Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

On the Status of Conversion in Present-Day American English: Controversial Issues and Corpus-Based Study (1)

Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

On the Status of Conversion in Present-Day American English: Controversial Issues and Corpus-Based Study (1)

Article excerpt

This paper examines both theoretical and practical issues related to conversion. A quite detailed characterization of the 5329 instances identified in a 300.000-word corpus of American English written in the late 90s is provided. The examples are grouped according to the type of conversion involved. Frequency and the internal structure of words are also considered and compared with the results obtained by earlier scholars. In spite of the limitations that a corpus study imposes, the conclusions obtained seem to suggest that any item, independent of its morphological structure, may undergo conversion and this may happen in any register. Moreover, conversion seems to be an important source of new items in American English nowadays.

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. Definition and Terminological Issues.

Different definitions and/or interpretations of the process that relates word pairs like stone (n)--stone (v), usually known as conversion, can be found in literature. To begin with, Sweet (1891: 38-39) defines conversion as "the use of a word as a different part of speech [which] naturally leads to a divergence of meaning", though it "can hardly be said to make a new word of it". Similar views are those of Anderson (1962: 93), Lee (Pennanen 1971: 18) and Hussey (1995: 71). Unlike these, Lieber (1981: 172-73) speaks of "the derivation of two lexical items which are phonologically identical and semantically related, but which differ only in category". Similarly, Sanders (1988: 156) and Katamba (1993: 54) admit the existence of more than one word. However, the most widely accepted view, or at least that which has apparently received more support, is that arguing for a change or shift from one part of speech to another. Thus, Bally considers conversion, or transposition as he calls it, to be "the process of moving a word into another word class" (Marchand 1967: 330). Adams (1973: 16), Zandvoort (1977: 265), Malkiel (1978: 132), and Asher (1994b: 5081) also follow this line of thought. Note also that Quirk et al. (1985: 1558) speak of a "derivational process whereby an item is adapted or converted to a new class without the addition of an affix".

Finally, two views which explicitly relate the phenomenon to the field of syntax must also be mentioned, namely Leech (1974) and Mel'Cuk (1982). Leech (1974:214) defines conversion as a change in the syntactic function (and usually the meaning) of an item without a corresponding change in morphological form. Likewise, Mel'Cuk (1982: 102) defines conversion as an "elementary sign whose signifiant is a substitution applied to the syntactics of another (segmental) sign".

Apart from conversion, some other terms have also been used. Thus, we see terms such as zero-derivation (among others, Selkirk 1981: 250; and Jensen 1990: 88 who use it almost exclusively), functional change (Krapp in Cannon 1985:412; Quirk-Wrenn and Lee in Marchand 1963: 227; Hill 1949: 59), internal derivation (Malkiel 1978: 132), and even drift (Aronoff 1976: 20) or transposition and transpositional derivation (Marchand 1967:330 and 1969: 229).

1.2. The Justification of Zero-morphemes and other proposals of analysis.

The term zero derivation seems to have emerged from the perception of cases such as cash (n)--cash (v) as parallel or analogous to derivations with overt affixes such as atom (n)--atomize (v) (Marchand 1969: 360; Lieber 1981: 173; Bauer 1988: 31; Lipka 1990: 86). According to the widely supported Overt Analogue Criterion (Adams 1973: 37; Lipka 1990: 86; Copstake and Briscoe 1996: 17):

   one word can be derived from another word of the same form in a
   language (only) if there is a precise analogue in the language
   where the same derivational function is marked in the derived word
   by an overt (nonzero) form. (Sanders 1988: 160)

However, Pennanen (1971), Kastovsky (1978) and Katamba (1993) have denied the value of the zero concept in morphology, qualifying it as "secondary and redundant . …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.