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English Word Formation Processes
While many words in English have been inherited from
older stages of the language, many more words have come
into it by other means. Indeed, we are always adopting
new words into English, and below are described some of
the processes by which this is done.
Acronyms: Formed by taking the initial sounds or letters
of the words of a phrase and uniting them into a
combination that is itself pronounceable as a separate
word. Examples: NATO for North Atlantic Treaty
Organization, laser for light amplification through the
stimulated emission of radiation, and radar for radio
detection and ranging.
Backformation: Backformation makes use of a process
called analogy to derive new words, but in a rather
backwards manner, that is from an older word that is
mistakenly assumed to be a derivative of it. For example,
we have words such as revision and revise and supervision
and supervise. Revision is formed by regular derivation
from revision + ion. When television was invented, the
verb televise was back formed on the basis of analogy with
revision and revise, that is:
revision : revise :: television : X
One very regular source of back-formed verbs in English
is based on the pattern: worker—work. The assumption
seems to have been that if there is a noun ending in –er (or
something close in sound), then we can create a verb for
what noun –er does. Hence, an editor must edit, a
sculptor must sculpt, and burglars, peddlers, and
swindlers must burgle, peddle, and swindle.
Blending: A blend is a combination of the parts of two
words, usually the beginning of one word and the end of
another: smog from smoke and fog, brunch from breakfast
and lunch, and chortle from chuckle and snort.
Borrowing: Foreign words are always being “borrowed”
into other languages, especially to accompany new ideas,
inventions, products, and so on. The new word thus
borrowed is a “loanword.” A few examples: alcohol
(Arabic), boss (Dutch), croissant (French), lilac (Persian),
piano (Italian), pretzel (German), robot (Czech), tycoon
(Japanese), yoghurt (Turkish), zebra (Bantu).
Clipping: Frequently we shorten words without paying
attention to the derivational morphology of the word (or
related words). We see here again the element of
reduction, already seen in blending. Exam has been
clipped from examination, dorm from dormitory, and both
taxi and cab from taxi cab (itself a clipping from
taximeter cabriolet).
Coinage: Words may also be created without using
any of the methods described above and without
employing any other word or word parts already in
existence; that is, they may be created out of thin
air. Such brand names as Xerox, Kodak, and
Prozac were made up without reference to any
other word, as were the common words pooch and
snob. Also called “root creation.”
Compounding: Two or more existing words are
put together to form a new word with a meaning
different from either word: blackboard,
expressway, and air conditioner.
Derivation: As you know, English has a number of
derivational morphemes that we use to derive
words. There are other prefixes (added to the
beginning of a stem) or suffixes (added to the end
of a stem). They change the meaning of a word.
Some common prefixes: re-, dis-, un-, anti-, ante-,
in-, pre-, post-, sub-. Some common suffixes are: ly, -ness, -y, -er, -ity, -ation, -ful, -able, -al.
Conversion or Functional Shift: A new word may
be created simply by shifting the part of speech to
another one without changing the form of the
word—without adding any affixes. Position,
process, contrast are nouns from which verbs have
been formed.
Morphological Misanalysis or False/Folk
Etymology: Sometimes people hear a word and
misanalyze it either because they “hear” a familiar
word or morpheme in the word, or for other,
unknown, reasons. These misanalyses can
introduce words or morphemes. For example, the
suffix –burger. (Hamburger is a clipping from
Hamburger Steak.) -burger has since been added to
other types of foods: cheeseburger, veggieburger,
steakburger. Another example concerns the
creation of (a)holic from a peculiar analysis of
alcoholic. This suffix can be found in words such
as workaholic and chocaholic. Sometimes a phrase
is misheard or misanalyzed, resulting in examples
such as: take it for granite from take it for granted.
Proper Names: Many places, inventions,
activities, etc., are named for persons somehow
connected with them. Unchanged names of actual
people: ampere, bloomer, bowie (knife), cardigan,
davenport, derby, derringer, graham (flour), guy,
valentine, watt, zeppelin.