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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 10 Conclusion 255


Chapter 10 Conclusion 10.1. Purpose The aim of my study was to consider the possibility that each of these five latinate nominal suf fixes might individually af fect the general semantic profile of nouns which it forms. Even though all such nouns to a certain extent share a cluster of related meanings, I hoped to show that these mean- ings were not shared indiscriminately, but that each suf fix showed general preferences for certain semantic areas, both real-world and grammatical, which would be ref lected in the real-world semantics of the bases chosen to form words, and in the grammatical contexts in which the words were used. I have looked at two dif ferent kinds of sample. The first consists of approximately 1,000 first citations across suf fixes from the MED, of words chosen from a selection of texts and supplemented from the MED. The findings from these are summarised in Chapter 8. In Chapter 9 I compared these findings with the later use of words in these suf fixes (that is, many of the same ME words with others, plus later formations) in selected texts by Shakespeare. 10.2. Morphophonological restrictions In assessing the role played by semantics in suf fix choice, it will be necessary first to consider possible morphophonological restrictions on the forma- tion of words in these suf fixes. 256 Chapter 10 10.2.1. Category Three of the suf fixes, -ment, -ance/-ence and -ation, form nouns principally on verb bases; even opaque or unanalysable nouns such as...

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