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Review of  The Construction of Words, Advances in Construction Morphology

Reviewer: Saizhu Hu
Book Title: The Construction of Words, Advances in Construction Morphology
Book Author: Geert Booij
Publisher: Springer Nature
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 29.4566

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The book “The Construction of Words: Advances in Construction Morphology” edited by Geert Booij is a collection of 21 articles dealing with Construction Morphology (abbreviated as CxM) in such domains as theoretical, empirical and applied linguistic research and in related subdomains of linguistics, such as historical linguistics and psycholinguistics. It aims to show the relevance of the CxM model in various domains of linguistics, and to demonstrate recent advances in the research within the framework of Construction Morphology.

The 21 articles are sorted into 5 separate but interrelated parts mostly based on the different domains within the CxM model. Part I is the introduction; Part II explores the theoretical issues; Part III deals with the studies of specific languages; Part IV is concerned with diachronic case studies; Part V tackles the psycholinguistic aspects of Construction Morphology.

Part I Introduction

1. “The Construction of Words: Introduction and Overview” (pp. 3-16)

As the introduction to the volume, the first article by the editor Geert Booij defines the theory of Construction Morphology so as to set the foundation for all the following articles. At the same time, the article also gives an overview of the following 20 articles by focusing on their findings in the domain of CxM and in the application of CxM in different domains of linguistics.

Part II Theoretical Issues

2. “Modeling Signifiers in Constructional Approaches to Morphological Analysis” (pp. 19-57)

This article by Jeff Good examines the modeling of non-standard signifiers, which deviate from the ideal of the “linear nature” proposed by Saussure (1916/1959:70). He catalogues patterns of signifier deviations, including 1) significative absence, 2) discontinuities in signifier structure and infixation, 3) signifiers of defective signs, 4) a relative signifier of tonal distinctions, 5) a “sheared” signifier with the displacement of segmental features and tonal features, 6) phonologically-blocked signifiers, and 7) templates as constructive signifiers. Good points out that Construction Morphology is “especially well suited” (p. 51) to deal with patterns of non-canonical signifiers, and thus more attention should be devoted to the modeling of signifiers within Constructive Morphology.

3. “Partial Motivation, Multiple Motivation: The Role of Output Schemas in Morphology” (pp. 59-80)

In this article, Geert Booij and Jenny Audring argue that constructional schemas can be used to characterize morphologically complex words, whether productive or unproductive, in terms of their form-meaning correspondences and their functions in specifying both properties of existing words and the ways how new words are coined. Based on examples of Dutch simplex and complex verbs in -elen and -eren, Booij and Audring demonstrate that simplex verbs are motivated partially or fully by one schema typically when involving words that lack a base, and that complex words may be motivated by multiple schemas. This generalization can also be applied to substantial numbers of verbs, borrowed words and acronyms in German and English.

4. “Schemas and Discontinuity in Italian: The View from Construction Morphology” (pp. 81-109)

The article by Francesca Masini and Claudio Iacobini examines non-contiguous morphological and lexical constructions in Italian. The article is based on four case studies, and provides a new analysis of three more widely known linguistic phenomena: 1) particle shift and discontinuous idioms, 2) bracketing paradoxes, and 3) parasynthesis. This article also contributes both new data and a new approach to the phenomenon of discontinuous reduplication with numerals. Thus, Masini and Iacobini conclude that CxM can be “a flexible theoretical framework” (p. 106) to deal with the tricky models of discontinuity in morphology.

5. “A Construction-Based Approach to Multiple Exponence” (pp. 111-139)

In this article, Gabriela Caballero and Sharon Inkelas argue that various types of multiple exponence (ME) can emerge from the interaction of principal constraints in Optimal Construction Morphology (OCM) (cf. Caballero and Inkelas 2013). Caballero and Inkelas examine the constructional schemas of all the four types proposed by Harris (2017): periodic, alternating, reinforcement and accidental ME, and devote special attention to compounding-style ME. They propose that “ME patterns exhibiting recurring characteristics result from a stem-identity mechanism that relates ME to other cross-linguistically common morphological phenomena” (p. 136) and that the addition of OCM to CxM can contribute to our understanding of the interaction between morphology and phonology.

6. “A Construction Morphology Approach to Sign Language Analysis” (pp. 141-172)

This article by Ryan Lepic and Corrine Occhino proposes that a usage-based theory of Construction Morphology can help analyze sign language structure. Based on examples from ASL (American Sign Language) and instances in multimodal communication, Lepic and Occhino demonstrate that treating core and classifier signs in a uniform way can resolve the two long-standing categorization problems in the field of sign language linguistics: the Core vs. Classifier problem, which arises from the distinction of monomorphemic lexical from multimorphemic construction signs, and the Language vs. Gesture problem, which results from the differentiation of the more discrete and listable aspects from the more holistic or gradient aspects of signing.

Part III Studies of Specific Languages

7. “Combinatorial Morphology in Visual Languages” (pp. 175-199)

In this article, Neil Cohn explores combinatorial morphology in visual languages, focusing on the lexicons of bound morphemes and isolatable forms (monomorphs). He argues that the meanings of the graphic elements are created out of the interaction of their intrinsic meanings and their spatial distribution by strategies such as affixation, suppletion/substitution and reduplication, and the meanings may involve a variety of semiotic reference types with the conceptualized meanings derived from idiomatic expressions and metaphors. This structure in visual languages is similar to those found in the other modalities, typically in verbal languages, and thus more empirical research should be conducted on visual languages in terms of cross-cultural variation, process, and acquisition in the domain of linguistic sciences.

8. “De-adjectival Human Nouns in French” (pp. 201-217)

In this article, Dany Amiot and Delphine Tribout apply override coercion (cf. Michaelis 2003) to the analysis of de-adjectival human nouns in French. Based on an analysis of the properties of these nouns as “in-between category” (p. 207) of nouns and adjectives, the Authors point out that previous interpretations are not satisfactory. Amiot and Tribout propose that the analysis of coercion can account for the phenomenon of de-adjectival human nouns, that is, the adjectives are “coerced” by the nominal contexts and assume a nominal behavior. However, Amiot and Tribout also point out that this analysis may not be the most satisfactory one in the case of de-adjectival inanimate individual nouns, and further corpus-based analysis should be conducted on these nouns in general.

9. “The Construction Morphology Analysis of Chinese Word Formation” (pp. 219-253)

Chinese has been known as a language of multimorphemic words presenting many tricky questions as to, e.g. how to define Chinese morphemes, roots, words, and constituents such as affixes or affixoids etc. In this article, Giorgio Francesco Arcodia and Bianca Basciano conduct an analysis of Chinese complex words in the framework of Construction Morphology. They demonstrate how CxM provides schemas to account for the formation of complex words and the emergence of new meanings of lexical morphemes in Chinese. They also argue that this analysis can best explain the formation of Chinese complex words on the basis of the actual constructions rather than in terms of the categories of root, compound and affix in traditional morphology. In this article, a detailed case study on the morpheme 客 kè ‘guest’ is also conducted to show how it becomes a righthand constituent in new coined complex words and indicates a general sense of ‘person’.

10. “Super-Complexity and the Status of ‘Word’ in Gunwinyguan Languages of Australia” (pp. 255-286)

The ‘super-complex words’ in many Indigenous Australian languages have posed great challenges to linguists as to whether to describe these language phenomena as words (lexical compounds) or phrases (syntactic compounds). In the article, Brett Baker refers to these words as ‘constructions’ with “particular constellations of propositional, lexico-semantic, morpho-syntactic, phonological and prosodic features” (p. 256). He argues that CxM can be a useful and straightforward way to describe these constructions as products of the lexicon. As previous models of morphology are not very satisfactory in addressing problems related to the semantic interpretation and the prosodic constituency of ‘super-complex words’, Baker develops a model of the lexicon along Constructionist lines, and proposes that the standard model of Prosodic Phonology can account for the syntactic meaning expressed in word structure.

11. “Phrasal Names in Polish: A+N, N+A, and N+N Units” (pp. 287-313)

In this article, Bożena Cetnarowska examines multi-word expressions in Polish. Cetnarowska finds that most of these expressions should be treated as phrasal lexemes with different degrees of syntactic restrictions and semantic transparency. Phrasal schemas can be used to analyze the internal structure of existing phrasal nouns and provide templates for coining new ones. The second order schemas can provide an adequate grammatical model for a proper account of these phrasal nouns in terms of paradigmatic relatedness.

12. “Arabic Nonconcatenative Morphology in Construction Morphology” (pp. 315-339)

In this article, Stuart Davis and Natsuko Tsujimura give an account of Arabic nonconcatenative morphology with particular attention devoted to the incorporation of the typical prosodic templates in Arabic morphology into the schema of CxM. Based on an analysis of two forms of verbal derivation in Arabic, this article shows how Arabic traditional root-based and word-based approaches can be accounted for in terms of construction schemata. The authors investigate the nonverbal templatic morphology of Arabic including the comparative, nouns of profession, and the diminutive, and further demonstrate that a typical prosodic template in Arabic morphology is a part of the syntactic component of the morphological construction, but the templates may differ in the nature of the base as root or word.

13. “Foreign Word-Formation in Construction Morphology: Verbs in -ieren in German” (pp. 341-371)

This article by Matthias Hüning applies an output-oriented and exemplar-based approach to the analysis of the word-formation of borrowed words in German. By analyzing the verbal suffix -ier(en) and its variants in German verbs, Hüning demonstrates that complex foreign words can be interpreted by the schemas in Construction Morphology in terms of generalization and abstraction and by means of paradigmatic association with similar words. The schemas can be further specified by subschemas by relating a group of verbs to proper nouns in terms of syntactic and semantic coherence and thus explaining the productivity of these patterns. Furthermore, unification of different schemas, such as for verbs in -isier(en) and nouns in -isierung, can account for the merging of two word-formation processes in the formation of new words, such as nouns in -isierung. Thirdly, the notion of ‘second order schema’ in Construction Morphology can be used to explain the structure and the relation of morphologically complex words in terms of their paradigmatic relations. Hüning concludes that Construction Morphology is ideal for providing models to describe foreign word-formation.

14. “Japanese Word Formation in Construction Morphology” (pp. 373-398)

Natsuko Tsujimura and Stuart Davis illustrate how insightful the Construction Morphology approach is in analyzing the form-meaning-usage complex of four different word formation phenomena in Japanese: 1) formation of innovative verbs, 2) truncated hypocoristics, 3) intensified mimetic adverbs, and 4) innovative prenominal noun modifiers. Tsujimura and Davis demonstrate that these four morphological constructions can be best analyzed within the model of Construction Morphology and exhibit schemata, which respectively account for the unique properties in the four morphological constructions. Furthermore, the study shows the conceptual and technical advantages of Construction Morphology in dealing with language phenomena that constitute challenges to general morphology.

15. “The Hulle and Goed Constructions in Afrikaans” (pp. 399-437)

In this article, Gerhard B. van Huyssteen provides a synchronic, corpus-based, constructionist description of the Hull (‘they’) and goed constructions to address issues concerning whether these constructions should be regarded as noun phrases, compounds, derived words, or new nodes in a construction network. Based on seven different corpora of 86 million words and a variety of identified schemas and subschemas, Huyssteen argues that “hulle and goed1/2 (goed1 ‘things, stuff’; goed2 ‘hypocoristical; ‘things, stuff’, SH) constructions should be analyzed as constructional idioms, in-between subordinate compounds and category-preserving suffixal constructions, while the goed3 (‘good’, SH) construction is a subschema of subordinate compounds.” (p. 430). Huyssteen also provides a categorization network of the schemas and subschemas of these constructions.

Part IV Diachronic Case Studies

16. “Schema Unification and Morphological Productivity: A Diachronic Perspective” (pp. 441-474)

In this article, Luise Kempf and Stefan Hartmann provide three case studies to give evidence to support the core assumption about complex word-formation schemas or unified schemas in Construction Morphology. In the first two case studies the Authors apply a corpus-based quantitative approach to two German word-formation patterns, i.e. nominal derivation with -ung and adjectival derivation with -lich, from a diachronic perspective, and find that the unified schemas of these two constructions have undergone a more productive development compared with the parent schemas of their simple constructions. In the third case study, Kempf and Hartmann explore pseudo-participles (as in bebrillt ‘bespectacled’) based on web data and find that the split-compound scheme is much preferred to the incorporated-compound pattern and the complex pattern can provide semantically more uniform derivatives than its parent schemas. The results of the three case studies indicate that the concept of unified schemas can account for the morphological productivity of the (sub)constructions and the stylistic and semantic development of these patterns.

17. “Debonding and Clipping of Prefixoids in Germanic: Constructionalization or Constructional Change?” (pp. 475-518)

This article by Muriel Norde and Kristel Van Goethem examines the debonding and clipping of three Germanic prefixoids, i.e. Dutch kei ‘boulder’, German Hammer ‘hammer’, and Swedish kanon ‘cannon’, with the aim to investigate whether debonding can best be accounted for by Traugott and Trousdale’s (2013) concept of ‘constuctionization’, or by Hilpert’s (2013) concept of ‘constructional change’. Based on an extensive corpus-based study and contrastive statistical analysis of the bound and free uses of the Germanic constructions in terms of their formal properties, semantics, collocational properties and productivity, the Authors show that the bound and the free forms differ from each other as constructions and nodes in the constructions and that the debonding of these three prefixoids is more an instance of ‘constructional change’ than ‘constructionalization’.

18. “Iterated Exaptation” (pp. 519-544)

In this article, Freek Van de Velde examines exaptation based on two case studies of the Proto-Indo-European nominal -n-affix and the perfect with ǒ-grade. The case studies show that the two morphological patterns, obsolete forms realizing new functions in Germanic, have undergone successive waves of exaptation. The iterated exaptation is motivated by one or more construction schemata in that construction schemata are output oriented, and morphemes can obtain their meanings by occurring in morphological constructions. These findings provide evidence of the “unpredictability and capriciousness” (p. 539) of morphological changes, but at the same time, they also raise questions about unidirectionality in grammaticalization (cf. Lehmann 2002; Hopper and Traugott 2003).

Part V Psycholinguistic Aspects

19. “Learning Morphological Constructions” (pp. 547-581)

This article by Vsevolod Kapatsinski examines learning mechanisms from a constructionist perspective and proposes that morphological constructions are a primary outcome of the learning process. Kapatsinski reviews the two major learning mechanisms responsible for morphological acquisition, focusing on discriminative associative models against generative Bayesian approaches, as there is no obvious line between lexical retrieval and grammatical computation within the constructionist framework. This article also addresses issues concerning the directionality of associations, the roles of present and absent stimuli, paradigmatic mappings, abstraction and specification, and the roles of type and token frequency. Kapatsinski concludes that the acquisition of constructions “is based on both perceptual experience and production experience” (p. 575).

20. “Processing and Representation of Morphological Complexity in Native Language Comprehension and Production” (pp. 583-602)

This article by Pienie Zwitserlood examines the processing and representation of morphologically complex words by adults in their native language. Based on a review of psycholinguistic theories and data on the role of morphology in language comprehension and production, Zwitserlood finds that in language processing, productive/regular and unproductive/irregular words are mainly accessed as a whole rather than as compositions, and that in Dutch and German derived words and compounds are sensitive to their morphological composition, independent of their semantic transparency. Zwitserlood argues therefore that Construction Morphology can further contribute to the study of the representation of complex words.

21. “Towards a Constructional Approach of L2 Morphological Processing” (pp. 603-622)

In this article, Hélène Giraudo and Serena Dal Maso review recent psycholinguistic studies on second language acquisition. They focus on the highly debated issue whether L1 and L2 speakers process morphologically complex words differently, with L2 learners being less efficient in computing their morphological structure and consequently relying more on their lexical storage. The review shows that a dual route ‘decompositional’ psycholinguistic model is not satisfactory to describe L2 processing. The Authors suggest a Constructive Morphology approach can better account for L2 processing mechanisms without being entangled in the opposition between inflection and derivation, as in Constructive Morphology both are represented as constructions with holistic properties.


This book achieves its main goal, as stated by the editor (p. 4): “The present volume aims to show the relevance and fruitfulness of the model of CxM in various domains of linguistic research.”

The book presents the latest studies on Construction Morphology. In the framework of CxM, it addresses various theoretical issues in linguistics, such as the motivation of words, non-concatenative morphology, and discontinuous lexical forms. It provides both synchronic and diachronic empirical support for the theory and applies CxM to analyze various languages such as Chinese, German and Gunwinyguan, and nonverbal languages such as sign languages and visual language. For example, in the article by Arcodia and Basciano, the schema generalizing over English right-headed compounds is applied to Chinese right-headed compounds and is further extended to the analysis of left-headed and exocentric compounds in the language. The schemas in CxM thus demonstrate how well they can be applied to different languages and how similar constructions assume different meanings and interpretations in the same language. The analysis of the different languages in the framework of CxM is conducted in separate articles in the book, but comparisons between two or three languages can also be found such as in the articles by Booij and Audring and by Hüning. Furthermore, the book relates CxM to findings in historical linguistics and psycholinguistics. For example, the article by Norde and Van Goethem relates CxM to two concepts in historical linguistics and addresses whether the debonding of profixoids in Germanic is a result of ‘constructionization’ or ‘constructional change’, and the article by Giraudo and Dal Maso suggests a word-based approach in CxM to account for L2 processing mechanisms in the domain of psycholinguistics.

This book is a valuable resource as it provides new approaches and answers to issues involving word structure in general as well as morphological phenomena in specific languages. Linguists dealing with morphological and syntactic forms, semantic meanings and prosodic features of words and phrases can be inspired by the theory of CxM and its application to various languages. Beginners in the field of linguistics, such as MA and Ph.D. students, can also regard this book as a starting point to develop their interest in CxM and to carry on further studies, as this book lists a number of cases, examples and linguistic issues in different languages that can be accounted for in the framework of CxM but need to be further explored.

Overall, the volume is a unified piece of work in terms of content and formatting. All the articles in the book are formatted in a consistent way. The cited works are all included in the references. However, a slight difference is found in the formatting of references. When multiple works by the same author are cited in an article, the author’s name is used only in the first entry, with the others replaced by a hyphen in all articles with the exception of the article by Good.

The book could be more accessible if lists of the abbreviations, tables, figures and indexes were provided. In addition, spelling mistakes should be avoided in such a scientific work. Spelling mistakes include: “though” (p. 112)—through, “OfME” (p. 114)—of ME, “latter” (p.117)—later, “isinvolved” (p. 190) —is involved, “as long a” (p. 237) —as long as, and “in in language comprehension” (p. 583)—in language comprehension.


Caballero, G., and S. Inkelas. 2013. Word construction: Tracing an optimal path through the lexicon. In New theoretical tools in the modeling of morphological exponence, ed. Jochen Trommer. Heidelberg: Springer. Special issue of Morphology 23(2): 103–143.

Harris, A. C. 2017. Multiple exponence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hilpert, M. 2013. Constructional change in English: Developments in allomorphy, word formation, and syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hopper, P.J., and E.C. Traugott. 2003. Grammaticalization. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lehmann, Ch. 2002. Thoughts on grammaticalization. 2nd ed. Erfurt: Arbeitspapiere des Seminars für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Erfurt.

Michaelis, L.A. 2003. Word meaning, sentence meaning and constructional meaning. In Cognitive perspectives on lexical semantics, ed. H. Cuyckens, R. Dirven, and J. Taylor, 163–210. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1916/1959. Course in general linguistics (translated by Wade Baskin). New York: McGraw Hill.

Traugott, E.C., and G. Trousdale. 2013. Constructionalization and constructional changes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Saizhu Hu is a doctorate student in the Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, and a lecturer in the School of Foreign Language Studies in Zhejiang University Ningbo Institute of Technology, China. Her work has primarily dealt with nominal classification, morphology and corpus-based translation.

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