Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Bases of Derivation of Old English Affixed Nouns: Status and Category

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Bases of Derivation of Old English Affixed Nouns: Status and Category

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The aim of this journal article is to carry out a complete analysis of the category, status and patterns of the bases of derivation of Old English affixal nouns. The results of the analysis are discussed in the light of the evolution from stem-formation to word-formation. The corpus of analysis of this research is based on data retrieved from the lexical database of Old English Nerthus, which contains 30170 predicates. 16694 out of these are nouns, of which 4115 are basic and 12579 qualify as non-basic. Within non-basic nouns there are 3488 affixed nouns (351 by prefixation and 3137 by suffixation) and 9091 compound nouns. The line of argumentation is that, under certain circumstances, the existence of more than one base available for the formation of a derivative does not reinforce the explanation of invariable bases; on the contrary, it goes in the direction of variable bases produced by inflectional processes and made ready for derivation. The following conclusions are reached. In the first place, the importance is underlined of formations on stems in Old English, involving, at least, nouns. Secondly, the analysis evidences that the importance of stem-formation in Old English might be higher than has been acknowledged by previous studies. If Old English made extensive use of words as bases of derivation, a single base should be available; if, on the contrary, Old English is still dependent on stem-formation, more than one base is likely to be found for a single derivative. Such alternative bases of derivation reflect stemformation that may result from inflectional means and be eventually used for derivational purposes.

1. Introduction

The derivational morphology of Old English is not only generalized but also fairly regular and predictable, as has been put forward by Kastovsky (1992) and Lass (1994). (2) As for the generalization of Old English derivation, it can be largely attributed to the recursive character of the system (Martin Arista forthcoming a, b), which often inputs derived bases to morphological processes of word-formation. Regarding the regularity and predictability of derivations, the system is mainly gradual (affixes are attached in a stepwise manner, in such a way that the insertion of an affix requires the attachment of the previous one) and clusters around strong verbs and their derivatives, which represent a significant part of the lexicon (Hinderling 1967; Seebold 1970; Kastovsky 1992; Martin Arista forthcoming c). (3)

In spite of the overall transparency of the system, some authors have insisted on the difficulty of identifying the bases of some derivatives. Thus, Karre (1915: 11) states: "Often ... suffixes pass over from forming desubstantive agent nouns to forming derivative, there existing or arising cases where the derived word permits of a double interpretation: as a formation from a substantive or as a formation from a verb generally derived from that very substantive".

Kastovsky (1986: 243) insists on the same idea: "[-ing was-EGT] originally a denominai suffix, it was extended to deverbal derivation via nouns like leasing, flyming, where there was a verb (leasian, flieman), which was in turn derived from a noun (leas, fleam), thus allowing a dual connection".

Although these authors have already pointed out possible ambiguities when establishing the bases of some derivational processes producing nouns in Old English, their analyses are partial or their theoretical framework is outdated and these ambiguities are treated as mere exceptions. This work aims at filling this gap by carrying out a complete analysis of the category, status and patterns of the bases of derivation of Old English affixal nouns. The results of the analysis are discussed in the light of the evolution from stem-formation to word- formation identified by Kastovsky (1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 2005, 2006) and Lass (1994). Although I concur with these authors on the fact that the change is complete by the end of the Old English period, this article explores the synchronic variation associated with diachronic change from the perspective of the bases of derivation. …

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