Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Kognitive Sprachforschung

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Cognitive Approaches to Word Formation

From a cognitive point of view, the formation of new words with already existing linguistic material can be considered as a highly creative and innovative act on the part of the producer: with reference to patterns of existing (more or less established) word-formation units and processes, new system- or normconforming linguistic units are created, which either reach the stage of lexicalization (e.g. recycelbar) or remain occasional single formations (e.g. unkaputtbar).

According to the way of formation and criterial correspondences, the research on word- formation traditionally assumes an established stock of word-formation processes (compoun-ding, derivation, conversion, shortening) and units (e.g. affixes, combining forms, words). Examples, which cannot be integrated into these categories, but reveal similarities with re-spect to certain characteristics (e.g. semi-affixes) respectively formation processes (e.g. redu-plication, back-formation, compounding yielding synthetic compounds), are thus integrated into separated categories (cf., for example, Fleischer/Barz 21995, Henzen 1965).

Recent approaches (cf., for example, Donalies 22005) radically question these classifi-cation attempts by levelling the mentioned intermediate and special categories and consid-ering the examples as representatives of the 'established' word-formation units (e.g. alleged semi-suffixes as suffixes or constituents of compounds) and processes (e.g. reduplication and back-formation as compounding resp. explicit derivation).

Although this "clear-out attempt" undoubtedly constitutes a necessary scientific-theoretical venture, one must criticize that intracategorical differences (e.g. within the types of com-pounding or shortening) remain just as unconsidered as intercategorical similarities, diffe-rences and transitions (e.g. the grammaticalization of compound constituents to affixes).

At the same time, these classifications can be described as theoretical constructs, which are determined by a far-reaching neglect of the specific language usage.

Assuming this polarity in the formation of categories with respect to word-formation research, the section wants to pursue questions of categorization of word-formation units and processes under cognitive aspects. Among others, contributions are welcome which deal with the fol-lowing questions and topics:

  • How is the mental lexicon structured (which levels can be distinguished)?
  • Which cognitive processes are involved in the formation (producer perspective) and/     or reception (recipient perspective) of new resp. already existing secondary words? Is it possible to draw conclusions for the formation and structure of categories?
  • What is the potential of (more recent) cognitive theories (e.g. the prototype theory, cf. Mangasser-Wahl 2000) for the categorization of word-formation units and processes? Which exploration modes are necessary for this?
  • Do researches on the acquisition of the vocabulary and word-formation patterns point to cognitive formation of categories?
  • What evidences can be got by aphasics?
  • Are there socio-pragmatic differences with respect to categorizations? What role do sociological variables (e.g. age, gender, origin) and contextual factors play?
  • Can a singular categorization postulate be justified for a language or must be assumed plural  (perhaps coexistent) categorization patterns (i.e. dependent on certain varieties?)
  • Can diachronic changes be discovered?


Literature (selected)

  • Donalies, Elke (2005): Die Wortbildung des Deutschen. Ein Überblick. 2., überarbeitete Auflage. Tübingen: Narr ( = Studien zur deutschen Sprache, Bd. 27).
  • Fleischer, Wolfgang/ Barz, Irmhild (1995): Wortbildung der deutschen Gegenwartssprache.    Unter Mitarbeit von Marianne Schröder. 2., durchgesehene und ergänzte Auflage. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  • Henzen, Walter (1965): Deutsche Wortbildung. 3., durchgesehene und ergänzte Auflage. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  • Mangasser-Wahl, Martina (2000): Von der Prototypentheorie zur empirischen Semantik. Dargestellt am Beispiel von Frauenkategorisierungen. Frankfurt am Main et al.: Lang (= Arbeiten zu Diskurs und Stil, Bd. 6).
  • Marchand, Hans (1969): The Categories and Types of Present-Day English Word-Formation. A Synchronic-Diachronic Approach. Second edition. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz