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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 7 The Suf fix -al in Middle English 167


Chapter 7 The Suf fix -al in Middle English 7.1. History and Morphology 7.1.1. History Jespersen states that -al in English substantives derives from Latin third declension neuter endings -al/-alia, or from the adjectival ending -alis/- ale/-alia, pointing out that many nouns such as CAPITAL and PRINCIPAL were originally adjectives (1942: VI.383, 22.2.[1]). Marchand’s account omits the nominalised adjectives. According to him, the nominal suf fix ‘-al (type arrival) forms sbs [substantives] of action chief ly from verbs of Latin or French origin’. He adds that ‘Neither the OED nor the gram- mars say anything convincing as to how -al became an English formative’ (1969: 236, 4.5.1.). Malkiel, however (1944: 80f f ), traces the English suf fix to three Old French endings, -al, -ail and -aille, which are included in my own categorisation below. 7.1.2. Morphological types If the nominalised adjectives are included, my ME sample in -al falls into six main morphological types. In addition to these main types back-formations appear, as in ASSAILE, formed on the verb assailen. Type 1, e.g. CARDINAL, is a nominalisation of the Latin adjective in -alis/-ale, which itself was formed on a Latin noun of the first or third declen- sion, the adjectival suf fix being attached to the stem of the oblique cases. The stem therefore does not correspond to any simplex English form. 168 Chapter 7 In Type 2, such as SACRAMENTAL, the adjectival suf fix is added to a latinate noun in French or English. In ME the type...

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