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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 9 Five Suf fixes in Ten Plays by Shakespeare 205


Chapter 9 Five Suf fixes in Ten Plays by Shakespeare 9.1. Data for comparison I should now like to consider these suf fixes as they appear around 1600, that is about a century after the end of the ME period. I suggested in the Introduction that it might be of interest to compare the first attributions used hitherto with results from a dif ferent sampling technique. I have therefore simply looked at words in all five suf fixes as they are used in ten plays by Shakespeare. Many of these are the same words as those appear- ing in my ME sample, the use of which can be compared with newer lexis which appears in the sixteenth century or is coined by Shakespeare himself. The sample has, I hope, the additional advantage of providing a compari- son between the previous cross-textual overview of usage and the highly conscious use of the same and similar lexis by a creative writer. Even in the wide field of Shakespearean language studies there appears to be little detailed comparison of latinate suf fixes as used in the plays. Brook lists some of the suf fixes without analysis, omitting -ation and -age (1976: 132–7). Hussey (1982) and Blake (1983), though they do not com- pare suf fixes, are enlightening on the use of latinate words to fill rhetorical patterns, and Salmon (1987) and Nevalainen (2001) have both discussed isolated uses of forms in -ment (see and 9.7.2. below). Garner (1987a) has provided an...

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