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Abstract Benczes

Creative Productivity, Productive Creativity: The Analysis and Mental Representation of Metaphorical and Metonymical Compounds in English

Traditionally, English noun–noun combinations have been classified into two semantic groups: in the case of endocentric compounds, the construction represents a sub-classification of the entities expressed by the head noun (thus apple tree is an endocentric compound because it is a type of tree). In the case of exocentric or “headless” constructions, however, the compound is not a hyponym of the head element, and in the majority of such cases there is some sort of metaphor or metonymy at work in the meaning of the compound (for example, blue-stocking does not denote a kind of stocking but refers to a well-educated woman). While numerous efforts have been made to systematically analyse endocentric compounds in various theoretical frameworks, metaphorical and metonymical constructions have been very much neglected, because they have been considered as unanalysable, non-transparent phenomena, which are not formed on the basis of productive patterns (e.g. Levi 1978).

However, a detailed analysis of English metaphor- and/or metonymy-based compounds (Benczes 2004, 2005) has shown that such constructions are not unanalysable, nor semantically opaque: in fact, they can be analysed remarkably well within a cognitive linguistic framework – by applying metaphor, metonymy, blending, profile determinacy, schema theory and construal. The study has shown that although metaphorical (and metonymical) compounds are instances of linguistic creativity at its utmost, they are nonetheless grounded in regular, productive patterns, which are based upon which part of the compound is activated by conceptual metaphor and/or metonymy.

From such a statement it follows that semantic transparency is not considered as a property of the entire multimorphemic expression, but is regarded rather as the property of individual constituents. This assumption is in heavy support of the connectionist model to the mental architecture, according to which – as discussed by Libben (2006) and Lamb (1998) – the mind relies on a parallel system in the understanding of combinations, accessing both the individual constituents and the unit as a whole. Libben’s and Lamb’s account is in full agreement with Langacker (1987) on the one hand, who claims that a given compound evokes a semantic network to which neither of the constituents provide direct access, but rather they motivate various aspects of the meaning of the unit as a whole. On the other hand, a connectionist approach also chimes with blending theory, based upon the idea of a conceptual integration network; thereby supporting a complex, deconstructionist analysis of metaphorical and metonymical compounds.



Benczes, R. 2004. Creative Compounding in English. PhD thesis. Budapest: Eötvös Loránd University.

Benczes, R. 2005. Creative Noun–Noun Compounds. Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics 3: 250-268.

Lamb, S. M. 1998. Pathways of the Brain. The Neurocognitive Basis of Language. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Langacker, R. W. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Volume I: Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Levi, J. N. 1978. The Syntax and Semantics of Complex Nominals. New York, etc.: Academic Press.

Libben, G. 2006. Why Study Compound Processing? An overview of the issues. In: Gary Libben and Gonia Jarema (eds.), The Representation and Processing of Compound Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-22.