The expression ‘word-formation’ or ‘word-making’ or ‘word-building’ means the process of creating or forming words out of sequences of morphemes or words. In English, word-formation has got a great importance, because the resources of this language have been enriched by this phenomenon as well as by borrowings from various other languages. New words have continued to be made from old ones, and have thus added to the existing store of words or vocables.
Various processes of word-making have been at work in English, the chief of which are—
i. Compounding or Composition
iii. Conversion, or Functional shift
iv. Reduction, Subtraction, or Shortening
v. Making of Abbreviations and Acronyms
vii. Making of Proper Names from the Common ones
x. Coinage, and Root-creation
Given below is a discussion of these processes:
(i) Compounding or composition
Words that cannot be rendered into a simpler form, are termed ‘simple’ or ‘primary’ words or roots. Boy, eat, fit, sad and log are some such words.
When a word or vocable is formed by joining two or more words or vocables, each of which may be used separately as well, it is called a compound word. Holiday (holy+day), breakthrough (break+through), bedroom (bed+room), dotpen (dot+pen) and necktie (neck+tie) are some examples of compound words.
Often, compounds are made up of more than two words; e.g. man-of-war, son-in-law, none-the-less, gnard-of-honour, etc.
Except the articles, all the parts of speech (word-classes) can be used to make compounds; e.g. blacksmith (Adj+N.) homesick (N+Adj.), yourself (Pro.+N.), undergo (Adv.+Vb.), upon (Prepo.+Prepo.), outcome (Prepo.+Vb.).
Compound words are of two kinds:
(a) Unrelated or Juxtapositional Compounds are those that are formed by joining simple words having no grammatical relations between them; e.g. time-piece, stepping-stone, brainwash, stone-deaf.
(b) Related or Syntactical Compounds are those wherein the words composing or joining them have some grammatical relationship between them; e.g. broad-based, wood-work, breakfast, turncoat, etc.
English has derived the principles of word-formation from the primitive Indo-Germanic languages. “In those kinds of compounds that most frequently occur”, remarks Henry Bradley, “the last element expresses a general meaning, which the prefixed element renders less general. Thus an apple-tree is a tree, but only a particular kind of tree. In the original Indo-Germanic language the prefixed element in a compound of this sort was not, properly speaking, a word, but a word-stem : that is to say, a word deprived of those grammatical characters—case, number, gender, mood, tense, person, etc., which it would possess if it occurred separately in a sentence. It has still this character, so far as meaning is concerned, in those English compounds that are formed on the inherited pattern” (The Making of English, p. 112). According to Nelson Francis, “Compounding has been a source of new words in English since the earliest times, and is particularly common in present-day English.” (The English Language, p. 153)
Compounding or composition implies the joining of two words both of which can be used separately too, to form a new word. However, in case where only one of the components of a compound word can be used separately, and the other cannot be so used, the process involved in forming such a compound is called derivation.
In derivation, the element in a compound, which can be used separately, is the base, and the element which cannot be so used, is called an affix—prefix if it precedes the base-word, and suffix if it follows the base-word. Thus, in the compound word ‘unkindness’ ‘kind’ is the base, ‘un-’ the prefix and ‘-ness’ the suffix; or in “disjoined’, “join’ is the base, ‘dis-’ the prefix and’-ed’ the suffix.
Derivatives can be classified into two groups; mentioned below:
(a) Primary Derivatives are those words that are made out of some root or primary word in whose body some change is made: e.g. ‘stood’ from “stand”, ‘men’ from ‘man’, ‘breech’ from ‘break’, or ‘breath’ from ‘breathe’, and so on.
(b) Secondary Derivatives are prefixes and suffixes that cannot be used separately or detached from the word to which they are affixed, “in- ‘un-’, ‘dis-\ ‘mis-’, ‘re-’ and ‘pre-’ are some of the common prefixes, while ‘-ness’, ‘-less’, ‘-ist’, ‘-er’, ‘-ite\ and ‘-ity” are some of the common suffixes.
As Henry Bradley points out, “Since the close of the Old English period, the vocabulary of our language has been enriched by a multitude of new derivatives formed with the prefixes and suffixes that already existed in Old English; and there can be no doubt that the formation of new words by this means will continue in the future.” (The Making of English, pp. 135-36)
(iii) Conversion or Functional Shift
Conversion is the process under which a word changes its class without changing its form, or in which there is a shift in the function of that word. For example, the word ‘cover’ changes its class from a noun to a verb, and becomes ‘(to) cover’. Or, the noun ‘evil’ comes to act as an adjective, as in ‘evil deed’. As has been observed by Nelson Francis, “Since the late Middle English period, when most of the inflections surviving from Old English finally disappeared, it has been easy to shift a word from one part of speech to another without altering its form at least in the unmarked base form” (The English Language, p. 156). The verbs like ‘laugh’, “walk’, ‘sleep’, ‘touch’, etc., or the adjectives like ’round’, ‘deep’ and ‘wrong’ can change their class and become nouns without changing their form.
Conversion can be of two kinds: (i) Complete, and (ii) Partial.
(i) In the category of Complete Conversion we have the conversion of words in which the converted word has completely become a member of another class or part of speech, adopting the adjuncts and endings proper to that class, and ceased to belong to its original class. Thus, when the adjective ‘fast’ is used as a verb, it can take on any of the forms and functions of a verb, but cannot take on those of an adjective any more; i.e. it can be used with the endings (-s), (-ed) or (-ing) of a verb (as in ‘fasts’, ‘fasted’ and ‘fasting’), but not (-er) or (-est) of an adjective (as in ‘faster’, and ‘fastest’).
(ii) In the category of Partial Conversion, the converted word acquires certain characteristics of the other word-class, and continues to belong simultaneously to two classes. In the compound ‘child-birth’, for example, the word ‘child’ which is originally a noun, continues to function as a noun besides functioning as an adjective qualifying ‘birth’. But it cannot take the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives to become ‘childer’ and ‘childest’.
(iv) Reduction or Subtraction or Shortening
Besides the addition of something to an old word, or joining two words together, to make a new word, there is another process of word-formation, which is called reduction or subtraction or taking away something from the old word, and make a shorter or base word. This process is the opposite of that of derivation or compounding.
There are two categories of this process, viz. (i) Back-Formation and (ii) Clipping.
Back-Formal ion implies the use of analogy to bring about a sort of reversal of the process of derivation, to make a new word. Thus, the words ‘henpeck’, ‘televise’, ‘enthuse’, ‘burgle’ and ‘sunburn’ are made by reducing or subtracting a part of the original words ‘henpecked’, ‘television’, ‘enthusiasm’, ‘burglar’ and ‘sunburnt’ respectively even though the converted words may not have existed originally in English. Similarly, the words like ‘book-keep’, ‘house-keep’, and ‘typewrite’ are formed by reducing ‘book-keeping’, ‘house-keeping’ and ‘type-writing’. Some of the oldest examples of back-formations are, as Otto Jesperson points out, “/o backbite (1300), to partake (partake, 16th c), to soothsay and conycatch (Shakesp.)” (Growth and Structure of the English Language, p. 165).
In the process of Clipping, a word is informally shortened so as usually to become a monosyllabic word. For example, ‘influenza’ is changed into ‘flu’, ‘advertisement’ to ‘ad’, ‘gentlemen’ to ‘gents’, ‘examinations’ to ‘exams’, laboratories, to ‘labs’ ‘mathematics’ to ‘maths’ ‘telephone’ to ‘phone’, ‘bicycle’ to ‘bike’, ‘Missis’ or ‘Mistress’ to ‘Miss’, and ‘public house’ to ‘pub’.
(v) Abbreviations and Acronyms
Making of acronyms and abbreviations is an extreme form of clipping. In it, new words are formed from the initial letters of some old words, lo as to form a name; e.g. NATO, SEATO, RADAR, TV, TNT, DDT, P.M., etc. In these words, we pronounce only the syllabic names of the letters of the abbreviation. For example, TV is pronounced as/ti: vi:/ and TNT as/ti:en ti:/.
But when there is a combination of letters of an abbreviated phrase, which can be pronounced, we have an example of acronym which means a word whose spelling represents the initial letters of a phrase.
When different letters of an abbreviated form are pronounced separately, we have alphabetism, but when a whole cluster of letters is pronounced as one word, we have acronymism. Thus, NATO, RADAR and UNESCO are examples of acronyms, whereas A.M., P.M., M.D., C.J. and B.A. are examples of Alphabetism.
In this process we make a type of compounds in which both elements or components are same or only slightly different. ‘Tom-tom’, ‘dilly-dally’, ‘goody-goody’, ‘wishy-washy’ and ‘pooh-pooh’ are some examples of such compounds.
(vii) Making Proper Names from Common Ones
New words are also formed when individual names are given to various persons, places, animals, gods, etc. Each of these names signifies a particular person or place, etc. However, sometimes some common names of an occupation are given to particular persons, such as Smith, Taylor and Clark, or some adjectives are used as proper names, such as Brown, Wild and Bright. Often the names of some products are derived from the names of the places where these products abound or come from; e.g. ‘Calico’ from ‘Calcutta’ or ‘Calicut’ and ‘gin from ‘Geneva’.
This process involves the merging of two words into each other, thus leading to the formation of a new word. For example, ‘breakfast’ and ‘ lunch’ merge to form the word ‘brunch’, ‘teleprinter’ and ‘exchange’ to form ‘telex’, ‘slovenly’ and ‘language’ to form ‘slang’, and ‘export’ and ‘import’ to form ‘exim’. “Blending is”, remarks Nelson Francis, “a combination of clipping and compounding, which makes new words by putting together fragments of existing words in new combinations. It differs from derivation in that the elements thus combined are not morphemes at the time the blends are made, though they may become so afterward as a result of the blending process, especially if several blends are made with the same element and the phenomenon of false analog}’ is present.” (The English Language, p. 162).
Some new words are formed through attempts at the imitation of natural sounds. For examples, the imitation of the sound produced by animals like dogs, cats, sheep and cows lead to the formation of words like ‘bow-wow’, ‘meow’, ‘baa’ and ‘moo’.
(x) Coinage and Root-Creation
Sometimes, newly formed words have no etymology, and their origins are not known. They are not taken from Old English or a foreign language; nor are they formed by any of the processes of word-formation mentioned above. Such words are coined as and when the need arises. These words exemplify the process of root-creation. ‘Quiz’, ‘fun’, and ‘pun’ are a few of such words whose origin and source are unknown. According to Henry Bradley, “There are also many words which were neither inherited from Old English, nor adopted from any foreign language, nor formed by any process of composition or derivation. It is to instances of this kind that the name ‘root-creation’ may be fitly applied” (The Making o)’English, p. 154).
Onomatopoeia is a prominent form of root-creation. In it, the sound of a word echoes its sense and also suggests its name. The name thus suggested is a coinage, examples of this are ‘twitter’, ‘bang’, ‘whiz’, ‘mew’, ‘buz’, and so on.
These are the various process of word-formation, and the chief of them are compounding or composition, derivation and conversion.