Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Wiley-Blackwell Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


Language Planning as a Sociolinguistic Experiment

By: Ernst Jahr

Provides richly detailed insight into the uniqueness of the Norwegian language development. Marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Norwegian nation following centuries of Danish rule

New from Cambridge University Press!


Acquiring Phonology: A Cross-Generational Case-Study

By Neil Smith

The study also highlights the constructs of current linguistic theory, arguing for distinctive features and the notion 'onset' and against some of the claims of Optimality Theory and Usage-based accounts.

New from Brill!


Language Production and Interpretation: Linguistics meets Cognition

By Henk Zeevat

The importance of Henk Zeevat's new monograph cannot be overstated. [...] I recommend it to anyone who combines interests in language, logic, and computation [...]. David Beaver, University of Texas at Austin

Summary Details

Query:   Linking elements in compounds
Author:  Andrea Krott
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Morphology

Summary:   Dear all,

some time ago I asked for information about languages that use linkers
in compounds. I am very thankful to everybody who responded. Below you
can find a list of all the languages I was pointed to. For each
language I added the name(s) of the person(s) who told me about it, a
short description, and (if possible) references.

People who responded to my query:

Laurie Bauer <>
Kristine Bentzen <>
Antonietta Bisetto <>
Eva Breindl <>
Bozena Cetnarowska <>
Henno Brandsma <>
Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy <>
Doug Cooper <>
Jan Engh <>
Jaco Geldenhuys <>
Jila Ghomeshi <ghomeshi@cc.UManitoba.CA>
Chris Golston <>
Pius ten Hacken <>
Esther Herrera <>
Lars Johanson <>
Satoshi Stanley Koike <>
Richard Laurent <>
Andrew McIntyre <>
Ingmarie Mellenius <>
Viktor I. Pekar <>
Asya Pereltsvaig <>
Linda Rashidi <>
Norvin W Richards <norvin@MIT.EDU>
Jason Roberts <>
Danko Sipka <>
Erica Smale <>
Aaron Smith <>
Joan Smith/Kocamahhul <>
R'emy Viredaz <>
Cecil Ward <>

List of languages:
- ----------------

1.1 Germanic

- Afrikaans

Laurie Bauer <>
Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy <>
Jaco Geldenhuys <>
Erica Smale <>

Afrikaans nominal compounds have the linkers -s- and -e-.
They are very similar to the Dutch linkers.

R.P. Botha (1968): The Function of the Lexicon in Transformational
Generative Grammar. The Hague: Mouton.

- West Frisian
Henno Brandsma <>

West Frisian has nominal compounds with -s-, -e- and DIM (diminutive
suffix) and no linker (plus other not productive linkers like -en).
The -e- is phonological not identical to plural suffix -en as it is
in Dutch. The choice of the linker is sometimes given by rules (-s-
after suffix -ert, after nominal infinitives, after suffix -ing
<+abstract>, and suffix -er <+levend>). Often there are only
tendencies (see suffixes -heid, -dom etc.). The linker -en- is only
possible if the plural suffix of the first constituent is -en- or if
there is an empty plural ending.

Jarich Hoekstra (1998): Fryske Wurdfoarming. Fryske Akademy, Ljouwert.

- German
Eva Breindl <>
Andrew McIntyre <>

German has noun-noun compounds with the linking morphemes -s-, -n-,
-er-, and -e- which are originally genitive singular or plural morphemes.
They are synchronically not neccessarily interpreted as such. Some
of them are distributed according to grammatical rules.

Fleischer, Wolfgang/Barz, Irmhild (1995): Wortbildung, 2.
Auflage, T?bingen: Niemyer, p. 136-143 with references to special
literature on the subject (Zepic 1970, Augst 1975, Wurzel 1970,
Wellmann/Reindl/Fahrmaier 1974, Grube 1976).

Demske, U., 1995. Word vs. Phrase Structure: The Rise of Genitive
Compounds in German. FAS Papers in Linguistics vol 3. 1-28. (This is
worth reading)

- Swedish
Laurie Bauer <>
Lars Johanson <>
Ingmarie Mellenius <> (who kindly sent
me her thesis about "The Acquisition of Nominal Compounding in Swedish")
Viktor I. Pekar <>

Swedish nominal compounds appear with the linking morphemes -o-, -u-, -e-, -s-.
Sometimes there is variation: 'fotbollklubb' and 'fotbollsklubb'

Josefsson, Gunl?g 1997. On the principles of word formation in
Swedish. Lund: Lund University Press.

Teleman, Ulf 1970. Om Svenska Ord. Lund: Gleerups.

Mellenius, Ingmarie (1997): The Acquisition of Nominal Compounding
in Swedish. Lund: Lund University Press.

- Norwegian
Kristine Bentzen <>
Jan Engh <>
Lars Johanson <>

Norwegian nominal compounds appear with the linkers -s- and -e-.

Leira, Vigleik: 1992, Ordlaging og ordelement i norsk. Oslo : Samlaget.
ISBN 82-521-3844-6

Gundersen, Dag, Jan Engh, Ruth Vatvedt Fjeld: 1995, H?ndbok i norsk :
skriveregler, grammatikk og spr?klige r?d fra a til ?. Oslo :
Kunnskapsforlaget. ISBN 82-573-0562-6

Ak?, J?rn-Otto: 1989, Sammensatte ord : bruken av s-fuge i moderne bokm?l.
Unpublished master's thesis, Institutt for Nordisk spr?k og litteratur,
Universitetet i Oslo. [The author can be contacted:

- Icelandic
Laurie Bauer <>

In Icelandic compounds,
a) the stem (or root) may be joined directly to the following
b) it may be connected by a so-called connective vowel, that
otherwise does not appear,
c) or some case forms of the word may be used (never the nominative,
if it is different from the stem), especially the genitive.

Stefan Einarsson (1945): Icelandic. Grammar Texts Glossary. John Hopkins
University Press: Baltimore and London.

- English
Pius ten Hacken <>
Andrew McIntyre <>

Andrew McIntyre pointed me to the frozen linking morphemes in
'spokesman', 'sportsman', 'marksman', Pius ten Hacken to the Saxon
genitive construction.

ten Hacken, Pius (1994), Defining Morphology: A Principled Approach to
Determining the Boundaries of Compounding, Derivation, and Inflection,
Olms, Hildesheim.

ten Hacken, Pius (1999), 'Motivated Tests for Compounding', Acta
Linguistica Hafniensia 31:27-58.

1.2 others
- Celtic: Scottish Gaelic
Cecil Ward <>

In Celtic languages, there is a linking effect in certain nominal
compounds where a defining element precedes the head noun, rather
than following it as is usual (Celtic being head-first). The
preposed element is typically an adjective, although in general
adjectives follow the noun, bar a tiny group (compare French).

1. The following rule seems to be completely regular "lenite the
noun when an element is preposed" (postposed modifiers being
the norm).

2. The meaning seems to be "a specific kind of N" (for example,
"city") as opposed to "an N that happens to be A" (a town that
is big).

3. This seems to be fully productive, although given its semantic
function, that of defining new "special kinds of x", only a
limited number are current, although creating neologisms using
this process is a strategy that is recognisable to hearers.

4. The presence of the initial consonant mutation "lenition" is in
many cases equivalent to the presence of an abstract preceding
null morpheme. Historically, the initial consonant mutations
originated as sandhi effects from the presence of a lost ending
on the preceding word, or that represented the residual effects
of a word that had been completely elided away.

For an overview of Celtic initial consonant mutations, see the
article by King in "The Handbook of Morphology", Spencer and Zwicky,
ISBN 0631185445; also MacAulay, ed., "The Celtic Languages", CUP.

- ancient Greek and modern Greek
Antonietta Bisetto <>
Chris Golston <>
Richard Laurent <>

The linker in Greek compounds is usually -o-.

Rivista di Linguistica, volume 4, number 1, 1992 (edited by
Sergio Scalise and published by Rosenberg and Sellier in Italy).
There, you can find an article by Angela Ralli on Modern Greek

Smith's Greek Grammar (1920: ?870ff.)

- Finno-Ugric: Finnish
Laurie Bauer <>

Finnish allows case forms of the modifying noun.

- Altaic: Turkish
Joan Smith/Kocamahhul <>
Pius ten Hacken <>

Turkish has a compound marker with the same shape as the possessive
marker for the third person singular, an attached '-i'.
example: 'okul kitab-i' (textbook)
Some of these compounds are frozen and have become a single word:
'ayak' (foot) + 'kap' (container) > 'ayakkabi' (shoe)

Kornfilt, Jacklin (1997): Turkish. London et al.: Routledge.

- North Caucasian: Kabardian
R'emy Viredaz <>

Kabardian has the connectives -ah-, -m-, -n-, and -r- which appear
between two segments. They are not stressed and they are always in
non-syllabic juncture with a following segment. Their use is
sometimes facultative and varies dialectally.

Kuipers, Aert H. (1960): Phoneme and Morpheme in Kabardian, The Hague, 78-80.

Rieks Smeets (1984): Studies in West Circassian Phonology and Morphology, Leiden.

- Indo-Iranian:
a) Sanskrit
Laurie Bauer <>

Sanskrit allows case forms of the modifying noun.

b) Persian
Jila Ghomeshi <ghomeshi@cc.UManitoba.CA>
Linda Rashidi <>
Norvin W Richards <norvin@MIT.EDU>

These people informed me about the Persian Ezafe construction:
The esafe is a single vowel which links nouns to their modifiers
(which can be adjectives or other nouns, but not phrasal) and to
possessors. It is phonologically attached to the head or the
preceding element but is semantically part of the post-modifier.
It does not appear in compounds and it is not a morpheme, but it
is a linker.

ten Hacken, Pius (1994), Defining Morphology: A Principled Approach to
Determining the Boundaries of Compounding, Derivation, and Inflection,
Olms, Hildesheim.

ten Hacken, Pius (1999), 'Motivated Tests for Compounding', Acta
Linguistica Hafniensia 31:27-58.

Ghomeshi, Jila (1997): Non-projecting nouns and the Ezafe
Construction in Persian. NLLT (Natural Language & Linguistic
Theory), Vol. 15, pp. 729-788.

2. Slavic:

- Russian
Richard Laurent <>
Viktor I. Pekar <>
Asya Pereltsvaig <>

Russian compounds have the linkers -o- and -e-. They are determined
on the basis of the preceding consonant (-e- after a 'soft'
consonant). They also appear in adjectival compounds and they are
productively used. They only and always appear between roots.
Compounds consisting of full words do not have linking vowels.
Neither -o- nor -e- has any meaning.

short grammar of Russian by Unbegaun. (As the author never
bothers to transliterate, a reader would do well to know Cyrillic.)

- Polish
Bozena Cetnarowska <>
Viktor I. Pekar <>

First, the most common linker in Polish is -o-. It links noun-noun
compounds and adjective-adjective compounds. It is homophone to a
neuter marker, but it appears after nouns which do not have
an -o- ending. Second, there are also the linkers -i- or -y-. They
appear in verb-noun compounds and are usually (not always) the
thematic vowel of the verb in question.

- Serbo-Croatian
Danko Sipka <>

Serbo-Croation compound parts are connected by an -o-.

3. Austronesian
- Yapese
Jason Roberts <>

Some of the productive pattern of compounding in Yapese are:
- intransitive verb + long /e:/ or /e":/ + noun
- transitive verb + long /o:/ + noun
- noun with possessive suffix -n 'his, its' + long /e:/, /e":/, /i:/
or /a:/ + noun
All three types have an alternative variant without linking element.

Jensen (1977) Yapese Reference Grammar, p102.

- Kosraean/Kusaien
Jason Roberts <>

In Kusaien there is a linker -in- in noun-noun compounds and in
noun-intransitive verb compounds.

Lee (1975) Kusaiean Reference Grammar, p.213-214.

- Tagalog
Norvin W Richards <norvin@MIT.EDU>

In Tagalog there are two main linkers: the linker 'na'/-ng which
appears between modifiers (adjectives and relative clauses) and the
nouns they modify, among other places, and the linker -ng which
appears in compounds. Both are phonologically based: -ng (both
types) appears after a first constituent ending in /h/, /'/, or /n/,
'na' or the zero form of the compound linker appears after first
constituents ending in other consonants.

Schachter and Otanes' _Tagalog Reference Grammar_

Edward Rubin (1994): Modification: a syntactic analysis and its consequences.

Norvin Richards (1999): Complementizer cliticization in Tagalog and

4. Asia
- Daic: Thai
Doug Cooper <>

Thai has linking morphemes that pop up in the middle of many
compounds of Pali/Sanskrit origin. This occurs because Thai tends to
discourage certain kinds of finals, eg. short vowels.

As a standalone word, the loan may have its final vowel (or
consonant + vowel) either removed from the orthography, or
'silenced' with a special character, or simply ignored. Then, when
the word appears in a compound, the final is either added,
'unsilenced,' or read.

There are some cases in which the final vowel/consonant+vowel is
regularly suppressd even in compounds, e.g., when the supressed
final vowel leads into a leading vowel.

Richard Noss _Thai Reference Grammar_

Gedney _Indic Loanwords in Spoken Thai_

a whole lot of Thai references at

- Austro-Asiatic: Cambodian
Laurie Bauer <>

Cambodian (Khmer) appear to have linking elements very much like the
Germanic ones.

- Japanese
Satoshi Stanley Koike <>

In Japanese there are three linking phenomena in compounds: 1)
sequential voicing of the initial consonant of the second
constituent, 2) an epenthetic consonant between the two
constituents, and 3) a vowel change of the final consonant of the
first constituent. Koike's explanation for these phenomena is a lost
genitive postposition _no_ which occured between the two constituents.

Koike, Satoshi Stanley (1996): Sequential voicing in Japanese and
adjacency. Proceedings of ConSOLE IV, 143--50.

Koike, Satoshi Stanley (199?): A monosemy approach to the Japanese
particle _no_: functional categories as linkers and antisymmetry
in natural language. PhD thesis.

5. Southamerica
- Mixe-Zoque: Zoque
Esther Herrera <>

In Zoque there is a nominal compound formation where a vowel appears
between the two nouns. The vowel is a result of a vowel spreading,
which means that the vowel of the left constituent is repeated.

Herrera, Z. Esther (1995), "Palabras Estratos y
Representaciones: Temas de Fonologia Lexica en Zoque, El Colegio de

6. Niger-Kongo (Kwa):
- Yoruba
Laurie Bauer <>

Yoruba appears to have linking elements very much like the Germanic ones.


See also:
Bauer, Laurie 1978 (?) On teaching compound nouns. Moderna Spr?k

Dressler, W & Barbaresi, L. 1986: How to fix the interfixes. In: Acta
Linguistica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 36: 53-67.

Rivista di Linguistica, volume 4, number 1, 1992 (edited by Sergio
Scalise and published by Rosenberg and Sellier in Italy)


Andrea Krott M.A.

Interfaculty Research Unit for Language and Speech &
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Wundtlaan 1
PB 310, 6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Tel: +31 - (0)24 - 3612160

LL Issue: 10.1477
Date Posted: 07-Oct-1999
Original Query: Read original query


Sums main page