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Word-Formation in Old English

In OE the vocabulary mainly grew by means of word-formation. The words fell into 3 main types:

· simple words (root-words) – a word consisting of a root-morpheme with no derivational suffixes (e.g. OE ζōd (good), land (land), dæζ (day), etc.);

· derived words – a word consisting of a root-morpheme + 1 or more then one affix (e.g. OE be-ζinnan (begin), ζe-met-inζ (meeting), etc.);

· compound words – a word consisting of more then one root-morpheme (e.g. OE mann-cynn (mankind), fēower-tīene (fourteen), etc.).

Ways of Word-Formation


· sound interchange – was employed frequently, but never alone (usually was accompanied by suffixation). Sources of sound-interchange:

- ablaut (OE rīdan (V) – rād (N) = NE ride (V) – raid (N); OE sinζan (V) – sonζ (N) = NE sing (V) – song (N), etc.);

- palatal mutation:

o verbs from nouns (doom à deem; food à feed, etc.);

o verbs from adjectives (full à fill; healthy à heal, etc.);

o nouns from adjectives (long à length; strong à strength, etc.);

- consonantal interchanges (death – dead; rise – rear, etc.).

· word stress – was not frequent; it helped to differentiate between parts of speech and was used together with other means (e.g. OE ‘andswaru (N answer) – and’swarian (V answer);

· prefixation – was a productive way (unlike in ModE):

- IE prefixes (OE un- (negative));

- Germanic prefixes (OE mis-, be-, ofer-(over-));

- prefixes were widely used with verbs, but were far less productive with the other parts of speech (e.g. OE ζān (to go) – ā-ζān (to go away) – be-ζān (to go round) – fore-ζān (to precede), etc.);

- prefixes often modified lexical meaning (e.g. OE siþ (journey) – for-siþ (death));

- there were grammatical prefixes, e.g ζe-:

o was used to build Participle 2 of strong verbs (e.g. OE sitten (to sit) – ζesett (sat), etc.);

o turned durative verbs into terminative (e.g. OE feran (to go) – ζeferan (to reach), etc.).

· suffixation – was the most productive way, mostly applied to nouns and adjectives, seldom to verbs.

Classification of OE suffixes:

1. Suffixes of agent nouns (-end (OE frēond (friend)), -ere (OE fiscere (fisher)), -estre (feminine) (OE bæcestre (female baker)), etc.);

2. Suffixes of abstract nouns (-t (OE siht (sight)), -þu (OE lengþu (length)), -nes/nis (OE beorhtnes (brightness), blindnis (blindness)), -unζ/inζ (OE earnunζ (earning)), etc.);

3. Adjectival suffixes (-iζ (OE hāliζ (holy)), -isc (OE mannisc (human)), -ede (OE hōcede (hooked)), -sum (OE lanζsum (lasting)) etc.);

4. New suffixes derived from noun root-morphemes (-dōm (OE frēodōm (freedom)), -hād (OE cīldhād (childhood)), -lāc (OE wedlāc (wedlock)), -scipe (OE frēondscipe (frendship)), etc.);

5. New suffixes derived from adjective root-morphemes (-lic (OE woruldlic (worldly)), -full (OE carfull (careful)), -lēas (OE slǽplēas (sleepless)), etc.).



Word-composition – a combination of 2 ore more root-morphemes – was a highly productive way of word-formation. The main patterns were:

· N + N à N (the most frequent) (e.g. OE ζimm-stān (gemstone), OE mann-cynn (mankind));

· syntactical compounds à N (e.g. OE dæζes-ēaζe (literally “day’s eye” = NE daisy));

· Adj + N à Adj (so-called bahuvrihi type) (e.g. OE mild-heort (literally “mild heort” = NE merciful), OE ān-ēaζe (literally “one eye” = NE one-eyed));

· N + Adj à Adj (e.g. OE dōm-ζeorn (eager for glory), OE mōd-ceariζ (sorrowful));

· V + N à N (very rare) (e.g. OE bæc-hūs (baking-house)).

Word composition was often accompanied by other ways of word formation mentioned above (e.g. OE þēaw-fæst-nes (þēaw = “custom” N, fæst = “firm” N, nes = “-ness” suffix)) = NE discipline).



According to their morphological structure OE words (like modern words) fell into three main types:

a) simple words (root-words') or words with a simple stem, contain­ing a root-morpheme and no derivational affixes

b) derived words consisting of one root-morpheme and one or more affixes,

c) compound words, whose stems were made up of more than one root-morpheme,).

The loss of stem-suffixes as means of word derivation stimulated the growth of other means of word-format ion, especially the growth of suffixation.

Ways of Word-Formation

In OE there existed a system of word-formation of a com­plexity similar to that of Mod E. One of the most striking examples of OE potentials of OE word-formation was the ability of a single root to appear in a store of simple, derived and compound words. Many derivational affixes appear to have been very productive as they occurred in numerous words: wip- a prefix in more than fifty words, ofer- in over a hundred words.

OE employed two ways of word-format ion: derivation and word-composition.


Derived words in OE were built with the help of affixes; prefixes and suffixes; in addition to these principal means of derivation, words were distinguished with the help of sound interchanges and word stress.

Sound Interchanges

Sound interchanges in the roots of related words were fre­quent, and nevertheless they were used merely as an additional feature which helped to distinguish between words built from the same root. Sound interchanges were never used alone; they were combined with suffixation as the main word-building means and in many cases arose as a result of suffixation.

Vowel gradation was used in OE as a distinctive feature between verbs and nouns and also between verbs derived from a single root. The gradation series were similar to those employed in the strong verbs:

Many vowel interchanges arose due to palatal mutation; the element i/j in the derivational suffix caused the mutation of the root-vowel.

Word Stress

The rote of word accentuation in OE word-building was not great. Like sound interchanges, the shifting of word stress helped to differentiate between some parts of speech being used together with other means. The verb had unaccented prefixes while the corresponding nouns had stressed prefixes, so that the position of stress served as an additional distinctive feature between them,

A most important feature of OE suffixation is the growth of new suffixes from root-morphemes. The second components of com­pound words turned into suffixes and the words were accordingly trans­formed from compound to derived. As compared with the same morphemes used as roots, the suffixes had a different — usually a more genera! — meaning.


Word composition was a highly productive way of developing the vocabulary in ÎE. This method of word-formation was common to all IE languages but in none of the groups has it become as widespread as in Germanic. An abundance of compound words, from poetic meta­phors to scientific terms, are found in OE texts.

As in other OG languages, word-composition in OE was more pro­ductive in nominal parts of speech than in verbs.

Compounds are usually divided Into two types: mor­phological or primary compounds and syntactic or secondary. Morphological com­pounds—which must have been the earlier type — were formed by combining two stems, with or without a linking element, Syntactic compounds were a later development; they reproduced the pat­tern of a syntactic group, usually an attributive phrase consisting of a noun In the Gen. case and a head noun: The distinction between the two types can help to determine the origin of the linking element. which may be a remnant of the stem-suffix in a morpho­logical compound or a grammatical inflection — In a syntactical compound. In OE. However, syntactical compounds are rare and the linking vowels in morphological compounds are either reduced and generalised under -c or lacking.

Compound nouns contained various first components — stems of nouns, adjectives and verbs; their second components were nouns.




Date: 2015-12-11; view: 4905

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