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Semantics and Word Formation

The Semantic Development of Five French Suffixes in Middle English


Cynthia Lloyd

This book is about the integration into English of the five nominal suffixes -ment, -ance, -ation, -age and -al, which entered Middle English via borrowings from French, and which now form abstract nouns by attaching themselves to various base categories, as in cord/cordage or adjust/adjustment. The possibility is considered that each suffix might individually affect the general semantic profile of nouns which it forms. A sample of first attributions from the Middle English Dictionary is analysed for each suffix, in order to examine biases in suffixes towards certain semantic areas. It is argued that such biases exist both in real-world semantics, such as the choice of bases with moral or practical meanings, and in distinct aspects of the shared core meaning of action or collectivity expressed by the derived deverbal or denominal nouns. The results for the ME database are then compared with the use of words in the same suffixes across a selection of works from Shakespeare. In this way it can be shown how such tendencies may persist or change over time.


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CHAPTER 4 The Suf fix -ance/-ence in Middle English 77


Chapter 4 The Suf fix -ance/-ence in Middle English 4.1. History and Morphology 4.1.1. History This suf fix, usually spelt -aunce in ME, comes via OF and AN -ance/- ence, deriving from the Latin endings -antia and -entia, which form nouns from the present participles of verbs. The initial vowels of the Latin end- ings ref lect those of the Latin verb stem, and are ref lected in the French spellings -ance and -ence. According to Marchand, French -ance became generalised at the expense of -ence during the ninth and tenth centuries. This bias is ref lected in English borrowings and derivations during the medieval period, but after 1500 the English spelling came to be distin- guished more systematically according to the Latin conjugational origins (1969: 248, 4.8.1.). Marchand suggests that nouns in -ance/-ence lacking simplex verbs in English sometimes come to be ‘derivationally connected’ with adjectives in -ant/-ent, and acquire meanings related to the adjective (1969: 249, 4.8.3.). However, as far as actual derivation is concerned, in my sample thirty-six out of fifty-eight related adjectives were first recorded considerably later than the noun. Variants in -ancy/-ency also in general appear later than nouns in -ance/-ence, and are considered by Marchand to embody a semantic distinction from them. In the literature on English word formation, ME -ance/-ence seems to be generally treated as one suf fix (see Dalton-Puf fer 1996: 102, and Szymanek 1988). For semantic purposes this seems adequate, though there are morphological dif ferences between the variants. 78...

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