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Review of  Word-Formation Volume 3

Reviewer: Karen Steffen Chung
Book Title: Word-Formation Volume 3
Book Author: Peter O. Müller Ingeborg Ohnheiser Susan Olsen Franz Rainer
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 28.4485

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REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


The 44 chapters of “Word-Formation: An International Handbook of the Languages of Europe”, the third volume in a set of five, provide a coherent, wide-ranging picture of the morphology of a variety of European languages, examined from both a contemporary and historical point of view.

A quick skim of the table of contents is probably the best way to get a feel for this and the other volumes in the set:

The central theme of the first 12 articles is modernization of the lexicon through borrowing. It explores in depth the tension between foreign loan words and notions of language “purism”. Ch 92 suggests that purism is often more approved of in smaller languages than in larger, more international ones [p. 1608-11]. English, for example, seems to have few qualms about directly importing and assimilating just about any loan word as needed, with or without adaptation to established English spelling, phonotactics and stress patterns. English has thus ended up with a motley vocabulary hailing from all over the globe and a complex spelling system, in addition to existing inconsistencies due to historical phonological change and early borrowing [ch 94, 110]. Part of the reason for this devil-may-care attitude is the cultural dominance of Anglo culture and a concomitant high level of self-confidence. The single biggest source language is of course Latin, which comprises around 60% of the English vocabulary, and 90% of English scientific vocabulary:

“…It has come to be felt that the whole Latin vocabulary…is potentially English, and when a new word is wanted it is often easier, and more in accordance with our literary habits, to anglicise a Latin word, or to form a compound from Latin elements, than to invent a native English compound or derivative which will answer the purpose…” [p. 1599-1600]

Greek also contributed, however all Greek word components in English came through either Old French or Latin, never directly from Greek [p. 1646].

Many languages, on the other hand, have at different points in time resisted linguistic encroachment by launching purism movements, and/or attempted to regulate language development institutionally, with varying levels of success. French, German, Turkish and many others have gone this route.

Some languages, in an effort to avoid letting in too many outright foreign loans, have turned to a related language of a country with a higher level of development, for example, Estonian has borrowed heavily from Finnish [ch 100]. The new words tended to feel less “foreign” and closer to one’s own roots [p. 1731]. Specific individuals played a major role in lexical renewal in Estonian. In the early 20th century, language reformer Johannes Aavik believed that language could be engineered, and tried to do so, based on the principles of beauty, expedience (also interpreted as brevity), and originality (or refinement). In addition to Finnish loans, Aavik drew on words from dialects of Estonian, which often preserved words from an earlier stage of the language, and directly from ancient forms [p. 1737]. A minority of Aavik’s coinages survive in modern Estonian.

A language may also make a concerted effort to differentiate itself from closely related languages for cultural, ethnic or political reasons. Conscious efforts have been made in Croatian [ch 99], for example, to promote the use of words identified as native Croatian while avoiding Serbian ones; sharing words with Bosnian, on the other hand, was considered OK. But then, in an example of “intracorrelational purism” [p. 1721ff], efforts were at the same time made to maintain the distinctiveness of certain words relative to their equivalents in two other closely-related dialects of Croatian.

Use of the term “confix” (from the French “confixe”; borrowed into German as “Konfix”), with its subtypes “preconfix” and “postconfix” [p. 1627] is a welcome feature of this volume. “Confix” is a useful and convenient term, both in that it is more concise than “Greek and Latin combining forms”, and also in that it implies a fuller integration of this relatively information-dense unit into general morphology than is usually seen in the literature. Another useful category, “combineme”, which encompasses both affixes and confixes [p. 1616], highlights the difficulty of distinguishing unambiguously between the two morpheme types [p. 1622].

The focus of the next 18 chapters shifts to historical word-formation. The chapter on Latin to Romance “-mente” [ch 106] lays out an interesting argument against viewing -mente in Spanish as a suffix, citing 1. its separability, e.g. inteligente y profundamente ( = inteligentemente y profundamente), and 2. the fact that -mente adverbs have double stress [p. 1826-27].

An interesting comparison is made in ch 109 between the different fates of the verbal prefix “un-” in German and English. It was common in Middle High German in words like in “unbinden” ‘to untie’, but was later abandoned in Modern German; while in English it survived and flourished, e.g. in forms like “undo” and “unwrap” [p. 1895].

Ch 113, “From Old French to New French”, describes an interesting morphological category in French slang, namely “parasitic suffixation” (suffixation parasitaire), in which word endings are used to change the form and tone of a word. It is described as a currently popular kind of “playful deformation” that dates back to the Middle Ages. Examples are américain → amerlot; chinois → chinetoque; poulet (‘policeman’) → poulaga [p. 1993].

Chapters 120-122 address: L1 acquisition – notable is a French child’s interpretation of “chirurgien” ‘surgeon’ as “sirop de chien” ‘syrup of dog’ [p. 2119]; L2 acquisition – mention is made of the seldom-treated but significant issue of how even advanced L2 learners seldom approach native speakers in terms of word association responses [p. 2145]; and aphasia – studies with aphasics have confirmed the separate mental processing of stems and affixes and thus favors the dual-route hypothesis of morphological processing [p. 2155].

The themes of the following 11 chapters are Word Formation and: text; brand names; planned languages; sign languages; technical languages, with a special focus on Czech and on standardization procedures; literature; orthography, focusing mainly on English and French; and visuality – the only chapter with color printing. The final three chapters discuss tools useful in word formation studies, i.e. dictionaries, corpora and the Internet.

Some unexpected languages were happily included in the volume. Romanian’s status as a less-studied language made that chapter especially informative. Turkish is spoken just on the margin of Europe, but its importance as an immigrant language perhaps strengthens the case for its inclusion, and it brought in an entirely different language family for comparison. And ch 124, “Word-formation and brand names”, cites numerous eye-opening examples from Farsi and Chinese, which are not European by any stretch of the definition, but which certainly enhanced the chapter and served as useful counterweights to the European data.

Further variety is introduced by ch 125, Word-formation and planned languages, which treats such artificial languages as Volapük and Esperanto, and ch 126, Word-formation and sign languages, which contains interesting observations on similarities between compounds in spoken and sign languages, and the use of phrasal and serial verbs to express telicity.

The above is obviously only a small sampling of the gems to be discovered in this compendious volume. Readers with whom any of this resonates are encouraged to check the book out for yourselves!


Formatwise this book is typical of large-scale “doorstop” volumes in De Gruyter series and sets on various specific areas of linguistics. But as thick and dense as it is, with almost solid wall-to-wall text, it was a discovery-filled joy to read, and its pages in my copy are now covered with notes. Working through this volume whetted my appetite for the others in the set.

Some relatively minor points and suggestions:

An index would be a great help in locating references one remembers seeing…somewhere…

A small suggestion regarding format: The name and home city of the author of each paper don’t appear till the very end of each chapter, after the list of references. I suggest the publisher include the author’s name under each chapter title in future volumes to make it easier to keep track of who wrote what while you’re reading. I penciled them in under each chapter title as I read.

The slightly unexpected use of wider spacing of words for e m p h a s i s adds a quaint German touch to the typography, while also serving its original purpose.

Overall, the editing is very good; still, a number of minor typos, some of which are listed below, did slip through. All would be easy to fix immediately in the ebook; the list should also be useful to keep on file if or when a second printing or edition of the paper book is issued.

At this size and price, this book is clearly meant mainly for libraries, but it’s one that I personally would actually consider getting for myself, even at this price – its rich content would be well worth it. Highly recommended, five stars.

adjectival compounding stronger restrictions → adjectival compounding, stronger restrictions [p. 1632]
out of use, → out of use; [p. 1771]
Columbia → Colombia [p. 1776]
-heit (cf. English -hood), -schaft → (cf. English -ship) [p. 1798]
inspite of → in spite of [p. 1800]
gnom → gnome [p. 1802]
a happy-go-luck → lucky person [p. 1816]
it only combine → combines with [p. 1819]
transitory → transitional stage [p. 1819]
in → at the centre of attention [p. 1845]
The → this article offers… [p. 1867 and 1914]
conversions…are seldom → few OR seldom encountered [p. 1906]
sentence beginning “To what extent here…” in middle of p. 1908 is too complex.
to brake → break to pieces [p. 1919]
splippery → slippery [p. 1947]
scarsely → scarcely [p. 1950]
This lead → led to the [p. 2033]
and others more. → and others. [p. 2034]
pettycoat → petticoat [p. 2119]
flower which are friend to → with each other [p. 2121]
there are two forms to choose → from, [p. 2121]
with a view of → to helping learners cope [p. 2143]
to different extent → extents. [p. 2150]
gained grounds → gained ground [p. 2159]
two components compound → two-component compound [p. 2169]
has been provided, data favoring → has been provided, with the data favoring [p. 2171]
apart from few exceptions → apart from a few exceptions [p. 2178]
and have gained increasingly → increasing attention [p. 2178]
do usually not → do not usually [p. 2181]
must have been weighting → must have weighed several tons [p. 2182]
substitutes → for the whole compound [p. 2182]
punctuation glitches at the bottom of 2184 and 2188 and top of 2189
on the 25.2.2011 → delete “the” [p. 2188]
“*these* three interwoven principles” is mentioned before its antecedent in the next paragraph, where the principles are first introduced [p. 2220]
none → neither of the two words [p. 2202]
spezialization → specialization [p. 2257]
chrystal → crystal [p. 2257]
excitement → excitation (of electricity) [p. 2259]
For a long time, rhetoric remains → has remained the reference par excellence [p. 2268]
death and transformation are the inclusive → ineluctable condition of man. [p. 2269]
is → has been increasingly encroaching…since the 1960s. [p. 2326]
Karen Steffen Chung is an associate professor of English and linguistics in the foreign language department of National Taiwan University in Taipei, and also teaches English over the radio and Internet. Her areas of specialization include phonetics, teaching of pronunciation, and Chinese morphology. She is the author of Mandarin Compound Verbs, which received an NTU excellent research award in 2007.