EDITORS: Libben, Gary; Jarema, Gonia
TITLE: The Representation and Processing of Compound Words
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
Sara Finley, Department of Cognitive Science, Johns Hopkins University
This book provides a comprehensive review of the current literature on the
representation and processing of compound words. Each chapter provides a review
of the literature within a particular domain of compound processing:
acquisition, neuropsychology, cross-linguistic study, etc. Each chapter is
self-contained such that a student could easily choose one chapter for reference
without reading the other chapters.
Chapter 1: Why study compound processing? An overview of the issues, Gary Libben
Chapter 1 provides an overview of the issues that arise in the study of
compounding. Compounding is an important area of research for anyone interesting
in morphological processing because compounding is one of the most frequent and
robust derivational processes found cross-linguistically. Further, studying how
each component of a compound is accessed sheds light on the nature of lexical
storage and access. Libben argues for a theory of lexical processing that
incorporates a principle of 'maximization of opportunity'. In this framework,
compounds may be accessed either in their whole word representation, or in terms
of each component constituent. Libben argues that this system has the greatest
amount of flexibility for understanding novel compounds, while still allowing
for understanding of opaque compounds. Libben discusses the activation of opaque
compounds, arguing that these compound activate the whole word meaning, which
competes with each constituent meaning.
Chapter 2: Compound types, Wolfgang U. Dressler
Dressler's chapter on compound types explores different issues with respect to
how compounds are defined and categorized. Dressler begins by addressing the
question: what makes a compound? The general prototypical definition of a
compound is a formation of two independent words that are grammatically combined
to form a new word. This excludes phrases that are formed by combining lexical
items with clitics, and is distinguished from syntactic phrases by separability.
Compounds act as 'anaphoric islands' Further, it is rarely the case that both
elements in a compound receive morphological inflection. Another notable
property of compounds is their productivity. Not only is compounding a
cross-linguistically common process, but novel compounds can easily be formed.
Dressler goes on to explore the internal structure of compounds, notably the
head. The head of a compound derives the bulk of the compound's meaning (e.g.,
referentiality) and is therefore considered the most important member of the
compound. Dressler distinguishes between two types of compound based on the
semantic properties of the head: exocentric and endocentric compounds.
Endocentric compounds have their heads within the compound itself, such as
'blackboard', while the heads of exocentric compounds must be inferred (e.g.,
'loud-mouth'). Within endocentric compounds, the head is typically the rightmost
member of the compound. Dressler also discusses transparency. The meaning of a
fully transparent compound can be found within the subset of meanings available
by combining the constituents of the compound. Thus, there are varying degrees
of transparency: transparency of both members (if the head component is
transparent, there is a higher degree of overall transparency), transparency of
one member and opacity of both members. Dressler concludes by giving a list of
properties of compounds with reference to their definitions within the chapter.
Chapter 3: Compound representation and processing: A cross-language perspective,
This chapter argues that a true understanding of compound processing can only
come from studying compounds in a variety of languages. While the majority of
research on compounds has come from English, there is an increase in the number
of cross-linguistic studies on compound processing. This article summarizes the
findings, showing both cross-linguistic differences as well as apparent
universals. The chapter is divided into cross-linguistic perspectives in
different areas: constituent structure, lexical status, and linking elements.
Cross-linguistic studies have been crucial in determining the role of
headedness, transparency and position in terms of decomposition of compounds.
For example, the interaction of position in the string and headedness is best
tested in languages that have both left-headed as well as right-headed
compounds. Studying languages with right-headed compounds makes it is impossible
to uncover this interaction. The lexical structure of compounds is also only
fully understood by studying how constituents of compound are inflected in a
variety of languages, with varying degrees of regularity in morphological
inflection. Jarema also presents cross-linguistic elements of linking elements
in compounds. While English has no linking elements in compounds, other
languages contain phonological linking elements between each compound
constituent. The question under study is whether these linking elements have
semantic content or not. Cross-linguistic study of Greek and Dutch linking
elements shows that the semantic content of linking elements is language-specific.
Chapter 4: The neuropsychology of compound words, Carlo Semenza and Sara Mondini
Semenza and Modini's chapter on the neuropsychology of compound words provides
evidence for the decompositionality of compound words from research on
brain-damaged individuals. They show how the study of patient data can be used
to shed light on fundamental questions in compound research: decompositionality,
lexical status of compounds, the time course of processing and morphological
inflection of compound components. They present evidence that patient errors in
producing and interpreting compounds are consistent with a morphological
decomposition rather than an interpretation using analogy to other compounds.
For example, Badecker (2001) cites errors in which a patient produces only a
single element of a compound rather than a complete substitution. Additionally,
patients who have no trouble with simple words will have trouble with compounds,
suggesting that compounds are processed as morphologically complex (Semenza et
Chapter 5: Preschool children's acquisition of compounds, Elena Nicholadis
This chapter reviews the literature of representation and processing of
compounds in preschool children. Understanding the nature of how compounds are
acquired will provide insight into how compounds are represented. There are
several issues that Nicholadis addresses in this chapter. The first is
cross-linguistic differences in compound acquisition, which relates largely to
the differences not only in the distribution of compounds in the language, but
also the structure of the language in general. Nicholadis discusses errors that
are common cross-linguistically, such as word-order reversals and creating novel
compounds for lexical items that the child does not already have a word for.
Another factor in the cross-linguistic study of the acquisition of compounds is
the frequency of compounds in the language and in child-directed speech. The
more productive compound processes are in a given language, the earlier
compounds may appear. This relates to a question of when comprehension of
compounds occurs versus production. While in general, comprehension precedes
production, there is some evidence that for some children in some languages,
production may precede comprehension. This may be due to the fact that early
productions of compounds are used to convey meanings for words that the child
has not yet learned, and are typically transparent. If the language has a
compounding process that is not very productive, or includes a lot of compounds
that are opaque, then it is possible to see some children
Chapter 6: Doghouse/Chien-maison/Niche: Approaches to understanding of compound
processing in bilinguals, Erika S. Levy, Mira Goral, and Loraine K. Obler
Levy et al's chapter on bilinguals covers several issues in compound
representation and processing. These issues include L2 compound processing,
bilingual compound processing and language transfer. One of the major issues for
research are what happens when the translation for one language does not match
the other language. For example, if a compound in one language has a whole word
translation in the other, or if one element of a compound is opaque in one
language, but transparent in the other, there is a question of how the L2
learner will store and translate the compounds in each language. Another
question is whether bilinguals will make transfer errors producing compounds
with lexical items from L2 but in the syntactic manner of L1. There are
questions of whether opacity of the elements in the compound play a role, and
closely related the two languages are in terms of compound formation rules.
Chapter 7: Conceptual combination: Implications for the mental lexicon,
Christina L. Gagné and Thomas L. Spalding
Gagné and Spalding's chapter on conceptual combination explores the way in which
novel compounds are processed. This chapter does not address the way in which
lexicalized compounds are stored, but the way in which speakers find meaning in
novel compounds. In conceptual combination, compounds are processed by creating
a new concept out of the concepts represented by each of the independent parts.
The authors argue for a relation-based approach to conceptual combination,
specifically the Competition-Among-Relations-in-Nominals (CARIN) approach (Gagné
2001). In this approach, real world knowledge is used to link the two components
of the compound. For example, the concept for compound 'chocolate bee' is formed
by linking 'chocolate' to 'bee' in terms of the noun MADE OF modifier
construction: 'a bee MADE OF chocolate'. Because the CARIN model uses
constructions, previous uses of compounds in particular constructions can
predict novel interpretations of a compound. For example chocolate is often
found in compounds with the MADE OF construction (chocolate bunny, chocolate
croissant, etc.). Thus, novel compounds with chocolate are likely to be to use
this same relation. Support for this view of compounds comes from experiments in
which participants rated meanings of combinations (Gagné and Shoben, 1997; Gagné
2001). The authors present how the CARIN model can be applied to lexicalized
compounds and point out problems with alternative schema-based theories.
Chapter 8: Processing Chinese compounds: A survey of the literature, James Meyers
Meyers reviews the literature on processing in compounds in Chinese, beginning
with an overview of Chinese orthography and morphology, and summarizes the
confusion of whether Chinese actually has a word level of morphology and cites
experimental evidence by Taft (2003) of Chinese speakers' tendency to view
characters as word-like. The rest of the chapter is devoted to research in
processing of Chinese compounds: frequency, effect of characters, transparency,
aphasia, priming, family size and compound structure. Meyers concludes that the
way in which Chinese compounds are processed depends heavily on the transparency
of the individual units, but largely on the mode of presentation: spoken or written.
The work presented in this book is largely reviews of previous literature and
suggestions for future research. This makes the book easily accessible to anyone
who is new to compound research and is interested in finding a research project
that is relevant to the issues current in the literature. The majority of the
chapters are theory-neutral, which makes the book accessible to anyone who wants
an objective overview of how to study the issues, rather than arguments for or
against particular theories. Because of the limited contribution of novel
theories and experiments, the direct impact that the book as a whole will make
on the field is likely to be minimal. However, this book may have an effect on
the types of novel research projects on compounds that are undertaken.
While the book covers a great number of areas in compound research, there are
several ways in which it feels that the editors neglected important areas of
research on compound processing. There was little mention of how the
representation of compounds can inform us on linguistic theories, specifically
the interaction of phonology and morphology and morphology and syntax. For
example, Martin (2007) notes that compounds in several languages (including
English and Turkish) violate the general phonological principles in the language
(e.g., English only allows geminate consonants in compounds). Further, there was
no mention of compounding in sign languages, which is a common process across
sign languages (including American Sign Language) (Liddell 2003). Questions
about the universals of representation and processing cannot be completely
addressed if sign languages are ignored.
The book does not present a unified theory of processing of compounds, which
makes it easy to read as individual chapters in any order, but creates a less
satisfying experience for the overall purpose of the book. With this in mind,
there are several unifying themes that arise from the book: the need for
cross-linguistic studies, the need for further research in various areas, and
that there is strong evidence that each component of the compound is accessed
independently, even in lexicalized compounds.
While Meyers made the attempt to tease apart the effects of visually-presented
and auditorily presented stimuli, this was not done in the other chapters. In
order to fully understand the level of processing, phonological, morphological,
etc. these effects need to be examined.
Levy et al.'s chapter on bilingualism and compound representation does not
properly distinguish between L2 learners and true bilinguals. While both may
have a dominant language, the effects of this dominance is likely to be
different depending on the age of acquisition. Further, not properly setting
apart these populations is misguided because the issues of representation and
processing are very different for these populations. L2 learning is concerned
with how the native language affects processing, while bilingual learning is
concerned with how both native languages interact.
In all, The Representation and Processing of Compound Words is a good
introduction to the issues that arise in doing research on compounds, and is
instructive in illustrating how studying compounds provides insight into the
nature of lexical access and the lexicon.
Badecker, W. 2001. Lexical composition and the production of compounds: Evidence
from errors in naming. _Language and Cognitive Processes_ 16: 337-366.
Gagné, C. L. 2001. Relation and priming during the interpretation of noun-noun
combinations. _Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and
Cognition_ 30: 637-646.
Gagné, C. L. and Shoben, E. J. 1997. The influence of thematic relations on the
comprehension of modifier-noun combinations. _Journal of Experimental
Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition_ 23: 71-87.
Liddell, S. 2003. _Gesture, grammar ad meaning in American Sign Language_.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Martin, M. 2007. _The evolving lexicon_. PhD Dissertation, Department of
Semenza, C., Butterworth, B., Panzeri, M, and Hittmair-Delazer, M. 1992.
Derivational rules in aphasia. _Berkeley Linguistics Society_ 18: 435-440.
Taft, M. 2003. Morphological representation as a correlation between form and
meaning. In E. Assink and D. Sandra (eds), _Reading Complex Words_. Amsterdam:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dr. Sara Finley is presently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Brain
and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. She received her Ph.D
from the Department of Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins University in 2008 and
specializes in experimental and theoretical approaches to phonological
representations, focusing on vowel harmony.