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Review of  Word-Formation Volume 1

Reviewer: Rita Finkbeiner
Book Title: Word-Formation Volume 1
Book Author: Peter O. Müller Ingeborg Ohnheiser Susan Olsen Franz Rainer
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Discipline of Linguistics
Issue Number: 27.341

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


This handbook appears in De Gruyter Mouton’s well-established series of handbooks, whose overarching goal is to offer an in-depth presentation of the state of the art for the topic under investigation. The present book is the first of five volumes, which in total contain 207 articles, distributed across 16 chapters.

In their introduction to the handbook, the editors note that while word-formation has been considered a central component of grammar for quite some time, the question of whether word-formation is a self-contained linguistic discipline is still being debated. On the one hand, word-formation is often subsumed together with inflection under the heading of morphology. On the other hand, in generative frameworks such as Distributed Morphology, word-formation is reduced to syntax and phonology. At present there is a broad consensus that word-formation operates on the basis of words, yet most linguists would agree that central features of word-formation do interface with phonology and syntax as well as with semantics and pragmatics.

The editors of this handbook hold the view that ''word-formation, that is the study and description of the processes and regularities that form new words on the basis of the existing vocabulary, constitutes an independent area of scientific study” (p. vii). This justifies the need for a handbook that is exclusively dedicated to this field of knowledge. Existing handbooks on morphology (e.g., ‘Morphology’ (= HSK 17) by Štekauer and Lieber) - due to their broader subject-matter - only cover a limited account of the field of word-formation. Moreover, what makes the present handbook special is that it presents the field consistently from a cross-linguistic perspective, focusing on European languages.

The main purposes of the handbook as stated in the introduction are (i) to provide a comprehensive account of the subject area of word-formation; (ii) to deepen our knowledge of particular, especially intriguing questions which are exemplified by an individual language or language family; (iii) to provide overview articles that keep track of the extensive literature on specific issues, which can contravene tendencies of redundancy in research; (iv) to promote the internationalization of the discipline, where discussion still too often tends to proceed along language boundaries; and (v) to provide a framework for a synthesis of the large number of publications in the field.

In order to provide the reader with an idea about the overall organization and contents of the handbook (vol. 1-5), I first list the headings of the 16 chapters contained in the five volumes. I then describe and evaluate in more detail the contents covered by the present volume 1.

Vol. 1
Ch. 1: Word-formation as a linguistic discipline (13 articles). Ch. 2: Units and processes in word-formation I: General aspects (14 articles). Ch. 3: Units and processes in word-formation II: Special cases (17 articles).

Vol. 2
Ch. 4: Rules and restrictions in word-formation I: General aspects (4 articles). Ch. 5: Rules and restrictions in word-formation II: Special cases (7 articles). Ch. 6: Semantics and pragmatics in word-formation I: General aspects (7 articles). Ch. 7: Semantics and pragmatics in word-formation II: Special cases (27 articles).

Vol. 3
Ch. 8: Foreign word-formation, language planning and purism I: General aspects (3 articles). Ch. 9: Foreign word-formation, language planning and purism II: Special cases (9 articles). Ch. 10: Historical word formation I: General aspects (2 articles). Ch. 11: Historical word-formation II: Special cases (5 articles). Ch. 12: Historical word-formation III: Language sketches (11 articles). Ch. 13: Word-formation in language acquisition and aphasia (3 articles). Ch. 14: Word-formation and language use (8 articles). Ch. 15: Tools in word-formation research (3 articles).

Vol. 4
Ch. 16: Word-formation in the individual European languages: Germanic (10 articles); Romance (8 articles); Celtic (3 articles); Slavic (14 languages); Map of languages.

Vol. 5
[continuation of Ch. 16] Baltic (2 articles); Albanian (1 article); Greek (1 article); Indo-Iranian (2 articles); Uralic (7 articles); Basque (1 article); Semitic (1 article); Turkic (7 articles); Mongolic (1 article); Northwest Caucasian (3 articles); Northeast Caucasian (13 articles). Subject index. Map of languages.

As becomes clear from this outline, the handbook covers general and theoretical aspects of the field (both with respect to forms and meanings/functions) as well as aspects of language planning and purism, historical word-formation, the perspectives from language acquisition and use and methodological aspects (tools). The final chapter adds portraits of word-formation in the individual languages of Europe. The contents are composed of both survey articles and individual case studies.

The present volume comprises chapters 1-3 of the handbook. I describe the general orientation of each of these chapters and highlight particular articles, but in the interest of space I do not discuss every contribution.

Chapter 1, ''Word-formation as a linguistic discipline”, offers first an introductory survey of the scope of word-formation research (Hans-Jörg Schmid). Schmid defines and demarcates the subject-matter, explains the basic notions and outlines major approaches to word-formation, which he divides into four broad types: rule-based models, schema-based models, exemplar-based models and exemplar-cum-schema-based models. As a major challenge to be faced in future research, he sees the challenge of doing justice to the flexible manner in which ''speakers and writers use the productive and creative resources in their language” […] ''while upholding the aim to produce valid generalizations” (p. 16). The following 12 articles give a chronological overview of the emergence and development of word-formation research and its foundation in theoretical concepts. This overview starts from the beginnings of word formation research to the 19th century (Barbara Kaltz and Odile Leclercq) and extends over word-formation in historical-comparative grammar (Thomas Lindner), structuralism (Wolfgang Motsch), ‘inhaltbezogene Grammatik’ (Johannes Erben), onomasiology (Joachim Grzega), generative grammar (Rochelle Lieber), categorical grammar (Ulrich Wandruszka), natural morphology (Hans Christian Luschützky), cognitive grammar (John R. Taylor), optimality theory (Renate Raffelsiefen) and construction grammar (Geert Booij). While generative approaches, as outlined by Lieber, can be subsumed under the rule-based approaches to word-formation, constructionist approaches as sketched by Booij represent schema-based approaches. The chapter ends with an article on current psycholinguistic and neurocognitive approaches (Gary Libben).

Chapter 2, ''Units and processes in word-formation I: General aspects'', starts with a contribution on the notorious question of the delimitation of inflection and derivation (Pavol Štekauer), followed by a discussion of the units of word-formation (Joachim Mugdan). Mugdan’s contribution, which is the most extensive in this chapter (66 pages in length), provides not only an overview of units of word-formation, but also surveys different types of morphological processes, some of which are dealt with in more detail in the following articles (e.g., reduplication), and discusses potential inputs and outputs of word-formation rules, e.g., phrases and inflectional forms. For example, with respect to phrasal inputs to word-formation such as in Dutch ‘heteluchtballon’ (‘hot air balloon’), the question is whether or not one wants to adopt a model of grammar that allows for interactions between syntax and morphology. Linguists that reject phrasal inputs to word-formation must analyze alleged examples of phrasal inputs differently, e.g., as compounds or as quoted phrases. The following 11 articles treat in detail the different word-formation processes, as well as processes that are closely interconnected with word-formation (e.g., multi-word expressions and word creation). The processes dealt with are: Derivation (Andrew Spencer), Conversion (Salvador Valera), Backformation (Pavol Štekauer), Clipping (Anja Steinhauer), Composition (Susan Olsen), Blending (Bernhard Fradin), Incorporation (Jason D. Haugen), Particle-verb formation (Andrew McIntyre), Multi-word expressions (Matthias Hüning and Barbara Schlücker), Reduplication (Thomas Schwaiger) and Word-creation (Elke Ronneberger-Sibold). The last article in this chapter discusses allomorphy (Wolfgang U. Dressler), a notion which has fuzzy boundaries, e.g. in transition to strong suppletion and overlapping competing morphemes.

Chapter 3, ''Units and processes in word-formation II: Special cases'' focuses on word formation processes and units of word formation in particular languages or language families, thus adding to the general part (Ch. 2) a perspective on special issues. The chapter comprises articles on Affective palatalization in Basque (José Ignacio Hualde), Parasynthesis in Romance (David Serrano-Dolader), Affix pleonasm (Francesco Gardani), Interfixes in Romance (Michel Roché), Linking elements in Germanic (Nanna Fuhrhop and Sebastian Kürschner), Synthetic compounds in German (Martin Neef), Verbal pseudo-compounds in German (Christian Fortmann), Particle verbs in Germanic (Nicole Dehé), Particle verbs in Romance (Claudio Iacobini), Particle verbs in Hungarian (Mária Ladányi), Noun-noun compounds in French (Pierre J. L. Arnaud), Verb-noun compounds in Romance (Davide Ricca), Co-compounds (Bernhard Wälchli), Multi-word units in French (Salah Mejri), Multi-word expressions and univerbation in Slavic (Olga Martincová), Compounds and multi-word expressions in Slavic (Ingeborg Ohnheiser), and Paradigmatically determined allomorphy (Anna M. Thornton). To take up just one case for illustration, synthetic compounds pose special problems for the analysis (see Neef’s article). Synthetic compounds, such as German ‘blauäugig’ (‘blue-eyed’), are complex words containing at least three morphemes, with neither the combination of the first two nor of the last two existing as free words. One analysis, which is compatible with the semantic interpretation of the respective words, derives them from phrasal inputs, i.e. [[blauADJ äugN]NP ig]ADJ. However, this analysis does not take into account that the assumed constituent ‘blauäug’ does not behave like a syntactic phrase. Competing analyses treat constituents such as ‘äugig’ as semi-affixes; or else take the formations to be compounds, which may lead to difficulties with the semantic interpretation. More recent approaches, however, propose that semantic interpretation may generally be independent of morphological structure. Thus, as Neef points out, ''the persuasiveness of the morphological analysis given for synthetic compounds […] depends on further theoretical assumptions concerning the general architecture of grammar” (p. 590).


The handbook as a whole covers a very broad range of topics, both on the more general and on the more specific levels, fully succeeding in the goal of providing a comprehensive account of the subject area of word-formation in European languages. The present Volume 1, focusing on the discipline itself and its development as well as on units and processes of word-formation, certainly succeeds in providing both comprehensive survey articles that keep track of the abundant literature and in deepening our knowledge of particular, especially intriguing word-formation processes which are exemplified by an individual language or language family. The volume also succeeds in the goals of promoting the internationalization of the discipline and of providing a framework for a synthesis of the large number of publications in the field. This is especially valuable as the different philologies still are very much anchored in different terminological traditions, which this handbook seeks to synthesize. One strength of the handbook is the broad range of languages and language families covered. For example, by having contributions on particle verbs in Germanic, in Romance, and in Hungarian, comparison between these language families is facilitated. Also, coherence of the volume is enhanced as the special processes discussed in Ch. 3 often connect directly to the general descriptions in Ch. 2.
The volume is carefully edited, clearly structured, and in its structuring easy to access. The articles are well-written and concise, with the focus on the most central aspects of the respective topic. The mix of literature surveys, discussion of theoretical issues and data-oriented case studies is ideal for a handbook and serves specialists in word-formation research as well as non-specialist linguists and scholars from adjacent fields. Also valuable in this regard are the extensive bibliographies that accompany every chapter.

One minor criticism concerns the selection of subjects, e.g. the selection of theoretical frameworks presented in Chapter 1. Depending on one’s theoretical background, one might miss contributions dedicated to more specialized frameworks such as Distributed Morphology. However, for readers interested in this theoretical model, the survey article of Lieber on word-formation in generative grammar provides useful information. Similarly, one might wonder why Chapter 3 does not contain an own contribution on the issue of phrasal compounding, a process which has gained increasing interest in recent years (e.g., Meibauer 2007, Trips 2012, Trips and Kornfilt (eds.) to appear). The information provided in Mugdan on this issue is accessible only via the subject index (which becomes available only with Vol. 5).

On the other hand, the editor’s decision to include processes in Chapter 2 that are not part of the conventional list of word-formation processes but are to be seen in close interaction with them (e.g., multi-word expressions and word creation), is highly valuable.

A second minor criticism concerns some terminological choices of the editors. It is clear that coping with different terminological traditions across languages and research frameworks while keeping consistency and coherence of the handbook is a major challenge. Still, sometimes the terminological choice taken in the handbook might lead to misunderstandings. E.g., the term ''synthetic compound” in one research tradition is used to exclusively describe compounds with deverbal second constituent (‘car driver’), while in other traditions, it also includes noun-based compounds such as ‘blue-eyed’. Thus, readers with different research backgrounds might expect different kinds of data to be dealt with in this chapter.

In sum, this volume offers a comprehensive assessment of word-formation research on European languages that is a valuable resource for both (specialist and non-specialist) researchers and advanced students. It both traces the historical development of the discipline and portrays the current state of the art. What one gets is a body of work exploring an expanding range of questions covering the field of word-formation, but also reaching beyond it.


Meibauer, Jörg (2007): How marginal are phrasal compounds? Generalized insertion, expressivity, and I/Q-interaction. Morphology 17, 233–259.

Trips, Carola (2012): Empirical and theoretical aspects of phrasal compounds: against the 'syntax explains it all' attitude. In: Angela Ralli, Geert Booij, Sergio Scalise, Athanasios Karasimos (eds.): On-line Proceedings of the Eighth Mediterranean Morphology Meeting (MMM8), 322–346.

Trips, Carola and Jaklin Kornfilt (eds.) (to appear): Typological and Theoretical Perspectives on Phrasal Compounds (Special issue of STUF).
Rita Finkbeiner, PhD, is assistant professor at the German department at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. She earned her PhD in 2009 with a thesis on the Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics of Sentential Idioms in German. Her current research project investigates German reduplicative constructions. Recent courses taught include Introduction to German linguistics, Word-formation, Lexicology, Sentence types, the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface, and Multilingualism.