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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 5 The Suf fix -ation in Middle English 115


Chapter 5 The Suf fix -ation in Middle English 5.1. History and Morphology 5.1.1. History Marchand tells us that the suf fix -ation ‘anglicizes Latin -atio as well as (learned) French -ation’. He adds that most English words in -ation (i.e. pre- sumably in all periods) have counterparts in both Latin and French (1969: 259, 4.18.1.); Miller makes the same observation of -ation nouns found in Chaucer (1997: 241). The suf fix in ME is usually spelt -acioun. 5.1.2. Morphological types The four types found in my sample correspond to those given by Marchand (1969: 259–61). The last two are the most prominent in my sample. Type 1, e.g. SIGNIFICACIOUN, is formed on verbs in -ify, either borrowed from French or formed on the pattern of borrowed pairs such as edify/EDIFICATION. Type 2, e.g. MARTIRIZACIOUN, is associated with verbs in -ize, the verb suf fix deriving from Greek. Marchand suggests that this pattern did not become productive until the seventeenth century and that in ME these words are borrowings, from medieval Latin rather than from French, as they are either absent from French dictionaries or are ‘recorded later than their English counterparts’ (1969: 260: 4.18.3). 116 Chapter 5 Type 3, e.g. PERFORACIOUN, is formed on a Latin verb stem and may be borrowed holistically from French or translated from Latin using the French suf fix. Later verbs may be back-formed in -ate. Type 4, formed on a French verb stem, is borrowed holistically from French or possibly derived from...

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