Non-morphematic word-formation processes: a multi-level approach to acronyms, blends, clippings and onomatopoeia

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Fandrych, Ingrid Mina
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University of the Free State
Mainstream word-formation looks at how morphemes, which, according to de Saussure, are signs consisting of a signifiant (form) and a signifié (content), form new transparent complex lexemes, which can be analysed in terms of their determinant/determinatum structure. Thus, existing signs form new signs. These new signs are transparent or motivated: speakers can deduce the meanings of these new formations, provided they know the meanings of the constituents. Used frequently, and if there is a need for these new signs (naming function), they can enter the mental lexicon, that is, speakers no longer think of them as composites but store and use them as independent units (lexicalisation). However, not all word-formation processes are that regular, which led to their neglect for a long time, especially when Generative Grammar was the dominant approach in linguistics. These non-morphematic word-formation processes are not characterised by a determinant/determinatum structure; they cannot be analysed in terms of morphemes. They are shortenings (acronyms like Aids consist of the initial letters of word groups; blends like smog 'blend' submorphemic elements, thus forming new unanalysable monemes and clippings like exam shorten existing words arbitrarily) and onomatopoeia (imitations of extralinguistic sounds such as rattle, sound symbolism which approximates movement and/or sounds such as rush, and reduplications such as tick-tock, helter-skelter, girly-girly). A numerical analysis of the OALD4 demonstrates the importance of lexicalised non-morphematic words in the dictionary. The research questions addressed in the study are as follows: a) Are non-morphematic word-formation processes as irregular as previous researchers have claimed? b) How can non-morphematic word-formation processes be integrated into a comprehensive typology of word-formation processes? c) Are there other criteria (in addition to structural ones), which can usefully be applied to the description of non-morphematic word-formation processes, thus ‘rehabilitating’ them and reintegrating them into mainstream word-formation? d) On the basis of these additional, multidisciplinary criteria, is it possible to analyse a corpus of non-morphematic word-formation processes and to establish certain trends and tendencies displayed by these processes? e) What can we learn from non-morphematic word-formation processes for the study of morphematic word-formation processes? The main aim of the study is to ‘rehabilitate’ non-morphematic word-formation processes by re-integrating them into mainstream word-formation. In order to achieve this overarching aim, the ‘niche’ literature on non-morphematic word-formation processes – mostly with a structural and taxonomic slant – is reviewed and critiqued, which results in the first outcome of the study: the xii proposal of a new integrated taxonomy, accompanied by a scale of motivation, both relating non-morphematic word-formation processes to morphematic word-formation processes. Based on the hypothesis that non-morphematic word-formation processes can only be described adequately by taking non-structural aspects into account, such as functional and semantic-motivational levels of language description, the study then programmatically proposes an interdisciplinary, multi-level approach (in the sense of an analytical model) for the description of these word-formation processes and develops a number of criteria for their analysis – the second outcome of the present study. As a third outcome, a corpus of non-morphematic word-formation processes is compiled, in order to test the taxonomies and the interdisciplinary approach. The mutual application of the corpus to the taxonomies and to the multi-level approach in the corpus analysis constitutes the fourth outcome. On the basis of the application in the corpus study, the multi-level approach is critiqued, and this reflective process results in a modified and revised model
Thesis (Ph.D. (English and Classical Languages))--University of the Free State, 2004, Grammar, Comparative and general -- Word formation, Productivity (Linguistics)