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CONVERSION




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Productive and Non-Productive Affixes

The word-forming activity of affixes may change in the course of time. This raises the question of productivity of derivational affixes, i.e. the ability of being used to form new, occasional or potential words, which can be readily understood by the language-speakers. Thus, productive affixes are those used to form new words in the period in question.

The most productive prefixes in Modern English are: de- (decontaminate), re- (rethink), pre- (prefabricate), non- (non-operational), un- (unfunny), anti- (antibiotic).

The most productive English suffixes are:

1) noun-forming suffixes: -er (manager), -ing (fighting), -ness (sweetness), -ee (evacuee), -ism (materialism), -ance/-ancy (redundancy), -or (reactor), -ics (cybernetics).

2) adjective-forming suffixes: -able (tolerable), -ic (electronic), -ish (smartish), -ed (learned), -less (jobless), -y (tweedy).

3) verb-forming suffixes: -ize/-ise (vitaminize), -ate (oxidate), -ify (falsify).

4) adverb-forming suffixes: -ly (equally).

Non-productive affixes are the affixes which are not able to form new words in the period in question. Non-productive affixes are recognized as separate morphemes and possess clear-cut semantic characteristics. In some cases,

however, the lexical meaning of a non-productive affix fades off so that only its part-of-speech meaning remains, e.g. the adjective-forming suffix –some (lonesome, loathsome).

Some non-productive English suffixes are:

1) noun-forming suffixes: -th (truth), -hood (sisterhood), -ship (scholarship).

2) adjective-forming suffixes: -ful (peaceful), -ly (sickly), -some (tiresome), -en (golden), -ous (courageous).

3) verb-forming suffixes: -en (strengthen).

The productivity of an affix should not be confused with its frequency of

occurrence. The frequency of occurrence is understood as the existence in the vocabulary of a great number of words containing the affix in question. An affix may occur in hundreds of words, but if it is not used to form new words, it is not productive. For example, the adjective suffix –ful is met in hundreds of adjectives (beautiful, trustful, hopeful, useful), but no new words seem to be built with its help, and so it is non-productive.

 

Conversion is one of the principal ways of forming words in Modern English. It is highly productive in replenishing the English word-stock with new words. Conversion consists on making a new word from some existing word by changing the category of a part of speech; the morphemic shape of the original word remains unchanged, e.g. work – to work, paper – to paper. The new word acquires a meaning, which differs from that of the original one though it can be easily associated with it. The converted word acquires also a new paradigm and a new syntactic function (or functions), which are peculiar to its new category as a part of speech, e.g. garden – to garden. (table, p.88)



Among the main varieties of conversion are: 1) verbalization (the formation of verbs), e.g. to ape (from ape n.); 2) substantivation (the formation of nouns), e.g. a private (from private adj.); 3) adjectivation (the formation of adjectives), e.g. down (adj) (from down adv.); 4) adverbalization (the formation of adverbs), e.g. home (adv.) (from home n.).

The two categories of parts of speech especially affected by conversion are nouns and verbs.

1. Verbs converted from nouns are called denominal verbs. If the noun refers to some object of reality (animate or in animate) the converted verb may denote:

1) action characteristic of the object: ape n. > ape v. “imitate in a foolish

way”;

2) instrumental use of the object: whip n. > whip v. “strike with a whip”;

3) acquisition or addition of the object: fish n. > fish v. “catch or try to catch fish”;

4) deprivation of the object: dust n. > dust v. “remove dust from smth.”;

5) location: pocket n. > pocket v. “put into one’s pocket”.

2. Nouns converted from verbs are called deverbal substantives. If the verb refers to an action, the converted may denote:

1) instance of action: jump v. > jump n. “sudden spring from the ground”;

2) agent of the action: help v. > help n. “a person who helps”;

3) place of the action: drive v. > drive n. “a path or road along which one drives”;

4) result of the action: peel v. > peel n. “the outer skin of fruit potatoes taken off”;

5) object of the action: let v. > let n. “a property available for rent”.

The courses that made conversion so widely spread are to be approached

diachronically.

Nouns and verbs have become identical in form firstly as a result of the loss of endings. When endings had disappeared phonetic development resulted in the merging of sound forms for both elements of these pairs, e.g. carian (v), caru (n) > care (v, n); lufu (n), lufian (v) > love (n, v).

The similar phenomenon can be observed in words borrowed from the French language. In French these words were of the same root but belonged to different parts of speech. In the course of time they lost their affixes and became phonetically identical in the process of assimilation, e.g. crier (v), cri (n) > cry (v, n).

Thus, from the diachronic point of view distinction should be made between homonymous word-pairs, which appeared as a result of the loss of inflections, and those formed by conversion.

 





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