Competing Patterns in English Affixation

by Juan Santana-Lario (Volume editor) Salvador Valera-Hernández (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 272 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 234


This is a collection of research papers on competition in English affixation. It combines methodological chapters with descriptive chapters and incorporates both contributions by renowned international authors and also by younger researchers. The book presents diachronic and synchronic research both onomasiological and semasiological. The first three chapters review the literature and provide the theoretical framework for the experimental description of the remaining chapters.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface (Juan Santana-Lario / Salvador Valera)
  • Competition in natural languages (Pavol Štekauer)
  • Comparative semantic concepts in affixation (Alexandra Bagasheva)
  • Methodological and procedural issues in the quantification of morphological competition (Jesús Fernández-Domínguez)
  • On the identification of competition in English derivational morphemes. The case of -dom, -hood and -ship (Ana Díaz-Negrillo)
  • Availability and unavailability in English word-formation (Cristina Fernández-Alcaina)
  • Competition in Present Day English nominalization by zero-affixation vs. -ation (Cristina Lara-Clares)
  • Subject index
  • Notes on contributors

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The research presented in this book was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (research project FFI2012–39688).

The Editors

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It is an assumed fact that language, like other aspects of human behaviour, is largely ruled by the Principle of Least Effort (Zipf 1932; 1935; 1949). As a general principle, it explains a number of linguistic facts that escape other considerations, like the natural tendency towards regularization. It has also been invoked as the reason for selection of specific forms for the formation of new words and, to some extent, for at least a part of the irregularity that can be observed in derivational morphology and that at one point gave rise to the interpretation of derivational morphology as arbitrary. Major theoretical schools and theoretical frameworks, like Natural Morphology and the Optimality Theory have researched to what extent economy overruns or is overrun by other linguistic principles, specifically the Principle of Transparency (e.g. Dressler 1985a; 1985b; Dressler, Mayerthaler, Panagl & Wurzel 1987; Mayerthaler 1981). General principles of the contention between these and other forces have been researched, especially in the field of linguistic typology, and also in specific cases within one language. It is precisely the latter that evidence how the general principles have an effect in language and how general tendencies find expression, in this case, in derivational morphology.

Pretty much triggered by the type of questions that are used as the titles of Kjellmer’s (1984) and (2001) classic papers on specific pairs, this volume joins the studies that research specific cases, in this case affixation in English. It examines diachronic and synchronic experimental evidence from lexicographic sources and from large computerized corpora, specifically the Oxford English Dictionary (hereafter, OED) and the British National Corpus (hereafter, BNC), even if the Corpus of Contemporary American English (hereafter, COCA) is also considered at times. The data are considered onomasiologically and semasiologically for the identification of patterns in the terms of the coexistence between (apparently) specific sets or groups of semantically redundant affixes in English. The volume consists of an Introduction (by Pavol Štekauer), three largely methodological chapters (by Alexandra Bagasheva, Jesús ← 9 | 10 → Fernández-Domínguez and by Ana Díaz-Negrillo), and two descriptive chapters (by Cristina Fernandez-Alcaina and by Cristina Lara-Clares). The chapters rely on each other to a large extent but can also be viewed as separate pieces of research that may be relevant to researchers interested in this but also in other fields (e.g. Bagasheva in cross-linguistic research, or Fernández-Domínguez regarding productivity).

The book opens with an introductory chapter that provides a brief overview of various aspects of competition in natural languages (Štekauer). More specifically, the chapter reviews the mains references on the issue both from the point of view of the description of the terms of competition in word-formation and also of the less well-known aspects of word interpretation in this field. This opening chapter shows that complex-word formation depends on complex-word predictability/interpretation and that complex-word interpretation is affected by the competition between economy and transparency at the level of complex-word formation. Although this chapter also discusses the universal character of competition at all levels in natural languages, it underlines the relatively little research available on the side of interpretation compared with the side of description of complex words. The latter reviews a good part of the background used in the chapters by Fernández-Alcaina and by Lara-Clares.

The next three chapters are methodological in nature. Bagasheva reviews the availability of semantic categories for cross-linguistic descriptions of word-formation and puts forward a checklist of 51 semantic categories, unspecified for word-class in any language, and therefore, purely semantic in nature. The list of semantic categories has been compiled based on the descriptive categories of individual languages identified in the literature and encompasses both language-specific categories as well as ontological types (Cruse 2000). The classification proposed can be used, with varying degrees of accuracy, for the description of individual languages according to their specificities as well as for cross-linguistic research. The classification considers the possibility that affixes can be polysemous so several senses can use the same expression. At the same time, some semantic categories are so closely related that they may co-occur in such a way that one can hardly be separated from another. ← 10 | 11 →

Fernández-Domínguez presents the methodological decisions for data selection in the research of competition between derivational affixes described in Fernández-Alcaina and in Lara-Clares. The description of the procedure covers from corpus sampling and retrieval of potential sets or clusters of competitors to the proposal of a method for measurement of the terms of the competition between affixes that express the same meaning. The method is then tested on a selection of 42 nominal and 25 verbal clusters of competing derivatives by way of illustration. This chapter reviews the literature for the role of frequency and productivity with regard to competition in derivational morphology and assesses the existing models for the measurement of morphological competition from a form- or meaning-based perspective, as well as of their theoretical implications. The results of the test show a strong presence of the meaning categories ACTION in nouns and CAUSATIVE in verbs, and a prevalence of semantically transparent derivatives overall.

The last methodological chapter, by Díaz-Negrillo, explores the terms of competition in a specific set (-dom, -hood and -ship). Based on the -dom, -hood and -ship derivatives recorded in the OED, the chapter gives a diachronic account of the senses associated with each of the suffixes and attested in their derivatives. Díaz-Negrillo argues for the need to zoom in on individual senses of the polysemous suffixes and on subtle nuances of meaning within senses for a more accurate identification of the terms of competition between different affixes. The relevance of a diachronic account of competition is underlined: contemporary tendencies may be different from tendencies from former historical periods of development, and they may also remain undisclosed in synchronic accounts of competition. The chapter concludes that the capacity of the suffixes to develop new senses has made it possible for the suffixes to remain distinct from one another and, as a result, to co-exist. In this respect, this chapter is partly methodological, but is also partly descriptive too.

The introductory chapter and these three methodological chapters lead on to two specific studies on potentially competing affixes clustered around the expression of the same meaning. Largely in line with the last of the chapters of the methodological section, the two studies consider specific senses of the general meanings, and rely on corpus evidence (BNC, COCA) and on lexicographic records (OED). ← 11 | 12 → Of these two chapters, Fernández-Alcaina collects a series of verbal affixes that coexist for the expression of the same sense. Based on the pairs of affixes identified in an initial sample of the complete BNC frequency list and after extracting from the OED 816 verbal derivatives in -ize with the sense CAUSATIVE, this chapter describes the diachronic development of 45 pairs of verbs derived by -ize and zero-affixation that appear to coexist for the expression of the semantic category CAUSATIVE. Diachronic evidence relies on lexicographic information regarding the dates of earliest and latest attestations of the forms and whether they are recorded as obsolete, no longer in use, or in current use (also after attestation in the corpora). The results seem to indicate that the language system avoids the existence of two forms with the same meaning as hinted by the number of pairs analysed and by the gradual resolution of competition between the affixes.

Finally, Lara-Clares relies on synchronic evidence for the identification of clusters of potential competitors by taking a semasiological approach. From a sample of the BNC frequency list, a series of competing patterns of nominalizing suffixes are identified, among which zero-affixation and -ation for the expression of ACTION are selected. Data from the OED is used to enlarge the initial sample: 930 -ation derivatives are searched for the identification of potential zero-affixed competitors. Eight competing clusters result from both corpus and lexicographic data, which are analyzed using methodological tools described in previous chapters, such as the C value defined by Fernández- Domínguez, as well as by looking at their register distribution and dispersion. Attestation of particular senses in corpora is necessary here, as calculations that are not sensitive to various senses of the same lemma, i.e. by lemma or by entry, may lead to dissimilar conclusions compared with the analysis that are sensitive to senses. Even so, this chapter concludes that zero-affixation seems to prevail overall.

The result is a volume about some of the methodological and descriptive questions that revolve around competition in affixation, in this case in English. These questions do not lead to an overview of how competing patterns may interact, but it contributes towards that overview by identifying both specific patterns and the difficulties inherent to their identification. ← 12 | 13 →


Cruse, Alan D. 2000. Meaning in Language: An Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dressler, Wolfgang U. 1985a. Morphonology. Ann Arbor, MI: Karoma Press.

Dressler, Wolfgang U. 1985b. On the Predictiveness of Natural Morphology. Journal of Linguistics. 21, 321–337.

Dressler, Wolfgang U. / Mayerthaler, Willi / Panagl, Oswald / Wurzel, Wolfgang U. 1987. Leitmotifs in Natural Morphology. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Kjellmer, Göran 1984. Why great/greatly but not big/*bigly? On the Formation of English Adverbs in -ly. Studia Linguistica. 38/1, 1–19.

Kjellmer, Göran 2001. Why weaken but not *strongen? On Deadjectival Verbs. English Studies. 82/2, 154–171.

Mayerthaler, Willi. 1981. Morphologische Natürlichkeit. Wiesbaden: Athenaion.

Zipf, George K. 1932. Selected Studies of the Principle of Relative Frequency in Language. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Zipf, George K. 1935. The Psycho-Biology of Language. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Zipf, George K. 1949. Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Juan Santana-Lario & Salvador Valera (eds.)

University of Granada ← 13 | 14 →

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ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (November)
affixation competition English onomasiological semasiological diachronic synchronic
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2017. 272 pp. 26 b/w ill., 57 b/w tables.

Biographical notes

Juan Santana-Lario (Volume editor) Salvador Valera-Hernández (Volume editor)

Juan Santana Lario is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and German at the University of Granada, Spain. His main areas of research include English morphology and syntax, corpus linguistics and forensic linguistics. Salvador Valera is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and German at the University of Granada, Spain. He has undertaken publicly funded research leave in frontline Departments of several universities (Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, Leeds and Vienna) under the supervision of such renowned scholars as Prof. Laurie Bauer and Prof. Dieter Kastovsky.


Title: Competing Patterns in English Affixation
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255 pages