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A Web of New Words

A Corpus-Based Study of the Conventionalization Process of English Neologisms


Daphné Kerremans

This book presents the first large-scale usage-based investigation of the conventionalization process of English neologisms in the online speech community. The study answers the longstanding question of how and why some neologisms become part of the English lexicon and others do not. It strings together findings and assumptions from lexicological, sociolinguistic and cognitive research and supplements the existing theories with novel data-driven insights. For this purpose a webcrawler was developed, which extracted the occurrences of the neologisms under consideration from the Internet in monthly intervals. The book shows that the different courses conventionalization processes may take result from the interplay between speaker-based sociopragmatic accommodation-induced aspects and factors facilitating cognitive processing of novel linguistic material.
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4. The conventionalization process of English neologisms


4.1. The conventionalization continuum

As mentioned in 2.3, the conventionalization process is best conceived of as a continuum ranging from non-conventionalized to topically established lexical items to lexical items that are progressing towards advanced conventionalization. These distinct stages require evidence from long-term monitoring, possibly over the course of a decade or longer. The assignment of the neologisms to various diachronic stages or synchronic statuses along the continuum are thus based on the empirical evidence available in January 2011, when the NeoCrawler retrieved the last results to be included in the present investigation. Some of the English neologisms presented in 4.1.1 and 4.1.2 might yet advance to further stages of conventionalization after their extended period of non-activity that justifies the present classification as non-conventionalized (4.1.1) or topically conventionalized (4.1.2). Similarly, new words that are treated as progressively conventionalized in 4.1.3 and 4.1.4 can become deconventionalized in the future.

4.1.1. Non-conventionialization

The most conspicuous candidates for the non-conventionalization stage a) do not occur frequently in objectlinguistic usage, b) do not occur in more than two types of source and c) do not occur in more than two fields of discourse. Before going into detail on the quantitative operationalization of non-conventionalization, it is necessary to emphasize that like many linguistic and extralinguistic concepts the notion of (non-)conventionalization is essentially prototypical. Hence, the three criteria will not be present for all non-conventionalized neologisms or lexical units to the same degree, nor was the frequency threshold...

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