word 'truck
driver' is formed as [[truck drive] er] rather than [truck [driv er]]. In the
following sections the same analysis is given for modificational compounds
('quick growing') and root compounds. The fact that we don't get incorporation
of roots into verbs (such as 'to truckdrive') is according to Harley because of
parametric variation on what v-heads in different languages allow as
incorporated material. In her analysis of phrasal compounds ('the
bikini-girls-in-trouble genre'), she assumes that the phrase
'bikini-girls-in-trouble', XP, is merged with a n-head. XP is simply treated as
a root. This nP can then incorporate in the head of the compound ('genre'), just
as in other types of compounds.
Chapter 8: Why are compounds part of human language? A view from asymmetry
theory, by Anna Maria di Sciullo, pp. 145-177. According to di Sciullo all types
of compounds share the property of relating their component parts in an
asymmetric way. She draws parallels to syntax (see Kayne 1994) and morphology
(derivation and inflection). The aim of the chapter is to provide an account of
compounds in asymmetry theory (di Sciullo 2003). She claims that there is a
functional projection, F, that relates the parts of the compound. The head of
the compound is the complement of F and the modifying element in the compound is
in the specifier position of F, hence the asymmetric relation between the two
components. The functional heads have one of the following meanings: 'and',
'or', 'with', 'to', and 'in'. It may sometimes be pronounced, as in
'hit-and-run'. Di Sciullo shows how compounds are derived in a special
morphological component of the grammar which works in parallel with the syntax.
The machinery is the same as in minimalist syntax; phases, interpretable and
uninterpretable features and agree.
Chapter 9. Compounding and lexicalism, by Heinz Giegerich, pp. 178-200.
Giegerich starts by giving a short outline of the history of lexicalism and its
assumptions about the structure of the lexicon and the divide between syntax and
morphology. By carefully analyzing a wide range of compounds Giegerich shows how
two core principles of lexicalism, 'lexical integrity' (Lapointe 1980) and the
'no phrase constraint' (Botha 1984) cannot be maintained, at least not
unmodified. Finally Giegerich discusses the lexical strata of English. He claims
that there are (at least) 2 strata and he also makes the somewhat surprising
claim that exocentric bahuvrihi compounds are not productive in the language
(ch. 18 expresses another opinion).
Chapter 10. Compounding and construction morphology, by Geert Booij, pp.
201-216. The aim of the chapter is to apply the ideas of construction grammar
(Goldberg 2006) to morphological processes in general and compounding in
particular. Booij argues that compounds are best accounted for by means of
templates of the following type [X Yi]y = Yi with relation R to X, R being
specific for each individual pair X and Y (p. 203). This template is elaborated
on and expanded. Booij claims that there is a morphological component in
addition to syntax and phonology. In the following sections Booij shows how
(mainly Dutch) compounds can be analyzed. Unfortunately the implementation is
very sketchy and it is difficult to see how the templates used are more than
Chapter 11. Compounding from an onomasiological perspective, by Joachim Grzega,
pp. 217-232. Grzega gives very short outlines of a few onomasiological
approaches to word formation. It seems that compounding has not been a major
concern for any of them.
Chapter 12. Compounding in cognitive linguistics, by Liesbet Heyvaert, pp.
233-254. The first section is a run-through of some of the key concepts used in
cognitive linguistics. In the following sections Heyvaert presents various
approaches to compounding in the framework. She concludes with suggestions for
Chapter 13. Psycholinguistic perspectives, by Christina Gagné, pp. 255-271.
Gagné starts by identifying some theoretical issues in psycholinguistic
research. There are, according to her, three major questions: how complex words
are represented, when (if at all) decomposition occurs, and if morphology is
explicitly represented. There seems to be disagreement concerning all three.
Next she presents some factors that influence the processing of compound words.
Data suggest that representations of both the compound and its component parts
become available during processing. The conclusion Gagné draws is that the
mental lexicon is highly structured with multiple levels of representation.
Compounds appear to be stored so that their representations share aspects of
form and meaning with other words (simplex and complex). They also take
advantage of the interconnected network of relations among concepts, though the
exact nature of these systems are still being explored.
Chapter 14. Meaning predictability of novel context-free compounds, by Pavol
Štekauer pp. 272-297. Štekauer outlines the difference between meaning
prediction in words and in compounds. He goes through some previous approaches
to meaning prediction before he presents his own approach. Compounds are
classified into four onomasiological types: 1: compounds that are mostly
syntactic ('piano player', 'dishwasher'). 2: compounds where the actional
semantic constituent is available and the object acted on is also available
('plaything'). 3: compounds where there is no unambiguous relation between the
components ('baby book' a small book, a book for or about babies etc). 4:
compounds of the object incorporated kind ('baby-sit', 'stage-manage').
Chapter 15. Children's acquisition of compound constructions, by Ruth Berman,
pp. 298-322. After discussing the problems compounds confront children with,
Berman presents data from various cross-linguistic studies. The conclusion she
arrives at is that there is considerable variation in use among children and
that children's use of compounds is governed by the general frequency and the
stylistic level of compounds in the target language. The chapter also includes a
case study of the developmental route of Hebrew. It concludes with a discussion
of areas where further research is needed.
Chapter 16. Diachronic perspectives, by Dieter Kastovsky, pp. 323-340. Kastovsky
identifies three types of morphological systems: word based (the basic
morphological entity can function as a word in the language), stem-based (the
stem is not a word without additional morphology), and finally, root-based
morphology (the root may require more morphological to become a stem, as Semitic
'k-t-b' 'write'). A language is rarely of one type only, but more or less of a
certain type. Kastovsky's conclusion about the historical development of
compounds in Indo-European is that it goes back to the lexicalization of
syntactic phrases that were used attributively and that the adjectival
bahuvrihis played the most important role.
Chapter 17. Typology of compounds, by Laurie Bauer, pp. 343-356. Bauer discusses
the problems of defining compounds, a problem that for obvious reasons spills
over to their typology. Then he discusses various parameters where we find
typological differences. The first one is universality. There are claims that
compounding is not a language universal; however, the definitional problem makes
such claims very hard to evaluate. Some languages seem to allow object
incorporation but not compounds (Kwakwala, Štekauer et al. 2007), but according
to some definitions incorporation is a sub-category of compounding. The overall
typological picture of compounding is that there are hardly any generalizations
The rest of the chapters (18-34) are typological studies of individual
languages. The organization is the following: Indo-European: Germanic (English
by Rochelle Lieber, Dutch by Jan Don, German by Martin Neef, Danish by Laurie
Bauer), Romance (French by Bernard Fradin, Spanish by Laura Malena Kornfeld),
Hellenic (Modern Greek by Angela Ralli), Slavonic (Polish by Bogdan Szymanek);
Sino-Tibetan: Mandarin Chinese by Antonella Ceccagno and Bianca Basciano;
Afro-Asiatic: Semitic, Hebrew by Hagit Borer; Isolate: Japanese by Taro
Kageyama; Uralic: Finno-Ugric, Hungarian by Ferenc Kiefer; Athapascan: Slave by
Keren Rice; Iroquoian: Mohawk by Marianne Mithun; Arawakan: Maipure-Yavitero by
Raoul Zamponi; Araucanian: Mapudungun by Mark C. Baker and Carlos A. Fasola;
Pama-Nyungan: Warlpiri by Jane Simpson.
This is a very good book. It gives a thorough overview of the theoretical
approaches to compounding and almost half of it contains typological studies of
individual languages. An extra plus is the diversity of theoretical frameworks
that are represented. A wide range of approaches are covered, and no linguist
can be expected to be familiar with all of them, but the chapters are easy to
follow. They start by introducing the concepts that will be used and from that
take the reader through state of the art analyses of compounding in their
Even though the bulk of the languages presented in the second part are
Indo-European and particularly Germanic and Romance (in fact, all other language
families are represented by one single language), the number of non
Indo-European languages is greater than in most handbooks in linguistics.
In addition, the book is carefully edited and the chapters contain appropriate
cross-references (there are some apparent ones missing, for example some
authors' claims concerning universality and language specific productivity are
disputed in the typological section). The only thing that stands out is the
amount of time spent on the definition of compounding. The whole of the first
chapter is basically a discussion of this and it feels that some of the authors
could have skipped a lot of that discussion in their own chapters, especially
since they all come to the same conclusion: it is very difficult to give a good
definition of compounding. But on the other hand, some authors seem completely
unaware of the wealth of ways to form and interpret compounds (and often these
authors only deal with n-n compounds, giving further support to Scalise and
Bisetto's claim that other kinds of compounds are often overlooked (ch. 3)).
Their analyses seem slightly too shallow and general (for example ch. 2, 7 and
10) and pay very little attention to the problem of accounting for both
syntactic and morphological properties. In my opinion this is a book that serves
its purposes (a handbook for the initiated and a starting point for beginners)
in an excellent way. Thanks to the large index it is easy to look up specific
theoretical issues as well as specific empirical questions in the typological
section. I recommend it not only to linguists interested in compounding, but
also to anyone interested in the intricate interplay between morphology, syntax
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Chomsky, N. 1970. Remarks on nominalizations. in Jacobs and Rosenbaum (eds.)
Readings in English Transformational Grammar. Waltham, MA: Ginn, 184-221.
di Sciullo, A. 2003. The asymmetry of morphology. in Boucher (ed.) Many
Morphologies. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press, 1-33.
Goldberg, A. 2006. Constructions at Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Jackendoff, R. 1997. The Architecture of the Language Faculty. Cambridge, MA:
Josefsson, G. 1998. Minimal Words in a Minimal Syntax: Word formation in
Swedish. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Kayne, R. 1994. The Antisymmetry of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lapointe, S. 1980. The Theory of Grammatical Agreement. PhD Dissertation,
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Štekauer, P, S. Valera and L. Körvélyessy. 2007. Universals, tendencies and
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Fredrik Heinat currently holds a research position at Stockholm University.
He is involved in a project on complex predicates, light verbs and argument
structure. The focus of his research is on the relation between morphology,
syntax and semantics.