Word Formation in English Language
Table of Contents
It is not merely by borrowing words from abroad that the English vocabulary has been increased. New words can easily be created in English and are being created almost every day and a large part of the English vocabulary consists of words and terms which the English have formed for themselves out of old and familiar material. There are several ways in which a new word can be made.
Derivation which means the formation of a new word out of an existing one by the addition of some prefix or suffix is one of the commonest resources for word formation. During the old English period a host of new words were formed by adding native affixes to existing words. Many of these affixes, such as –ness, -less, -ful, -y etc. are still extensively used to form new words darkness, hopeless, beautiful, windy, greedy etc. We can still prefix the OE. negative prefix un- to almost any descriptive adjective- uncommon, unbending etc. There is another prefix un- which is added to verbs to express the reversal of action, as in undo, untie, uncover etc.
A much more brilliant destiny was reserved for the Old English ending -ise (now -ish). It was chiefly added to names of places or nations to form adjectives, as in Englisc (now English), Scyttisc (now Scottish). Lundenise (now Londonish). In some instances it was added to common nouns to derive adjectives, as in folcisc, cildisc (childish). About 1400 A.D. it began to be used o form adjectives denoting colour, as in greenish, whitish, bluish etc.
The suffix -ly (OE. -lice) is added to adjectives to form adverbs – slowly, slovenhy, firstly, secondly etc. Another extensively used ending is -er (OE, -ere). At first its use was limited to the making of nouns denoting agents from other nouns only, e.g. OE. bocere>boc (book) here. But now we can make agent-denoting nouns in -er from any verb, e.g. writer, reader, speaker etc.
Other extensively used endings are -ing, and -en. -ing can be added to any verb to form participles, gerunds and verbal nouns walking, seeing, doing etc. -En is added to adjectives to form verbs harden, weaken, sweeten, lessen.
In English a verb might be formed without any derivative ending from the corresponding noun. Among the innumerable nouns from which verbs have been formed without adding anything to them we may mention ape, awe, cook, husband, silence, time, worship etc. “Nearly every word for the different parts of the body has given rise to a homonym verb, though true it is that some of them are rarely used”. (Jespersen) :- hand, fist, elbow, finger, thumb, breast (oppose), eye, lip (kiss), beard, tongue, jaw (scold), arm, shoulder etc.
A still more characteristic peculiarity of the English language is the freedom with which a form which was originally a verb is used unchanged as a noun, e.g. glance, bend, cut, gaze, reach, drain, burn, dislike, dismay, embrace, dress, build etc.
The Elizabethan period was very fertile in these nouns. In some cases a noun is derived from a verb which was originally derived from a noun, and all this word-making is done without any change in the form of the word. Smoke is first a noun (the smoke from the chimney), then a verb (the chimney smokes, he smokes a cigarette), then a new noun is formed from the verb in the sense of smoking a cigarette”, as in “let me have a smoke”. Let us take another word gossip noun (god-father, idle-talker>verb (to talk idly) > new noun (idle talk).
Word composition is one of the fruitful resources for forming new words. Compounds are of two types- fixed and free. Fixed compounds tend to be felt as independent units, isolated from the component parts in sound and (or) in meaning”. (Jespersen). Daisy is a typical example of the fixed compound. It was originally dayes eye. But no one nowadays connects daisy with either day or eye. Woman is another good example. It was formed of wif+man; but nowadays it is taken to be an independent word, isolated from the component parts. Other typical instances of fixed compounds are Christmas < Christ+mass; nostril< OE nosu-p(th)yrel; husband < hus (house)+bonda (dweller) etc.
Free compounds are such that when the need arises we can form new compounds after the pattern of already existing combinations. Table-lamp is a free compound. After this compound we can form many new compounds, such as table-salt, table clock, table cloth etc. In a free compound each component part is felt as independent of and of equal weight with the other e.g. rail-way, snuff-box, gold coin, headmaster etc. With free compounds we may have even long strings, like railway refreshment room, New Year Eve fancy dress ball etc.
So far as the logical relation of the parts of a compound is concerned very few compounds are of the same type. But in the majority of com pounds the second part expresses a general meaning which is modified and limited to some extent, by the first part. Thus a garden flower is a kind of flower growing in a garden; a flower garden is a kind of garden full of flowers.
There is a special type of compounds in which the first element is a verb and the second an object of the verb. This type seems to have originated in Romanic languages, but has in modern times proved very fertile in English: breakfast, pickpocket, cut-purse, know-nothing, stop-gap, kill-joy, makeshift, break-neck, toss-pot, tell-tale, scare-crow, lack-lustre. These compounds are used as nouns and adjectives- he is a pick-pocket (n); he had his breakfast (n); she has a very rell-tale face: (adj): we had a make-shift dinner (adj).
Backformations are the method of forming new words by subtracting something from old ones. They owe their origin to one part of a word being mistaken for some derivative suffix (or rarely prefix). The adverbs sideling, groveling, darkling were formed by adding the suffix -ling. But in such sentences he walks sideling, he lies groveling, I listen darkling etc. the suffix -ling looked exactly like the ending -ing, with the happy result that the verbs to sidle, to grovel, to darkle, were formed from the adverbs by the subtraction of-ing.
But the ending which is often subtracted is -y. The noun greed, the verbs laze, cose and jeopard are derived respectively from greedy, lazy, cosy and jeopardy by the subtraction of -y. By the subtraction of-y the words difficult, pup, cad are obtained respectively from difficulty puppy and cady. Many new words have also been formed by subtracting -er (-ar, or) from several agent-denoting nouns. Thus harbinger, rover, pedlar, burglar, hawker and beggar have called into existence the verbs to harbinge, rove, peddle, burgle, hawk and beg. Such compound verbs as to housekeep, dressmake, merrymake etc. have come to us through the process of backformations from housekeeper, dressmaker, merrymaker (by the subtraction of-y). The verbs to henpeck and to sunburn are backformations from participles henpecked, sunburnt.
Many new words have been formed from the existing ones by shortening long foreign words. In some cases the beginning and the end of a word are clipped and only the middle is retained e.g. teck< detective. Sometimes the beginning of a word is clipped and the end is retained, e.g. bus< omnibus, phone< telephone. But more often the beginning is retained, and the rest is cut off e.g. cab<cabriolet, photo< photograph. Some of the shortened words have never passed beyond slang, such as sov (<sovereign), pub (<publichouse), vet (veterinary surgeon), guv (governor) etc. Some of the shortened words have passed into ordinary speech, such as exam (<examination), bike (<bicycle), fad (<fadaise), mob (mobile vulgus), cab (<cabriolet).
There are many words in English which have no etymology. The origin of such words is and will always remain unknown to us Such words are neither inherited from Old English, nor adopted from any foreign languages, nor formed out of any older English or foreign words by any process of composition or derivation. It is to instances of this kind that the name of ‘Root-creation’ may be fitly applied
One of the principal forms of root-creation is ‘Onomatopoeia‘. The word is Greek and literally means ‘name-making. It is one of the well-known figures of speech in which sound echoes sense. The number of such ‘echoic’ words is considerable; for instance, bang, boom, crackle, hiss, hum, simmer, whiz, bowwow, ding-dong, ping-pong, tick-tack, jingle, ruffle, shuffle, rumble, murmur, giggle, fumble, hoot, whoop, twitter, tilter, coo, boo, babble, splash, crash, tinkle, etc.
In many cases, the so-called ‘imitative’ word represents an inarticulate noise and produces a mental effect similar to that produced by the sound. In a similar way, the sound of a word may symbolically suggest a particular kind of movement or a particular shape of an object. A word having long vowels which are usually uttered slowly indicates a slow movement whereas the repetition of the same consonant conveys the idea of repetition of movement.
A syllable ending in a stopped consonant like p, t, or k, and following a short vowel suggests quick, abrupt action. Harsh or violent movements are represented by a series of consonants ‘scr-‘ (as in screech’ and ‘scream’) which are harsh in sound or difficult to utter. A hissing sound is conveyed by sibilants like s, z, as in ‘hiss’, ‘buzz’, ‘miss’, etc. This phonetic symbolism is implied in all root creations in the language. It has, in fact, led to a very large amount of root creation in Middle and Modern English, e.g., flip, flap, flop: flash, flush, hug, blob, dab, fidget, throb, thump, bob, twiddle, hump, zig-zag, flabbergast, etc.
Sometimes root-creation takes place to signify human motives or intentions. Examples are: to ‘chortle’, which is made of ‘chuckle’ and ‘snort’. ‘flurry’ of ‘flaw’ and ‘hurry’, ‘lunch’ of ‘lump’ and ‘hunch’. Lewis Carroll called such words ‘portmanteau‘. The following are also ‘portmanteau’ words :
Squarson= squire + parson
Bakerloo = Baker + Waterloo
Tilk = tea + milk
Brunch = breakfast + lunch
Encyclopedestrin = Encyclopaedia on legs
Flaunt = fly + flout + vaunt.
Galumph = gallop + triumph
Out of these, it must have been clear that in this curious class of new words two or more terms are combined, or, as it were, telescoped into one. This is an old process in language, and verbs like to ‘don’ (do on) or to ‘doff’ (do off) are examples of it in its simplest form. Vulgarisms like ‘need-cessity’ and ‘insinuendo’ are also its examples.
There is another rather modern kind of word-formation, which is known as ‘acoustic’. In this method the first letters of the words create a new word. It is often the result of abbreviating words and grouping them into one in order to be able to speak them simply and hurriedly. Instances are ‘Dora’ (Defence of the Realm Act) and Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation): Unicef, Nato’, Seato’, etc. can be cited as further examples of ‘acoustic’ words.
#8 Ghost Words
Another class of words is known as ‘ghost’ words. We are not sure about the origin of such words. “In a large number of our new words, however, it is difficult to define the definite associations or analyse the elements that give them their expressive meaning.” The old words like ‘bluff’, ‘queer’ and ‘lounge’ are examples of this process, which, in the 18th century, gave us ‘cantankerous’ and ‘humbug’, and other similar words. Sometimes a word has a vague, undefined expressiveness, which seems capable of embodying various meanings and which connotes now differently from that of its original sense, e.g. ‘conundrum’ (originally the appellation of an odd person, to Ben Jonson a whim, then a pun, then its present meaning since the 18th C.); ‘roly-poly’ (a rascal, a game, a dance, a pudding, and finally a plump infant); ‘blizzard’ (the U.S. a ‘poser until the great winter storm of 1880 claimed it as its own).
Another method of forming new words is ‘Re-Duplication’, either with variation of the vowel, e.g. ‘see-saw’ (from the sawyer’s movement), ‘shilly-shally’ (from ‘shall I’?) ‘ding-dong’ (from the oscillating noise like that of a bell), or of the consonant, e.g. ‘roly-poly’ (from ‘roll’), ‘namby-pamby’ (from “Namby’, the nick-name of Ambrose Phillips, an early eighteenth-century poetaster). Some of these combinations, such as ‘jim-jams’, ‘helter-skelter’. “hurly-burly’, ‘hugger-mugger’, are of very obscure origin.
Many words owe their modern form to ‘Folk-Etymology’, i.e. the popular tendency to give a more familiar form or sound to an unfamiliar word. Everyone has his own particular game garnered from uneducated speech, such as ‘Bartholomew’, for ‘Bath Oliver’ or ‘ever-fizzing drinks’, but a great number of such corruptions are now current English, e.g. ‘gilly-flower’ from French, ‘giroflee’, ‘touchy’ for ‘tetchy’, ‘shame-faced’, for ‘shame-faced’, ‘livelihood’ for Middle English ‘lifelode’, the leading of one’s life.
Apart from the methods mentioned above, English is rich with monosyllabic words, the origin of which remains untraced. Mention may be made of ‘bad’, ‘lad’, ‘lass’, ‘fit’. (adj.) and ‘fit’ (noun), dad’ (i.e. father), ‘jump’, ‘case’. ‘boy’, ‘girl’, ‘bet’, ‘gloat’, ‘big’, ‘fuss’, ‘hoax’, ‘slum’, ‘job’, ‘chum’, ‘hump’ “blight’, ‘pun’, ‘fun’, etc. A few of them might have originated from children’s playfulness, while others might have sprung from the corresponding linguistic playfulness of grown-up people, forming the fundamental essence of the phenomenon called ‘slang. Slang is now frequently used in our language.
#12 Name of Place
Finally, names of places are also a fruitful source of new words, for the Genius of the Language, when it has a gap in its vocabulary to fill in, is apt to seize on any material ready to its hand. Thus ‘worsted’ (woollen yarn) is from Worstead, a village near Norwich, and ‘canter’, is, of course, an abbreviation of Canterbury. ‘Calico’ is from Calicut.
Telescoping is the method of forming new words by combining two or more terms into one. It is an old process of word-making in the English language, and the verbs like to don (from do +on) and to doff (from do + off) are instances of telescoping in its simplest form. Other examples of telescoping are flurry flaw+hurry: lunch<lumpthunch, flaunt flout vaunt. “Lewis Carrol amused himself by creating words of this kind and has thus added at least two words to the English language chortle, probably formed by suggestions of chuckle and short, and galumph out of gallop and triumphant.