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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 8 Five Suf fixes over Three Periods of Middle English 193


Chapter 8 Five Suf fixes over Three Periods of Middle English We are now in a position to consider these five suf fixes in relation to each other. In this chapter I will compare some of their morphological con- straints, their productivity and the extent to which their semantics diverge or overlap, and try to assess whether the divergences are coherent enough to suggest distinctions between suf fixes. 8.1. Morphology The suf fixes can be divided into two subgroups according to whether base category or source language is considered. The mainly deverbal suf fixes are -ment, -ance and -ation, while -age and -al are largely denominal in the ME period. However, those entering the language mainly from French (OF and AN) are deverbal -ment and -ance with denominal -age, while deverbal -ation and denominal -al appear mainly on Latin bases (though -al has vari- ous additional origins). Base category and source language have significance for semantics and productivity respectively. There is more semantic overlap among suf fixes predominantly sharing a base category, while productivity is markedly greater for French derivatives than for Latin. 8.1.1. Co-occurrences All five suf fixes may attach to words with the prefixes a(d)-, su(b)-, co(n/m)-, re-, de-, dis- and pre-. All but -al are found on bases in per- and in-, and all but -age on bases with pro-, e(x)- and en(m)-. While pro- does 194 Chapter 8 not appear in my sample with -ment, or...

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