Minor types of word formation

Main types of word formation: inflection and derivation. Types of clipping, unclipped original. Blending, back-formation and reduplication. Sound and stress interchange. Phonetic, morphological, lexical variations. Listing and institutionalization.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
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`Minor types of word formation


In English language as in many other languages there are a lot of different types of word building or word formation, also called word manufacturing. These types appear because of different interesting historic cases and are part of the whole English grammar. A good competent and qualified philologist should know a lot about these types of word manufacturing, including inflection and derivation, loanwords and minor types of word building. This knowledge can be very useful for people who are learning English grammar.

This essay is dedicated to the examination of the minor types of word building including back-formation, clipping, blending, reduplication, different language variations and so on. The essay consists of the introduction, the main part (contains detailed information about listed and other types of word building with many examples), conclusion and used literature.

Different literature including works of famous scientists, textbooks for studying English and online sources of information was used for writing of this essay.


In English language we define two main ways of making new words: internal and external. Internal way means updating of language vocabulary due to its internal potential. It is a productive way of word manufacturing. Internal way includes conversion, affixation, compression, abbreviation, desaffixation. External way means loanwords.

The main types of word building include inflection and derivation. Typically inflection contributes a morpheme that is required in order to ensure that the word has a form that is appropriate for the grammatical context in which it is used (tall-taller). Whereas inflection is driven by the requirement to form a word with the appropriate form in a particular grammatical context, derivation is motivated by the desire to create new lexical items using preexisting morphemes and words. When you need a new word, you do not usually need to make it up from scratch. It is possible to create new lexical items by recycling preexisting material. This is derivation. It takes one of these forms: affixation, conversion, stress placement or compounding.

Let's briefly examine them. Conversion is a way of word-formation without affix use as a result of which is formed categorically different word conterminous in some forms with initial word (the story was filmed).

Affixation is a way of new words formation by addition of word-formation affixes to the word stem (superwar, smarty, cuty, environmentalist).

Desaffixation is a way of word-formation at which words are formed by rejection of a suffix or an element externally similar to a suffix (beggar - to beg, legislator - to legislate, burglar - to burgle).

Abbreviation means formation of new words by reduction (truncation of word stem). As a result new words are formed with the incomplete, truncated word stem (or stems), called abbreviations (sis - sister, prof - professor, sec - second, dif - difference).

Compression is the formation of compound words on the basis of word-combinations and sentences by decreasing the level of components of an initial word-combination or the sentence (do it your self - on the do-it-your-self principle; stay slim - a stay-slim diet; cat and dog - a cat and dog life).

Apart from listed ways of word building English grammar also includes minor types of word building. Minor types of word building mean non-productive means of word formation in present-day English. They include reduplication, clipping, blending, sound interchange, distinctive stress, back-formation and others.


Clipping as one of minor types of word building consists in the reduction of a word to one of its parts, e.g.:

Mathematics - maths

Laboratory - lab

Captain - cap

Gymnastics - gym

There are three types of clipping:

1. Back clipping or apocopation is the most common type, in which the beginning is retained. The unclipped original may be either a simple or a composite. Examples are: ad (advertisement), cable (cablegram), doc (doctor), exam (examination), gas (gasoline), math (mathematics), memo (memorandum), gym (gymnastics, gymnasium) mutt (muttonhead), pub (public house), pop (popular concert), trad (traditional jazz), fax (facsimile).

2. Fore-clipping or aphaeresis retains the final part. Examples are: phone (telephone), varsity (university), chute (parachute), coon (racoon), gator (alligator), pike (turnpike).

3. In middle clipping or syncope, the middle of the word is retained. Examples are: flu (influenza), tec (detective), polly (apollinaris), jams (pyjamas), shrink (head-shrinker).

4. Clipped forms are also used in compounds. One part of the original compound most often remains intact. Examples are: cablegram (cable telegram), op art (optical art), org-man (organization man), linocut (linoleum cut). Sometimes both halves of a compound are clipped as in navicert (navigation certificate). In these cases it is difficult to know whether the resultant formation should be treated as a clipping or as a blend, for the border between the two types is not always clear. According to Bauer (1993), the easiest way to draw the distinction is to say that those forms which retain compound stress are clipped compounds, whereas those that take simple word stress are not. By this criterion bodbiz, Chicom, Comsymp, Intelsat, midcult, pro-am, sci-fi, and sitcom are all compounds made of clippings.

Accepted by the speakers of the language clipping can acquire grammatical categories (used in plural forms).

According to Marchand (1969), clippings are not coined as words belonging to the standard vocabulary of a language. They originate as terms of a special group like schools, army, police, the medical profession, etc., in the intimacy of a milieu where a hint is sufficient to indicate the whole. For example, in school slang originated exam(ination), math(ematic), lab(oratory), and spec(ulation), tick(et = credit) originated in stock-exchange slang, whereas vet(eran), cap(tain) are army slang. While clipping terms of some influential groups can pass into common usage, becoming part of Standard English, clippings of a socially unimportant class or group will remain group slang.


This type of word building is blending part of two words to form one word (merging into one word), e.g.

Smoke + fog = smog

Breakfast + lunch = brunch

Smoke + haze = smaze

Hurry + bustle = hustle

Shine + glimmer = shimmer

Most blends are formed by one of the following methods:

The beginning of one word is added to the end of the other. For example, brunch is a blend of breakfast and lunch. One of the two may be a whole word if it is short. This is the most common method of blending. A monosyllabic word is divided into its onset and rime if necessary. A blend of this type typically has the same number of syllables as the second word.

broccoli + cauliflower > broccoflower

breakfast + lunch > brunch

camera + recorder > camcorder

education + entertainment > edutainment

information + commercial > infomercial

motor + hotel) > motel

simultaneous + broadcast > simulcast

smoke + fog > smog

spoon + fork > spork

stagnation + inflation > stagflation

The beginnings of two words are combined. For example, cyborg is a blend of cybernetic and organism.

Two words are blended around a common sequence of sounds. For example, the word Californication, from a song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is a blend of California and fornication.

Multiple sounds from two component words are blended, while mostly preserving the sounds' order. Poet Lewis Carroll was well known for these kinds of blends. An example of this is the word slithy, a blend of lithe and slimy. This method is difficult to achieve and is considered a sign of Carroll's verbal wit.

When two words are combined in their entirety, the result is considered a compound word rather than a blend. For example, bagpipe is a compound, not a blend, of bag and pipe.

Many corporate brand names, trademarks, and initiatives, as well as names of corporations and organizations themselves, are blends. For example, Wiktionary, one of Wikipedia's sister projects, is a blend of wiki and dictionary. Also, Nabisco is a blend of the initial syllables of National Biscuit Company.

Blends are also commonly used by the media and fans to describe celebrity supercouples. It originally started with “Bennifer”, which stood for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Now, it has branched out to cover major couples such as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, known together as “TomKat”, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, known together as “Brangelina”, and Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, known together as “Vaughniston”. Character couples on popular television series being known by similar monikers have become more common.


It is possible to illustrate this type of word building using an example of words beg - beggar. The word beggar was formed from the verb to beg, and on the contrary: the word borrowed from the French language beggard was formed under influence and by analogy to nouns with a suffix -er. The second syllable of the noun beggar was apprehended as a suffix, and the verb was formed by rejection of this suffix.

In etymology, back-formation refers to the process of creating a new lexeme (less precisely, a new “word”) by removing actual or supposed affixes. The resulting neologism is called a back-formation. Back-formations are shortened words created from longer words, thus back-formations may be viewed as a sub-type of clipping.

For example, the noun resurrection was borrowed from Latin, and the verb resurrect was then backformed hundreds of years later from it by removing the -ion suffix. This segmentation of resurrection into resurrect + ion was possible because English had many examples of Latinate words that had verb and verb+-ion pairs - in these pairs the -ion suffix is added to verb forms in order to create nouns (such as, insert/insertion, project/projection, etc.).

Back formation may be similar to the reanalyses of folk etymologies when it rests on an erroneous understanding of the morphology of the longer word. For example, the singular noun asset is a back-formation from the plural assets. However, assets is originally not a plural; it is a loan-word from Anglo-Norman asetz (modern French assez). The -s was reanalyzed as a plural suffix.

Many words came into English by this route: Pease was once a mass noun but was reinterpreted as a plural, leading to the back-formation pea. The noun statistic was likewise a back-formation from the field of study statistics. In Britain the verb burgle came into use in the 19th century as a back-formation from burglar (which can be compared to the North America verb burglarize formed by suffixation).

Even though many English words are formed this way, new coinages may sound strange, and are often used for humorous effect. For example, gruntled or pervious (from disgruntled and impervious) would be considered mistakes today, and used only in humorous contexts. The comedian George Gobel regularly used original back-formations in his humorous monologues. Bill Bryson mused that the English language would be richer if we could call a tidy-haired person shevelled - as an opposite to dishevelled.

Frequently back-formations begin in colloquial use and only gradually become accepted. For example, enthuse (from enthusiasm) is gaining popularity, though it is still considered substandard by some today.

The immense celebrations in Britain at the news of the relief of the Siege of Mafeking briefly created the verb to maffick, meaning to celebrate both extravagantly and publicly. “Maffick” was a back-formation from Mafeking, a place-name that was treated humorously as a gerund or participle.

There is a lot of different example of back formation in English language:

ablute from ablution

aesthete from aesthetic

air-condition from air conditioning

alm from alms

arch (“to practice archery”) from archery

attrit from attrition

auto-destruct from auto-destruction (auto-destroy)

automate from automation

bicep from biceps (non-standard)

biograph from biography

blockbust from blockbuster

book-keep from book-keeping

cavitate from cavitation

cherry from Old French cerise

choate from inchoate

choreograph from choreography

claustrophobe from claustrophobia

darkle from darkling

decadent from decadence

deconstruct from deconstruction

dedifferentiate from dedifferentiation

emote from emotion

enthuse from enthusiasm

ept from inept

escalate from escalator

eutrophicate from eutrophication

extrapose from extraposition.

Back-formations of borrowed terms generally do not follow the rules of the original language. For example Homo sapiens is Latin for thinking man. As with all Linnaean species names, this is singular in Latin (plural would be homines sapientes) but it is sometimes mistakenly treated as plural in English, with the corresponding singular back-formation Homo sapien.

Some regard such divergence as incorrect, or as a mark of ignorance. Others assert that a language is determined by its usage and that strictly applying such a principle of correctness would render English a highly irregular blend of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, French and every other language from which it had ever borrowed.


Sapir observed that nothing is more natural than the prevalence of reduplication - the repetition of the base of a word in part or in its entirety. He observed that, though rare, reduplication is found in English, e.g.:

pooh-pooh goody-goody wishy-washy

sing-song roly-poly harum-scarum

Later on, Thun showed that reduplication is less marginal than is commonly assumed. He listed and examined about 2,000 reduplicative words in standard English and in various dialects.

Reduplicatives (compound words formed by reduplication) are different. The most significant property of these words is that word-formation is driven by phonological factors.

There are two main types of reduplicatives: rhyme motivated compounds and ablaut motivated compounds. Rhyme here means what it means in poetry: the vowels and any consonant(s) that appear after it in the last syllable are identical, while ablaut means a change in the root vowel. Usually ablaut signals a change in grammatical function, e.g. the o e alternation in long (adj.) vs. length (noun) marks a difference in word-class. These labels for the two categories of reduplicative compounds highlight the fact that the repetition of the bases in compounds of this kind involves copying the rhyme in so-called rhyme motivated compounds, and coping the consonants and altering the vowel in ablaut motivated compounds.

Some rhyming compounds are formed by joining bases which are both pre-existing words as in Black-Jack and brain-drain. Probably more common, however, are rhyming compounds where one (or both) bases is not an independent word, as in:

Rhyme motivated compounds:

nitwit helter-skelter namby-pamby

titbit hobnob higgledy-piggledy

nitty-gritty teeny-weeny hurly-burly

Finally, there are ablaut motivated compounds in which one or both bases may not be an independent word:

Ablaut motivated compounds:

tip-top riff-raff ding-dong shilly-shally

tick-tock tittle-tattle wibble-wobble dingle-dangle

ping-pong dilly-dally flip-flop mish-mash


Sound interchange is the way of word building when some sounds are changed to form a new word. It is non-productive in Modern English; it was productive in Old English and can be met in other Indo-European languages.

The causes of sound interchange can be different. It can be the result of Ancient Ablaut which cannot be explained by the phonetic laws during the period of the language development known to scientists, e.g. to strike - stroke, to sing - song etc. It can be also the result of Ancient Umlaut or vowel mutation which is the result of palatalizing the root vowel because of the front vowel in the syllable coming after the root (regressive assimilation), e.g. hot - to heat (hotian), blood - to bleed (blodian) etc.

In many cases we have vowel and consonant interchange. In nouns we have voiceless consonants and in verbs we have corresponding voiced consonants because in Old English these consonants in nouns were at the end of the word and in verbs in the intervocal position, e.g. bath - to bathe, life - to live, breath - to breathe etc.


Stress interchange can be mostly met in verbs and nouns of Romanic origin: nouns have the stress on the first syllable and verbs on the last syllable, e.g. `accent - to ac`cent. This phenomenon is explained in the following way: French verbs and nouns had different structure when they were borrowed into English; verbs had one syllable more than the corresponding nouns. When these borrowings were assimilated in English the stress in them was shifted to the previous syllable (the second from the end). Later on the last unstressed syllable in verbs borrowed from French was dropped (the same as in native verbs) and after that the stress in verbs was on the last syllable while in nouns it was on the first syllable. As a result of it we have such pairs in English as: to af`fix -`affix, to con`flict- `conflict, to ex`port -`export, to ex`tract - `extract etc. As a result of stress interchange we have also vowel interchange in such words because vowels are pronounced differently in stressed and unstressed positions.


It is the way of word building when imitating different sounds forms a word. There are some semantic groups of words formed by means of sound imitation:

a) Sounds produced by human beings, such as: to whisper, to giggle, to mumble, to sneeze, to whistle etc.

b) Sounds produced by animals, birds, insects, such as: to hiss, to buzz, to bark, to moo, to twitter etc.

c) Sounds produced by nature and objects, such as: to splash, to rustle, to clatter, to bubble, to ding-dong, to tinkle etc.

The corresponding nouns are formed by means of conversion, e.g. clang (of a bell), chatter (of children) etc.


There are three cases of such variations:

1. Modifications of the pronunciation of a word depending on the context or its position. Utterance and the conjunction are reduced in these combinations.

now and then

King and Queen

The conjunction is reduced in these combinations.

2. Accentual variation- different coexisting stress patterns of one and the same word.

Br. territory Am. territory

Br. dictionary Am. dictionary

3. Emic variation- multiple pronunciation of one and the same word.

explain [i] [e]

begin [i] [e]

ceramic [si`ramic] [ki`ramic]

drastic [a:] [a]


Morphological variation takes place when different derivational morphemes are used without changing the word's meaning.

Academic, academicals

Morphologic, morphological

But not: historic and historical - they are not morphologic variants, but synonyms. Historic - memorable in history associated with past time:

a historic event.

Historical - belonging to history (real not imaginative) or dealing with real events in history:

a historical novel

historical events (real events)

This is a historic and historical place.


Lexical variations are determined by different registers:

formal / informal

spoken / written

laboratory / lab

examination / exam

television / tele

often / oft (poetic)


The majority of words in any language have more than one meaning.

Topology (philological term) - the term from the domain of mathematics, refers to the study of continuity and variability, invariant and its variants, identity and differentiation. Lexicology studies the problems of synonymy, polysemy, homonymy, identity-of-unit problem. The key point here is to try and strike the balance in interaction of the invariant and the variants, always remembering that in philology it is invariant that comes first focuses on different types of variation in lexis.

Allo-emic theory - treatment of all elements in language as being sets of variants ('allo'-terms) of some invariants ('eme'-terms). Invariants are morphemes, phonemes, lexemes, which belong to the systemic level (language) while allomorphs, allophones, allolexes are their positional variants respectively and belong to the level of actualization (speech).

Allonymic variation - realized in contextual pairs semantically co-ordinated like slow and careful; quick and impatient.

'Emic' variation - a) a type of phonetic variation which occurs when there are multiple pronunciations for a single word: begin [bi'gin], [b 'gin]; explain [ik'splein], [ek'splein]; direct [dai'rekt], [di'rekt]; b) morphological variation with allomorphs of the same morpheme involved: irregular, innavigable, immovable, illegal.

type word formation


Morphological theory provides the tools for analyzing `real' words like shopkeeper and conversations which are listed in dictionaries and which probably most competent, adult speakers of English know. But, if it stopped at that, it would be failing in its task of characterizing the nature of speakers' lexical knowledge. The true English vocabulary goes far beyond the institutionalized words listed in dictionaries. Obviously, a very considerable number of words must simply be memorized, e.g. words made up of a single morpheme - zebra, tree, saddle - there is no way one can work out their meaning. Word formation can be faddish. A word, especially one that captures the spirit of the times, may spawn numerous imitations. Take the 1980s word yuppie, which was formed by adding the suffix spelled as -y or -ie to the initial letters of either `Young Urban Professional Person' or `Young Upwardly Mobile Professional Person'. It spawned imitations like yuppify, yuppidom, yuppette, buppie (`black yuppie'), guppie (`gay yuppie'), etc.

Many of the nonce, non-institionalised words are compounds. If a speaker wants to express an idea which would normally be expressed by a syntactic phrase in a manner that heightens its concreteness and salience, it is possible as a one-off, hyphenated compound. The newspaper columnist Melanie Philips manufactured the word `anything-goes-as-long-as-you-can-get-away-with-it-culture' which is an excellent example of this phenomenon:

`Public life has fallen into disrepute and the cynicism of the people knows no bounds. It's the anything-goes-as-long-as-you-can-get-away-with-it-culture, and it is a prevalent in the corridors of Whitehall as in the joyriders' ghettos' (Philips, 1993).

At the other end of the spectrum old words go out of use, e.g. wone meaning `home, abode' is now obsolete. We can see that wone is opsolete while porret survives in the dialectal use but it is very rare. The line between `dialectal and very rare' and `obsolete' is a fine one.


The goal of this essay consisted in examination of different minor types of word building in English language. The research includes information about such minor types of word formation as:





sound interchange;

stress interchange;

sound imitation;

phonetic variations;

morphological variations;

lexical variations;

semantic variations.

All of these types of word building were examined, many examples of using them in English language were described. Besides, the essay gives the information concerning listing and instituonalised words and compounds in English language.


1. Hans Marchand (1969). The Categories and Types of Present-Day English Word-formation. Mьnchen: Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

2. Laurie Bauer (1993). English Word-Formation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

3. Zwicky, Arnold M., & Geoffrey K. Pullum (1983) “Cliticization vs. inflection: English Language”, article in Cambridge Press.

4. Francis Katamba (2005), English words: structure, history, usage, Lexicology, Routledge.

5. Robert P. Stockwell, Donka Minkova (2001), English words: history and culture, Language Arts, Cambridge University Press.

6. Heidi Harley (2006), English words, A linguistic introduction, Word formation, Blackwell.

7. Ingo Plag (2003), Word Formation in English, Word Formation, Cambridge University Press.

8. Leonhard Lipca (2002), English Lexicology: Lexical Structure, Word Semantics & Word-formation, Lexicology, Gunter Narr Verlag.

9. www.wikupedia.com

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