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Review of  Co-Compounds and Natural Coordination

Reviewer: Alexandre Arkhipov
Book Title: Co-Compounds and Natural Coordination
Book Author: Bernhard Wälchli
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 17.798

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Date: Sun, 12 Mar 2006 19:17:23 +0300
From: Alexandre Arkhipov
Subject: Co-Compounds and Natural Coordination

AUTHOR: Wälchli, Bernhard
TITLE: Co-Compounds and Natural Coordination
SERIES: Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic Theory
YEAR: 2005
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press

Alexandre Arkhipov, Moscow State University


Co-compounds (< coordinating compounds) are also known as
dvandva compounds, pair words (Russian 'parnye slova'), and
copulative compounds (German 'Kopulativkomposita'). Mordvin t'et'at-
avat 'parents', literally 'father-mother', is an example of co-compound.
These are the expressions of natural coordination which appear as
word-like, rather than phrase-like, formally tight coordination.

Natural (vs. accidental) coordination conjoins inherently semantically
close concepts belonging to the same taxonomic level, in a way that
the meaning of the whole construction is a conceptual unit which is
closely related to the meaning of the parts and belongs to a
superordinate taxonomic level in respect to the parts. Examples of
natural coordination are 'brother and sister', 'fork and spoon', 'eat and
drink' as opposed to 'my uncle and his book' or 'read and swim'.
Natural coordination, like some other semantic types of coordination,
often tends to be expressed by formally tight (vs. loose) constructions.
Generally, the tightness of a construction correlates with the number
of morphemes and boundaries intervening between its parts (see
Chapter 3). For example, a coordination of two nouns is looser if they
are connected by an overt coordination marker and if each one bears
its own articles, inflection markers and adpositions; it is tighter with the
articles omitted, no overt coordinator and a single inflection marker
attached to the whole. Tight coordination patterns, then, may expose
different features, being more word-like (cf. Georgian ''dá-
dzma'' 'siblings', literally 'sister-brother', without any morpheme
intervening and bearing a single stress and a single final inflection) or
more phrase-like (cf. English ''brother and sister'', two phonological
words separated by a coordinator).

Co-compounds (=CCs) are treated as a cross-linguistic class type, i.e.
as a type of language-specific classes which share a number of
recurrent features. CCs usually take a more word-like pattern, but
rarely can all CCs in a given language be undoubtedly classified as
words. Also, the formal properties of CCs vary across languages
along with the properties of coordination patterns, hence the problem
of definition (see Chapter 4).

The book investigates the formal, semantic and use-specific
properties of CCs both in particular languages and cross-linguistically.


Chapter 1, 'Introduction', is an overview of the problems to be
discussed and of methods to be used in the rest of the book. In
Chapters 2 and 3 co-compounds are treated along with their phrase-
like counterpart. Chapters 4 to 7 consider co-compounds on their
own. The book is accomplished with Conclusions (Chapter 8),
Appendices showing genetic affiliation and location of the languages
cited, Bibliography and Indices.


Chapter 2, 'The marking patterns of natural coordination', makes a
tour of the marking strategies used to code natural coordination. Two
main options are relational and non-relational marking. Marking is
relational if it is the relation between the coordinated elements
(coordinands) which is coded by an overt marker (e.g. English ''and'').
Natural coordination rarely uses overt markers of its own, but can also
be distinguished by the absence or reduction of a 'normal'
coordination marker. The absence of marker has, though, limited
distinctive power, as in many languages coordination may be normally

Coordination has a non-relational marking if the markers used in the
construction encode some properties of the coordinands which do not
concern the relation of coordination itself; cf. the marking of
definiteness, number, possession etc. on coordinand(s). This non-
relational marking may be distinctive if the patterns are different for
different types of coordination. E.g. possession may be marked on
both coordinands in ordinary coordination, but only once in natural
coordination, as in Eastern Armenian; this is what Bernhard Wälchli
(hereafter BW) calls 'distinctive non-relational single marking'. There
are two more options, viz. double and zero marking. Non-relational
double marking may involve double dual, plural, comitative,
proprietive, additive focus or possessive marking. Systematic
distinctive zero marking appears to be confined to the definiteness
category, occasionally involving also number and adpositions. All
three subtypes receive explanation in terms of concurrence between
two iconic motivations: that of minimal distance and that of symmetry.
The issue of syntactic (a)symmetry of single marking constructions is
also discussed; it is argued that group inflection phenomena support
the claim of non-isomorphism between phonology and syntax rather
than the syntactic asymmetry of the construction.

Chapter 3, 'Tight coordination', explores the formal properties leading
to the tight-loose contrast, and also the semantic nature of
coordination that can be realized as tight coordination. The first formal
parameter is the length of coordinands: the shorter the coordinands,
the tighter is the construction. The second parameter of tightness
pertains to the patterns of coordination: the less material (words,
affixes, coordinators, intonation breaks etc.) is separating the two
slots, the tighter is the pattern. One important observation is that
typically a language does not have two strictly distinct patterns, a
loose one and a tight one, but rather a whole range of patterns which
occupy different places on the loose-to-tight continuum; Turkish
nominal coordination is taken as an example of such a range of
patterns. However, it is not always possible to decide unequivocally
which one of two patterns is tighter or looser. Moreover, the degree of
tightness of a construction is intertwined with the degree of
grammaticalization of particular affixes and adpositions; if, say, a
preposition is repeated with each coordinand in one case but is used
only once in another, it is not always obvious whether the difference
lies in the tightness of two constructions or in the degree of
grammaticalization of the preposition.

The larger part of the chapter is devoted to various semantic types of
coordination which can be expressed by tight constructions. Most of
these types (group coordination, intersective coordination,
enumeration, and pseudo-coordination) are shown to be independent
of the natural coordination. E.g. group coordination may conjoin a
natural pair, but this is not obligatory; at the same time, elements that
naturally belong together may participate in a situation separately, as
in distributive contexts (''Brother and sister went to different schools'').
Some other kinds of coordination that turn out to be relevant for
natural coordination are overlapping, non-exhaustive listing, and
disjunctive coordination. The low degree of contrast between the
coordinands, characteristic of natural coordination, also correlates
with tighter constructions.

In Chapter 4, 'Co-compounds as a lexical class type', it is argued that
co-compounds should be defined as a more basic concept than
compounds; they are considered as a functional-formal class type.
Discussing various problems connected to the definitions of word and
compound (prosodic vs. grammatical words; non-compositionality
or 'unitary' semantics of compounds; special compounding forms of
stems; fixed order, etc.), the author decides not to dwell upon the
notion of word or compound. The approach chosen here is to prove
CCs to be a valid lexical class (vs. grammatical classes such as plural
or future); examples of other lexical classes include middle as
described by Kemmer (1993), diminutives, light verb with specifier
constructions ('instruction + give > teach', 'work + do > to work'), or
noun incorporation as described by Mithun (1984). Lexical classes
typically have 'a clearly discernible semantic core'; they are highly
idiosyncratic as to participation of individual elements, with lexeme-
internal vacillation; they also do interact with other lexical classes.

An important feature of a well-established lexical class is its
productivity in two aspects: it should be productive in forming
occasional highly context-oriented units, which, on the other hand,
should be able to lexicalise and penetrate the permanent part of the
lexicon. It is also essential that co-compounds as a lexical class ''have
a strong tendency to be formally non-distinct from other linguistic
phenomena'', such as sub-compounds, serial verbs, and phrase
coordination. Even if the class of co-compounds in a given language is
usually formally distinct from coordination, almost always one can find
examples which cannot be unambiguously attributed to one of those.

In Chapter 5, 'A semantic classification of co-compounds', some ten
semantic types of CCs are discussed. The classification is based on
the semantic relation between the parts of CC and the whole
compound. One and the same CC may be attributed to different types,
depending on its actual meaning in a given context. Not all semantic
types can be strictly distinguished. There are five basic types:
(i) Additive CCs denote the sum of its parts (Georgian ''xel-p'exi'' 'hand-
(ii) Generalizing CCs are a sort of universal quantifiers, they denote
general notions such as 'all', 'always' and 'everywhere', depending on
the type of object referred to by their parts (Tagalog ''araw-gabi'' 'day
and night'). The parts often have opposite meanings (day and night,
big and small, here and there).
(iii) Collective CCs represent collective types of which their parts
denote typical representatives, but do not exhaustively list the whole
(Chuvash ''erex-săra'' 'vodka/wine-beer > alcoholic beverages').
(iv) In alternative CCs the whole is the disjunction of the parts ('two-
three > two or three'). They occur even in weakly co-compounding,
e.g. West European, languages. They are semantically close to the
(v) approximate CCs ('two-three > several').

Several other types (synonymic, ornamental, imitative, figurative, and
scalar CCs) are considered non-basic. The basic types conform
strictly to the prototype of natural coordination, while each of non-
basic types deviates from the features of natural coordination (within
part-part relations, part-whole relations, or the meaning of the whole).
(vi) In synonymic CCs, the meaning of the whole is almost identical to
the meanings of both parts (Khalkha Mongolian ''üzel bodol'' 'view-
thought > opinion'), thus is not taxonomically superordinate.
(vii) In ornamental CCs, one of the parts does not contribute to the
meaning of the whole, thus the two parts are not on the same
taxonomic level (Mordvin ''vir'-ukštor'' 'forest-maple > forest').
(viii) Imitative CCs have a meaningless part phonologically similar to
the meaningful part (Turkish ''çoluk çocuk'' '[IMITATIVE] child > wife
and family'), so that there is no coordination strictly speaking.
(ix) The meaning of figurative CCs belongs to another semantic
domain than the meanings of the parts (Mandarin Chinese ''mao2
dun4'' 'spear shield > contradictory, inconsistent').
(x) In scalar CCs there is maximal contrast between the parts, the
whole denoting an abstract scale between these two extremes
(Tibetan ''srab-mthug'' 'thin-thick > density').
The synchronic relations between different semantic types of CCs do
not necessarily hold in diachrony: e.g. ornamental CCs do not derive
from semantically close synonymic CCs. Several other types of
compounds share similar properties with CCs, like appositional
compounds (French ''wagon-restaurant''), intermediate compounds
(English ''southwest''), echo words (Turkish ''doktor moktor'' 'doctor
and/or the like') etc.; the closest to the CCs are ideophone
compounds like English ''ding-dong''.

The last section of the chapter discusses the various semantic factors
that favour the use of semantically redundant CCs, e.g. synonymic
CCs: emphasis, generalization, contrast, non-referentiality under the
scope of negation, and pictorality. These contextual factors may
neutralize the differences between types of CCs and also between
CCs and related types of compounds.

Chapter 6, 'Areal distribution in the languages of Eurasia', is devoted
to the comparative frequency measurements of co-compounds in texts
in various languages, principally those of Eurasia. The main
observation of the chapter is that, with few exceptions, the ''co-
compounding'' decreases steadily from continental South-East Asia
(Mandarin, Vietnamese, White Hmong) to the west (West European
languages) as well as to the north. The main exceptions to this areal
vector are Basque in the West which has a moderate level of co-
compounding (higher than its neighbours), and Modern Tamil and
Modern Uyghur which have too few CCs.

The calculations have been made using two kinds of parallel texts:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights or excerpts therefrom
(=UDHR), and Gospel according to Mark (=Mark). Seven levels of co-
compounding are distinguished. It is shown that geographic location is
sometimes more significant here than the genetic affiliation; e.g.,
genetically closely related Turkic languages do not behave so
uniformly as the several distinct linguistic families in the Caucasus

Translations of Mark are also used to count the relative frequency of
different semantic types of co-compounds. It is argued that the
proportions of CC types in a given text depend more on the overall
frequency of CCs than on other factors. There are some correlations;
notably, the proportion of non-basic (synonymic + ornamental +
imitative) CCs increases along with the overall frequency of CCs, i.e.
in highly compounding languages, while the proportion of generalizing
CCs decreases at the same time (their absolute number remaining
roughly the same). These tendencies prove then to work in language-
internal variation (case study of Erzya Mordvin). Here two fiction texts
and a traditional epos are compared, revealing great variation
between the three in frequencies of CCs, with the proportions of their
semantic types sticking to the predictions.

Finally, non-Eurasian languages are discussed in an appendix to
Chapter 6. Beyond Eurasia, CCs are found in New Guinea and more
scarcely, in the Americas (Quechua, Chinantec and Mixe, Tzotzil).
They seem to be very rare in Africa and Australia, as well as in Creole

In Chapter 7, 'Some considerations about the diachronic evolution of
co-compounds', the two main perspectives on the evolution of CCs
are discussed: their evolution as formal patterns vs. their evolution as
lexical classes. The role of textual markedness in the destiny of CCs
and their affinity to the folk poetry are also addressed. It is argued that
normally formal patterns for CCs emerge from tight coordination
patterns, although spontaneous evolution is not excluded (viz. for
mere juxtaposition patterns). The class of CCs may also arise as an
extension of tight coordination into word-domains, without introducing
a new formal pattern.

The formation of a class of CCs is different from the evolution of
specific formal patterns which do not necessarily form classes. It is
argued that lexical classes of CCs evolve gradually, so that every
highly co-compounding language should have passed the stages of
low and moderate level of co-compounding. What prevents CCs from
being used in non-co-compounding languages is their high degree of
textual markedness. The more CCs exist already in a language (or in
a particular register or style), the easier it is for a new CC to lexicalise;
so the development of a class of CCs is self-accelerating process. The
same idea accounts for the fact that non-basic CCs begin their
expansion only after a certain level of co-compounding is reached, as
they are still more textually marked than the basic CCs.


On the whole, the book reviewed here is well-structured and presents
a fresh view upon a phenomenon important to many languages of the
world, containing a considerable amount of language data. Co-
compounds turn out to be a cluster of formal and functional features,
and consequently, the book should be studied carefully by linguists
interested in a number of subjects such as compounding,
coordination, comitative, associative plural, and lexical semantics
within domains specific to co-compounding. A number of basic
linguistic notions are reconsidered, such as word and compound,
markedness and lexicalisation. One of the main points of the book is
to show the importance of continuous variables in typology, which
allow one to account for language-internal as well as cross-linguistic

A good deal of the study is centred around Erzya Mordvin in which the
author is proficient, but in whole the data of various languages are
sufficiently balanced for this type of study as far as it does not pretend
to use a representative sample of the world's language families.

The semantic classification of CCs is probably the most subtle issue in
the book, and the author himself acknowledges repeatedly that no
sharp border can be settled between some classes, as well as
between CCs and some related phenomena. Some questions still
remain controversial. Thus we find echo-words like Turkic m- and
Yiddish shm-formations (cf. Turkish ''doktor moktor'' 'a doctor or
something'; Russian ''tancy-shmancy'' 'dances and similar
amusements') distinguished from imitative CCs. BW does not consider
echo-words to be CCs because they have only one lexical slot, the
second (echo) part being generated by a common phonological rule.
Meanwhile, the imitative part of an imitative CC is by definition
meaningless and does not occur independently, so it has hardly more
rights than an 'echo' to occupy a lexical slot. The only synchronic
difference here seems to lie in the regularity of the phonological
correspondences between the meaningful and the meaningless parts,
which is not a clear-cut distinction; hence a continuous scale between
the two types. It appears, then, that both types can equally be
considered or not considered (non-basic) co-compounds.

In some cases, the terminology used might be reconsidered. For
instance, in Chapter 5, BW uses Cruse's (1986) terms to name the
compounds like ''husband.PL-wife.PL'' 'husband and wife' converses
because ''A is the reference point for B and B for A''; he then states
that compounds for bipartite tools such as 'bow and arrows' ''are also
a kind of converse, where A and B are each other's reference points''.
This extension of the term ''converse'' does not seem very
appropriate. While a husband cannot be a husband of no one, but
always and only of his wife or wives, a bow does not require an arrow
to be a bow. Here we find another type of relations otherwise known
as complementer-complemented relations (Russian ''dopolnitel'-
dopolniaemoe'', cf. Voroncova & Rakhilina 1998); in these relations,
the two parts do not form a whole but they are necessary for each
other to function properly.

A remark is to be made on the book's presentation. Due to the
significance of hyphens for the subject of the study and to their
frequency in the cited examples, BW keeps hyphens as an
orthographic means to separate parts of co-compounds, and uses
dots instead as a morpheme separator, e. g. (Erzya Mordvin ex. 5, p.
144; palatalization is marked with apostrophe):


This usage seems somewhat confusing and not very readable, as it
deviates from the widely accepted use of the hyphen as a morpheme
delimiter, at the same time running into conflict with the use of dot to
denote cumulation in the glossing line; see also the ''Leipzig glossing
rules'' in (BW
sometimes also uses colon in glosses, presumably to denote
cumulation, but never mentions its value explicitly.) I would instead
suggest replacing the ''compounding'' hyphens with a special symbol,
such as underscore.

The book is not free from a small number of misprints and slips which,
in rare cases, complicate the interpretation of the text; cf. in
5.4.8 'Conclusions' on page 170, ''Echo-words and affirmative-
negative co-compounds occur with the same or often similar functions
as co-compounds'' instead of ''...affirmative-negative compounds...''.

To summarize, the research presented in the book is an original work
of high interest to many specialists. One could also mention that BW's
Ph.D. dissertation, which was the basis for this published study, was
awarded the 2005 ALT Junior Prize (see,
although he declined it.


I am grateful to Natalia Shibasova (Institute of Linguistics, Russian
Academy of Sciences) for her remarks on a draft of this review.


Cruse, D. A. (1986) Lexical Semantics. Cambridge: CUP.

Kemmer, Suzanne. (1993) The middle voice. Amsterdam,
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Mithun, Marianne. (1984) The evolution of noun incorporation.
Language 60, pp. 847-895.

Voroncova M. I.; Rakhilina E. V. (1994) Physical object nouns and
prepositional constructions. Znak: A collection of papers in linguistics,
semiotics and poetics in commemoration of A. N. Zhurinskij.
[Predmetnye imena i predlozhnye konstrukcii. Znak: Sbornik statei po
lingvistike, semiotike i poetike pamyati A. N. Zhurinskogo.] Moscow:
Russkij uchebnyj centr MS, 1994, pp. 181-190.

Alexandre Arkhipov is a researcher at Lomonosov State University of
Moscow. His Ph.D. thesis (2005) was devoted to the typology of
comitative constructions. His research interests also include Basque
and Daghestanian linguistics, fieldwork and electronic resources for
field linguists, and semantics of prosody.

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