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English Words by Francis Katamba

Chapter 8: Word manufacture


SUMMARY: All morphemes must be listed in the dictionary since their meaning is not
compositional. Many lexical items too must be listed in the dictionary because their meaning is not
deducible from the elements that they are made up of. However, some lexical items are semantically
compositional so they need not be listed. The lexicon is not a closed list. Normally, word-manufacture
employs standard rules to produce new words that can be added to the lexicon.

Morphological theory provides the tools for analysing 'real' words which are listed in dictionaries. But if it
stopped at that, it would be failing in its task of characterising the nature of speakers' lexical knowledge.
For our knowledge of English vocabulary goes far beyond the INSTITUTIONALSED words listed in
dictionaries. Further, you have the ability to comprehend many POTENTIAL WORDS that have not yet

If a word is made up of a single morpheme (e.g. zebra, tree, saddle), there is no way one can work out its
meaning. Such words simply have to be committed to memory. If a word contains several morphemes and
if you know what the morphemes mean, you are usually able to work out what the word as a whole

New words like these come off the production line all the time. In most cases there is no record of who
first used a particular word: Hollywoodisation. Take the word Yuppie: ‘Young Urban Professional Person’.
There is some uncertainty about the correct source of this word, which originated in America in the 1980s
where it was used to describe youngish people who received enormous (and possibly disproportionate)
rewards for their services on the money markets. The words yuppification and deyuppification before
now. They are NONCE WORDS (words expressly coined for the first time and apparently used once)
that are not institutionalised. Many complex MORPHOLOGICAL OBJECTS are compositional.

Furthermore, many of the more esoteric technical terms or jargon used in various disciplines are often not
included in general dictionaries. The point that lexicographers are selective and that their
dictionaries represent only a partial list of the lexical items of a language.

Words are not ‘proper words’ by virtue of being listed in a dictionary. Rather, words are proper words
if they are linguistic signs which associate arbitrary sounds with meanings in a manner that is
sanctioned by the rule system of a particular language. We can distinguish three types of words:
First, there are the institutionalised words listed in dictionaries, e.g. house. Second, there are
uninstitutionalised words that have been manifested in use, e.g. unleaving and deyuppification. Third,
there are potential words waiting to make their début as it were when a particular meaning is
matched with a particular phonological representation. Today unreprissing is not an English word because
although it is a phonologically permissible word, it has no meaning associated with it. Many of the nonce,
non-institutionalised words are compounds. the inventory of words is not static. People make up new

At the other end of the spectrum old words go out of use, e.g. wone meaning ‘home, abode’ is
now obsolete. If I said to you ‘Where is your wone?’ you would have no idea what I was talking
about. Then there is also the problem of separating the dialectal and the archaic words from
obsolete ones e.g. porret ‘young leek or onion’. While wone is obsolete, porret survives in dialectal use
but it is very rare.

To sum up, although by and large the words of a language are listable in dictionaries, it is not possible to
list all of them. Speakers actively manufacture words. this is done by applying established rules:
language users who have mastered these rules can use them to construct or unscramble words, be
they old established words or new ones.


SUMMARY: Idioms are a theoretically challenging class of lexical items for they share the
characteristics of both words and phrases. Structurally, idioms are like ordinary syntactic phrases.
But their meanings are unpredictable, just like the meanings of simple words. So they must be listed in
the dictionary.

We have seen that simple words must be listed in the lexicon because their meanings are not
compositional. In this respect morphology differs from syntax. Typically, sentences produced by
syntactic rules do not need to be listed since they are compositional, while many words need to be
listed in the dictionary because they are not compositional.

Normally, using general syntactic rules, we create fresh sentences to suit the communicative needs
of the situation, even though you may never have encountered it before.

Syntactic phrases used as lexical items are called IDIOMS. Idioms are peculiar in that they are non-
compositional syntactic phrases. This means that their meanings cannot be deduced from the meanings of
the words they contain.

Idiom Example

“Save someone’s bacon ‘save someone a lot of trouble”: Thanks for talking to the police officer. An
indefinitely large number of syntactic phrases can be turned into idioms by assigning them
idiosyncratic, lexicalised meanings.


SUMMARY: Finally, in addition to affixes, we need to recognise a separate class of bound morphemes
appended to the hosts. These are the clitics which are attached to words to form clitic groups after
words have been grouped into syntactic phrases. Some clitics are always bound morphemes but
others are capable of appearing in some contexts as independent words. All clitics have a
phonological deficiency which disqualifies them from appearing as independent words. Further,
unlike suffixes, clitics are capable of attaching to a phonological host that is distinct from their
syntactic/semantic host. Clitic groups are not lexical objects. They are not listed in the lexicon.

A clitic is a bound morpheme which is not an affix but which, nevertheless, occurs as part of a word (cf.
(4.2.2)). We are going to see that CLITICISATION (the process of attaching clitics) takes place postlexically
after the word-formation rules of the lexicon have applied, and following the application of syntactic rules.
(By contrast, affixes are attached at the lexical level).
There are two classes of clitics:

• Class 1 clitics

These always occur as appendages to words. They are totally incapable of appearing on their own as
independent. The GENITIVE ‘S’, (as in a farmer’s wife, the parson’s nose) is the only example of this kind of
clitic in English.

• Class 2 clitics

These are forms which are capable of appearing as independent words in some cases but are also used as
dependent appendages to words. This is exemplified by the reduced auxiliary verbs e.g. ’ll, ’ve, ’d (as in I’ll,
we’ve, she’s, they’d which are derived from will or shall, have, is, had).

In English, it is crucial for a phonological word to have a vowel. Clitics do not qualify for word status
because they lack vowels. To become pronounceable any form like ’s or ’d must be annexed to a word. The
word to which a clitic is appended is called a HOST.

The genitive ’s construction in English is used to indicate that a noun (to be precise, NP) on the left which
hosts the ’s is a syntactic modifier which specifies more narrowly the meaning of the noun on the
right which is the head of the entire NP. The exact semantic value of the ’s genitive construction varies:


• Possessive genitive: The farmer’s cattle the cattle belonging to the farmer

• b. Genitive of origin: The farmer’s messenger the messenger sent by the farmer

• c. Genitive of measure: Two years’ imprisonment imprisonment lasting for two years

Often the meaning of this construction is not one of ‘owning’. The farmer may own the cattle and tractor,
but not the wife. She is his partner, not his chattel. The genitive in this latter case indicates a relationship,
not possession.

The farmer’s story is a story told, not owned, by the farmer and a day’s journey is a journey that
lasts a whole day—not one that is owned by the day.

The syntactic role of this ’s is to mark a NP as being syntactically subordinated to another NP on its right,
which it modifies.

CLITIC GROUPS contain clitics and their hosts. The morphemes belonging to a word are firmly bonded
together and cannot be separated. Often we find, especially in casual speech, clitics whose
phonological host is different from their syntactic/semantic host. The phonological host of ’s is
always the word that precedes the head. If we take a phrase like the farmer next to our campsite’s
tractor, we find that the semantic possessor and the phonological host are divorced. The farmer is
still the owner of the tractor. But the genitive ’s attaches to campsite, which is the phonological host.

Cliticisation does not affect meaning. It only affects style. Use of class 2 clitics indicates greater
informality than the use of full words.