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  • Meaning predictability in word formation
  • Christina L. Gagné
Meaning predictability in word formation. By Pavol S.Tekauer. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005. Pp. 289. ISBN 1588116336. $180 (Hb).

People frequently create new words (e.g. blog and anthraxist) or use existing words in new ways (e.g. using porch as a verb to refer to the process of throwing something onto someone's porch). A challenging problem for researchers is to explain how words are formed. Pavol Štekauer has written extensively on the topic of word formation, and his ideas on this issue have been published in numerous articles and books (thirteen of which are cited in the current volume). Š points out that word-formation processes are highly productive; indeed, they are as productive as syntactic processes are in the formation of sentences and other utterances. In the current volume, Š tackles the problem of meaning prediction for novel words (or naming units). He presents and tests a general theory of meaning prediction that is intended to apply to compounds as well as other forms of word formation such as conversion.

The overriding framework behind this work is that the process of word interpretation cannot be viewed in isolation from word formation. Š uses an onomasiological model of word formation as a starting point for his theory of word interpretation. Onomasiology is a branch of lexicology that is concerned with the question of how concepts (i.e. ideas, objects, activities, etc.) are expressed. For example, it asks: what are the naming units for X? This contrasts with semasiology, which starts with the naming unit and tries to determine its meaning (e.g. what is the meaning of X?). Š's framework incorporates three fundamental factors: (i) an object's extralinguistic relation, (ii) conceptual information about an object, and (iii) linguistic factors.

After an introductory preface in which Š outlines the structure of the book and introduces the issue of meaning predictability, the book begins with a literature survey (Ch. 1, 1–39) that provides a brief overview of research by linguists, psycholinguists, and cognitive psychologists. The discussion of the literature is divided into two topics: morphological tradition and basic psycholinguistic models. The psycholinguistic models are further subdivided into slot-filling models, relation models, analogy-based models, and combined models. After reviewing the various viewpoints and models, Š outlines several important issues that either have not been addressed by past research or have been answered insufficiently. The chapter ends with the conclusion that word-formation and word-identification processes are closely interrelated, and as a result any viable theory of meaning predictability must take into account word formation.

Before introducing his own theory, Š describes a general word-formation framework (Ch. 2, 43–54). This chapter is especially important in developing his argument because it provides an overview of an onomasiological theory of word formation that is the theoretical basis for the research presented in the current volume. The aim of Š's onomasiological theory is to use a single common mechanism to describe all productive word-formation processes. This theory views the cognitive capacity of the coiner (i.e. the producer of a new word) as playing an active role in the process, and in general the theory emphasizes the role of the object to be named (extralinguistic reality), the speech community, and cognitive factors, which include a lexical component and a word-formation component. A key idea underlying this theory is that the object to be named is viewed in relation to existing objects and that these relationships must be taken into consideration during the naming process. Consequently, the theory stresses the interaction between linguistic and extralinguistic factors. [End Page 661]

The onomasiological theory of word formation includes seven levels: extralinguistic reality, speech community, conceptual level, semantic level, onomasiological level, onomatological level, and phonological level. Each of these levels is described in the chapter with the most emphasis placed on the onomasiological level, the central level of the model. Onomasiological categories are conceptual structures that are used to associate what is traditionally called the 'word level' with the semantic level. Items to be named are typically identified with a conceptual class and this class is represented at the onomasiological level. Elements within the onomasiological level...


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