The Competition of Word-Formation Processes in the Derivational Paradigm of Verbs

Diasynchronic Evidence for the Profile and Resolution of Competition in English

by Cristina Fernández-Alcaina (Author)
©2021 Thesis 182 Pages


The study of competition in verb formation has mainly focused on the identification of the restrictions governing the domains of application of the competing patterns. However, few studies have focused on the coexistence of two forms with the same base and meaning but derived through different patterns.
This book aims to describe the resolution of competition in verb formation by combining lexicographic and corpus resources and the information provided by derivational paradigms. The results obtained are twofold. Methodologically, the combination of various resources allows for a better assessment of competition. Regarding the profile of competition, the results show that it is diverse, as illustrated by the variety of patterns involved, the meaning expressed and the outcomes of competition.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of abbreviations
  • Typographical conventions
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Competition in derivational paradigms
  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Competition across history
  • 1.3 Two approaches to competition
  • 1.3.1 Competition between patterns
  • 1.3.2 Competition between forms with the same base
  • 1.4 Derivational paradigms and competition
  • 1.4.1 Paradigms in morphology
  • 1.4.2 Paradigms in word formation
  • 1.4.3 Competition within derivational paradigms
  • 1.5 The resolution of competition
  • 1.6 Limitations in the study of competition
  • 1.6.1 Frequency and productivity
  • 1.6.2 Lexicalization
  • 1.6.3 Borrowing
  • 1.6.4 Blocking
  • 1.6.5 Analogy
  • 1.7 Summary
  • Chapter 2: Method
  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 The Oxford English Dictionary and competition
  • 2.3 Corpora and competition
  • 2.4 Verbal competitors
  • 2.4.1 Data collection
  • 2.4.2 Data source selection
  • 2.4.3 Data processing
  • 2.5 Paradigm construction
  • 2.5.1 Data collection
  • 2.5.2 Data processing
  • 2.6 Summary
  • Chapter 3: General remarks on the competition in verbal formation
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Overview
  • 3.3 Polysemy and synonymy of competing verbs
  • 3.3.1 Monosemy vs polysemy in competition
  • 3.3.2 Degrees of synonymy in clusters
  • One-to-one sense competition
  • Many-to-many sense competition
  • 3.4 Denominal clusters
  • 3.5 Deadjectival clusters
  • 3.6 The resolution of competition
  • 3.6.1 Outcomes of competition
  • Resolved competition
  • Past competition
  • Ongoing competition
  • 3.6.2 Profile of resolution
  • Variable duration of competition
  • Direction of resolution
  • Earliest vs latest attested competitor
  • Pattern-governed vs lexically-governed
  • 3.7 Summary
  • Chapter 4: Triplets
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 Profile of competition
  • 4.3 Resolution of competition
  • 4.3.1 Introduction
  • 4.3.2 Resolved competition
  • -ize suffixation
  • Special cases
  • External influence: function and personify
  • Internal influence: passivate/passivify/passivize
  • 4.3.3 Past competition
  • 4.3.4 Ongoing competition
  • 4.4 Summary
  • Chapter 5: Doublets
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 Conversion vs affixation
  • 5.2.1 Conversion vs -ize suffixation
  • 5.2.2 Conversion vs -en suffixation
  • 5.2.3 Other cases of competition
  • Conversion vs -ate suffixation
  • Conversion vs -ify suffixation
  • Conversion vs prefixation
  • 5.2.4 Resolution of competition
  • Resolved competition
  • Past competition
  • Ongoing competition
  • Conversion prevails: pillory/pillorize
  • Affixation prevails: revolution/revolutionize
  • Semantic specialization: pressure/pressurize
  • Unresolved competition: factor/factorize and fluoridate/fluoridize
  • 5.3 Competition in affixation
  • 5.4 Summary
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Appendices
  • Appendix 1: Competing triplets
  • Appendix 2: Competing doublets
  • 2.1 Conversion vs prefixation
  • 2.2 Conversion vs -ate suffixation
  • 2.3 Conversion vs -en suffixation
  • 2.4 Conversion vs -ify suffixation
  • 2.5 Conversion vs -ize suffixation
  • 2.6 -ate vs -ize
  • 2.7 -ify vs -ize
  • Appendix 3: Corpus data for triplets
  • Appendix 4: Corpus data for doublets
  • Figures
  • Tables
  • Author Index
  • Subject Index
  • Series Index

←12 | 13→

Typographical conventions

Small capitals

semantic categories e.g., causative, resultative, instrument


dictionaries, terminology and examples in the running text

e.g., Collins, paradigm, mongrelize

Single quotation marks

complete or partial lexicographic definitions of word senses

e.g., perfect ‘bring to perfection’


emphasis within italics

e.g., legalization


source of examples in the OED

e.g., [1611 Speed Hist. Gt. Brit]

←14 | 15→


Since competition is considered an ‘inherent and universal feature of natural languages’ (Štekauer 2017: 15), the definition of the term itself is often ambiguous, not just because it influences both language formation and interpretation, but because it obtains at all language levels, both synchronically and diachronically.

This book is concerned with competition at the level of morphology, in which the concept (also known as rivalry) has attracted much attention in research in the past years, as illustrated by the publication of several volumes, such as MacWhiney et al. (2014), Santana-Lario & Valera (2017) and Rainer et al. (2019), as well as by the papers on the topic presented at the 17th International Morphology Meeting (Vienna 2016) and at the Word-Formation Theories IV/Typology and Universals in Word-Formation V (Košice 2022) as part of the workshop ‘Towards a competition-based word-formation theory’.

The study of competition in morphology usually goes hand in hand with the notion of productivity because competitors are typically contrasted according to their chance to decay or remain in use. In those cases where both competitors remain in language, they are contrasted according to their use, which is in turn measured according to their productivity. Productivity refers to the two related components of availability and profitability described by Corbin (1987: 177) and later accepted virtually unanimously.1 Availability is therefore defined as the ‘potential for repetitive rule-governed morphological coining’ (Bauer 2001: 211). Once a morphological process is available, its profitability depends on the extent to which it can be used to create new words (Bauer 2001: 49).

Availability is a discrete variable conditioned by the language system; by contrast, profitability is a continuous variable conditioned by language norms (Bauer 2001: 209–210). The status of a form as available or unavailable depends on the properties of each language, often under the influence of its history and of its morphological model. Thus, for example, it has been claimed that it is the profile of English that makes the suffix -ation available with -ize verbs (e.g., organization), instead of -ment (e.g., *organizement) (Bauer 2001: 205), even if it is not always possible to link up this type of constraints with specific factors of the morphological model, or to identify what specific factor constrains certain formations.

←15 | 16→

This book focuses on the discrete dimension of productivity, that is, on the availability of forms and, specifically, in those cases in which there is competition and two or more forms are available as candidates to meet the same lexical need or to fill the same slot in the paradigm. The assumption is that co-existence may last for an indefinite period and may not exhibit any evident direction in its resolution for some time, but that it will eventually be resolved somehow. The profitability of each form or process may signal eventual resolutions, as described in Lara-Clares and Thompson (2019) for the competition of conversion and -ness suffixation in the formation of nouns for the expression of the semantic category stative (e.g., darkn/darkness). In this specific case, the results suggest that conversion prevails in the spoken mode, whereas -ness suffixation is preferred in the written mode (except for the subcategory fiction) (Lara-Clares & Thompson 2019: 46). This means that an additional variable needs to be considered for the description of competition: different modes, and perhaps also specialized domains or registers, may prime different forms or processes.

Even though we can speak of competition both in inflection (known as overabundance, Thornton 2012) and derivation, it is important to highlight that, although similarities exist, there are also differences in how competition operates in each morphological category. While inflection is determined by morphosyntax (Aronoff 2019), derivation is, in principle, driven by semantic needs. Therefore, neither the factors intervening nor the variables behind the resolution of competition are necessarily the same for inflection and derivation.

In the same way as competition is recognized for both inflection and derivation, the idea of a paradigm in derivation (or word formation) has gained ground in the past decades. Traditionally, research has focused on the description of the inflectional paradigm, as illustrated by the variety of theoretical perspectives from which it has been approached (see Boyé & Schalchli 2016 for a review). In derivation, conversely, the hypothesis of a paradigmatic organization has enjoyed much less attention based on its allegedly chaotic nature. Nevertheless, as Stump (2001: 65) notes, ‘[…] many of the arguments that motivate the postulation of paradigms in the inflectional domain have straightforward analogues in the domain of derivation’.

The growing interest in the derivational/word-formation paradigm is as well illustrated by a number of international conferences celebrated over the past years. Specifically, derivational paradigms were the topic of two international workshops at the 49th SLE Conference (Naples 2016) (‘Paradigms in Word-Formation: New perspectives on data description and modelling’ and ‘Similarities and differences between inflectional and derivational paradigms: individual languages and beyond’) and the workshop ‘Revisiting ←16 | 17→paradigms in word-formation’ at the Word-Formation Theories III & Typology and Universals in Word-Formation IV (Košice 2018), as well as in two editions of the international workshop ParadigMo (Toulouse 2017; Bordeaux 2021). The relevance of the topic is also evident from the number of specialized volumes and special issues recently published on the topic (Hathout & Namer 2018, 2019; Fernández-Domínguez et al. 2020; Körtvélyessy et al. 2020).

Despite the growing interest in the subject, the very definition of the term paradigm in derivation remains ambiguous, partly for its extended use in the literature and the variety of approaches that have addressed it. This is illustrated by the existence of a number of labels in descriptive linguistics: word family (Bauer & Nation 1993), derivational family (Roché 2009), or derivational network (Körtvélyessy et al. 2020), among others.

It is also unclear whether non-affixal processes should or even can be described in terms of paradigms, or as part and parcel of derivational paradigms. Štekauer (2014: 369) argues that only affixation can be considered in the derivational paradigm as ‘[…] it follows the requirement of systematic, regular and predictable relationships’.

The way in which word formation is paradigmatic is also theory-dependent. As noted by Bonami & Strnadová (2019), a group of approaches that draw on the Saussurean tradition employs the term paradigmatic for one of the two axes (as opposed to syntagmatic relations) of word formation (van Marle 1985). In a second group of approaches, paradigmatic refers to the set of forms that revolve around a common base, parallel to the type of organization described for inflection (Bauer 1997; Stump 2001; Beecher 2004; Štekauer 2014). As addressed in Section 1.3, this is also related to the two-fold nature of the term competition (i.e., between patterns/processes or between forms with the same base). Although few studies assess the relation between the two phenomena (Fernández-Alcaina & Čermák 2018; Fradin 2019), the results obtained suggest that an account of competition in the context of the paradigm where it occurs can provide better insights than when assessed in isolation.

The structure of the book is as follows: Chapter 1 reviews the most relevant research on the notions of paradigm and competition, with a special emphasis on the competition among verbalizing patterns and, specifically, conversion and affixation. Chapter 2 describes the method used for both the data collection and the data analysis of verbal competing clusters and their derivational paradigms. Chapter 3 presents an overview of the profile of competition and its resolution in both denominal and deadjectival verb formation. Since the number of competitors may affect the description of the profile of resolution, Chapter 4 addresses the competition in clusters with three forms (triplets) or above, and ←17 | 18→Chapter 5 describes the competition in clusters with two members (doublets). Chapter 6 summarizes the main finding regarding the competition of verbal forms with the same base and how an analysis of the competitors in the context of the paradigms where they are allocated may in some cases provide additional evidence for the resolution of competition.

←18 | 19→

Chapter 1: Competition in derivational paradigms

1.1 Introduction

The notion of paradigm in morphology has been often described as a defining feature of inflection, in which, prototypically, the paradigm of a lexeme is a closed system where the filling of the cells is obligatory and where both form and content are related by means of one-to-one relations. Nevertheless, as Stump (2001: 65) notes, ‘[…] many of the arguments that motivate the postulation of paradigms in the inflectional domain have straightforward analogues in the domain of derivation’. This is the case of competition. To put it simply, competition is the situation in which two or more forms ‘[…] share some domain between them, producing outputs which, if acceptable, might fill the same functional slot in a paradigm’ (Bauer et al. 2013: 568) either inflectional (e.g., curriculum.sg > curricula.pl/curriculums.pl, Quirk et al. 1985: 311) or derivational (e.g., discriminative/discriminatory, Kaunisto 2009: 74).

It is important to highlight, however, that although similarities exist, there are also differences in how competition operates in each morphological category. Such differences have important implications for the study of competition as neither the factors nor the variables behind the resolution of competition are necessarily the same for inflection and derivation. Specifically, Aronoff (2019: 55–56) notices two important differences in the competition between inflection and derivation. Because inflection is determined by morphosyntax, the number of forms that may occupy the same cell is usually limited. In contrast, since derivation is not obligatory, it is impossible to set a fixed number of potential competitors. Similarly, the factors that intervene in the resolution of competition may also vary. While differentiation between inflectional competitors can only be grounded on phonological or morphological reasons, these and other factors, including semantic and pragmatic ones, are at play in derivation, thus leading to a variety of profiles and outcomes of competition.

While previous research into the resolution of competition has usually focused on the study of the rival forms, the ways in which such co-existence may end and in which conditions are also in some way influenced by the rest of the members of the paradigm in which they are allocated. As several studies on standardization (Mal’ceva 1966; Gawełko 1977; Schupbach 1984, reviewed in ←19 | 20→Pounder 2000: 83) suggest, the resolution of competition may be partly a consequence of the relations among the forms derived from a certain base.

This book is an attempt to shed light on the profile and resolution of competition in the derivational paradigms of English verbs. Before moving on to the empirical analysis and results, this chapter outlines the main findings of previous research.

1.2 Competition across history

The first references to competition can be found in the grammatical description of Sanskrit, in particular, in Pāini’s Astadhyayi. The Astadhyayi consists of approximately 4,000 sutras (‘aphorisms’) ordered in a cyclic manner in which the application of a rule depends on its degree of specification, such that specific rules apply before general rules (Deo 2007: 187). Although Pāini did not directly address the concept of competition, the fact that grammar was rule-governed resulted in the formulation of grammatical exceptions also in terms of rules. Therefore, exceptions are not viewed as violations of rules but the result of the overlap of competing rules in a certain domain of application. This underlying principle was later explicitly formulated by Patañjali as the ini’s Principle, which would set the bases for modern generativist approaches to morphology in the 20th century, such as the Elsewhere Condition (Anderson 1969; Kiparsky 1973), whereby the application of a general rule is overridden by the application of a more specific one, i.e., a specific rule blocks a general rule.

From a semantic perspective, competition has been seen as a necessary language condition to avoid synonymy. Bréal’s (1897: 30) loi de répartition (‘distribution law’) states that ‘[…] les synonymes n’existent pas longtemps: ou bien ils se différencient, ou bien l’un des deux terms disparaît’ (‘synonyms do not exist for long: either they specialize or one of the two terms disappear’, my translation). However, competition was not expected to reach an end immediately, as it takes time to be resolved. In this ‘period of fluctuation’ (Bréal 1897: 311), one of the competitors gradually replaces the other by restricting it to specific uses or, in some cases, forcing it out of the system and causing it to disappear as an available word (Bréal 1897: 311).2

Research into word formation carried out by the Neogrammarians also contributed to the study of morphological competition. The diachronic development ←20 | 21→of a certain category was first described by von Bahder (1880): his analysis of action nouns in German concludes that ‘[…] the rise and fall of synonymous patterns is often causally related’ (Gardani et al. 2019: 9).

Competition between morphological processes was not directly addressed by Saussure in his Cours, but it was addressed by later structuralist scholars such as Benveniste (1948), for whom two completely synonymous patterns cannot co-exist. Similarly, Coseriu (1967) argued that the coining of certain forms may be prevented if either synonymous or homonymous forms already exist (Gardani et al. 2019: 12).

A more detailed account of competition from a structuralist perspective is provided by van Marle (1986). According to the domain hypothesis, the productivity of morphological processes is not only dependent on the structural and semantic properties of the forms that function as bases. Rather, productivity is also paradigmatically determined, because it is affected by competing processes that may occupy the same position in the system (van Marle 1986: 602).

Within the generativist framework, the notion of competition is central in the development of OT (Prince & Smolensky 1993). Broadly speaking, OT establishes that the observed forms of language are the result of the optimal resolution of the competition among several candidates. Although originally developed for phonology, OT was later implemented for morphology (Wunderlich 2001, in Gardani et al. 2019: 23). Since constraints in OT are hierarchically ordered, competition does not occur between rules themselves but between ‘violable constraints’ (Gardani et al. 2019: 24). Notably, Plag (1999) approached the productivity of verbalizing suffixation in Present-Day English from the point of view of OT.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (March)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 182 pp., 25 fig. b/w, 38 tables.

Biographical notes

Cristina Fernández-Alcaina (Author)

Cristina Fernández-Alcaina holds a PhD in English Linguistics from the University of Granada (Spain). Her areas of interest include historical linguistics, morphology and semantics.


Title: The Competition of Word-Formation Processes in the Derivational Paradigm of Verbs
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