Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: Fernández-Domínguez, Jesús TITLE: Productivity in English Word-formation SUBTITLE: An approach to N+N compounding SERIES: European University Studies, Series 21: Linguistics. Vol. 341 PUBLISHER: Peter Lang, Bern YEAR: 2009
Reviewed by Pius ten Hacken, Swansea University
In the field of morphology, productivity is one of the most discussed concepts. It can be described as the possibility of creating new words. Discussion has focused on the analysis of the nature of what we call productivity into different aspects as well as on the degree to which rules have this property. This book works towards a new measure for productivity. It differs from most other studies in this domain in concentrating on compounding rather than affixation. The author refers to his MA thesis (2006) and to his PhD thesis (2008), both of which are about measuring productivity, but I have not found any explicit statement of how the book relates to these theses.
The book consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 (1-8) is a brief introduction, giving some methodological background and a chapter overview. A set of compounds was extracted from the British National Corpus (BNC) and analysed semantically in terms of Levi's (1978) Recoverably Deletable Predicates (RDPs).
Chapter 2 (9-44) introduces compounding. After introducing headedness and various systems of characterizing and classifying the relationship between the components of a compound, the author gives an overview of English compounds following Bauer & Huddleston (2002). Section 2.4, roughly half of the chapter, is devoted to the question of how to distinguish compounding from syntax. After an overview of various proposals, the conclusion is that no clear criteria have been found. Some authors model the transition as a cline.
Chapter 3 (45-99) is devoted to morphological productivity. It starts by introducing a number of dichotomies. The first is between the process (''Wortbilding'') and the outcome (''Wortgebildetheit''). Then productivity is opposed to creativity, in which intentionality plays a role, and finally availability, a qualitative notion, to profitability, which is quantitative. After this, a section is devoted to factors influencing productivity, both enhancers and constraints. Among the latter, blocking has been studied a lot. Finally, attempts to distinguish different degrees of productivity are presented. A large part of this section is devoted to the stages in the life of a word until it is lexicalized.
Chapter 4 (101-169) presents different approaches to measuring productivity and applies some of them to the set of compounds retrieved from the BNC and classified as to their RDP. The simplest method is to count types and tokens of the result of a word formation rule in a large corpus. Aronoff (1976) proposed to relate the number of actual types to the number of potential types, but realized that such calculations are not feasible in practice. Harald Baayen proposed different measures based on the number of hapaxes in a corpus. Stekauer's onomasiological approach concentrates on the process of naming a concept. As this process is always successful, the total productivity must be 100%. Ingo Plag and Laurie Bauer proposed measures based on neologisms found in a dictionary, but this is not so useful for compounds. Jennifer Hay proposed to look at the frequency of the derived item in relation to the frequency of the base and to whether the phonotactic sequence at the boundary of the base and the affix can occur also morpheme-internally. The idea is that if the derivation is relatively rare and phonotactically marked, it is more likely to be processed online. Calculating the relative frequency for compounds is not straightforward, because compounds have two bases.
In the final section of chapter 4 (147-168), the author presents his own proposal for a productivity measure. He proposes an indicator of profitability (lower case pi) which is the number of types in a corpus (V) divided by the number of tokens in the same corpus (N). Pi should only be calculated if the number of types is sufficiently high, but the threshold (which he calls the ''Minimal V-Input'') depends on the corpus. At the moment there is not enough evidence to give any specific value. A second measure is the trend of profitability (upper case PI). It is a table of V and N, in which the development of the increase of the two is plotted when V increases. These two measures, pi and PI, are applied to the nine RDPs.
Chapter 5 (171-176) briefly summarizes the conclusions of the study.
Before I address the content of the book, I would like to make some observations about its form and style. The book is marked first of all by a rather idiosyncratic use of English lexis and word order. Although in most cases this does not affect understanding, the book would have been generally more pleasant to read if it had been properly proofread by a native speaker. A second point concerns the way references are built into the text. There are many references, but often their main purpose seems to be to impress the reader by suggesting a very wide reading. I have no reason to doubt the author's wide reading, but I find it irritating to read lists of references preceded by ''see also'' without any further discussion. In many cases, the references following ''see also'' do not seem to support the preceding statement, but only to say something about the topic. It would have been preferable if a selection of these references had been properly discussed. A final point concerns the structure of sections, in particular in chapters 2 and 3. These sections give a catalogue of alternative views without developing an argument as to which of them is to be preferred. If it is not necessary to make such a point, one wonders why these sections are there in the first place.
In fact, large parts of the book are devoted to contextualizing the main argument. The author's own contribution is limited to the final section of chapter 4 and the evaluation for compounding of three of the other productivity measures. These sections build on an uncritical and apparently unreflected use of Levi's (1978) set of RDPs. There are two major problems with this. First, Levi's system of RDPs has been heavily criticized and this criticism should have been addressed. Secondly, the RDPs are used in a way that does not seem to be compatible with Levi's original intention.
Levi proposed RDPs as a characterization of the relation between the two components of a compound (actually a ''complex nominal'', but I will ignore the difference here). Her choice of predicates has been criticized for at least four reasons. First, some predicates are excessively vague, e.g. both ''fertility pills'' and ''headache pills'' are characterized as FOR. Second, there is a significant overlap between predicates, e.g. ''party members'' can be HAVE or IN. Third, RDPs are designated by English words, and tend to exploit the range of meanings these words have in English. Thus, HAVE is used for ''horse leg'' as well as for ''student problems''. Finally, the predicates are not exhaustive, as Downing (1977) illustrated with the famous example of ''apple-juice seat''.
Apart from their deficiencies in characterizing the relationship between the components of a compound, RDPs are not used in the originally intended way when their productivity is compared. Levi's (1978) theory was based on Generative Semantics. This does not exclude its use in a different framework, but the problems raised by transplanting it to a new framework should have been discussed. Levi intended the RDPs as a way to reconcile the transformational derivation of compounds with the requirement that deleted material should be recoverable. They are meant to operate together with a system where deep structure predicates that are part of a deverbal head are also available. In Generative Semantics, this not only includes cases such as ''truck driver'', but also cases such as ''car thief'', where ''thief'' is equivalent to ''stealer'' in deep structure. Therefore, RDPs do not have to account for these cases. For productive, non-lexicalized compounds, there is a sequence of transformations deleting parts of the underlying sentence, including the RDPs. Levi assumes that a compound is at least 12-ways ambiguous, because there are nine RDPs and three of them can be used in active and passive readings. If there is a deverbal head, further readings are added. Only lexicalized compounds have a single meaning, which can of course be much more specialized than an RDP.
The author of this book also fails to mention that three RDPs can be used in active and passive readings and seems to assume that there are nine compounding rules in competition with each other. Disambiguation only occurs on the basis of context, however, or when the compound is lexicalized. Therefore, there must have been many classification problems. However, all of the assumptions relating to RDPs and problems in applying them remain entirely implicit. It is as if the author takes Levi's RDPs to be a mainstream device for which no discussion is necessary. In the absence of any such discussion, however, it is hard to interpret the figures that emerge from the experiments. While a lot of context of the research is given, most of chapters 2 and 3, for which the lack of a conclusion suggest that it is not essential for the actual research, crucial issues relating to the origin and use of RDPs are not mentioned at all.
In conclusion, the book shows that the author is familiar with a large amount of literature in the field of morphology. In presenting this material, he does not integrate the various views and for most of the issues he discusses he does not develop a view of his own. The main point of the book is a study of productivity of compounding. This study suffers from serious methodological problems in its basic setup.
Aronoff, Mark H. (1976). Word Formation in Generative Grammar. Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press. Bauer, Laurie & Huddleston, Rodney. (2002). Lexical word-formation. In Huddleston, Rodney & Pullum, Geoffrey K. (eds.), The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1621-1721. Downing, Pamela Ann. (1977). On the Creation and Use of English Compound Nouns. Language 53:810-841. Levi, Judith N. (1978). The Syntax and Semantics of Complex Nominals. New York: Academic Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Pius ten Hacken is senior lecturer in linguistics and translation at the
Department of Translation and Digital Communication of Swansea University.
His research interests include morphology, terminology, and the lexicon. He
published his PhD 'Defining Morphology' in 1994. His latest book is
'Chomskyan Linguistics and its Competitors' (London: Equinox, 2007).