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Back-formation is the derivation of new words (mostly verbs) by means of subtracting a suffix or other element resembling it: butle < butler, combust < combustion, greed < greedy, lase < laser, luminisce < luminiscent, sculpt < sculptor, etc.

The earliest examples of this type of word-building are the verb to beg (made from the French borrowing beggar), to burgle from burglar, to cobble from cobbler. In all these cases the verb was made from the noun by subtracting what was mistakenly associated with the English suffix -er (to work - worker). It was taken for granted that any noun denoting profession or occupation is certain to have a corresponding verb of the same root. So, in the case of the verbs to beg, to burgle, to cobble the process was reversed: instead of a noun made from a verb by affixation (as in painter from to paint), a verb was produced from a noun by subtraction. That is why this type of word-building received the name of back-formation or reversion.

Later examples of back-formation are to butle from butler, to baby-sit from baby-sitter, to force-land from forced landing, to blood-transfuse from blood-transfusion, to fingerprint from finger printings, to straphang from straphanger.

Blending is the formation of new lexical units by means of merging fragments of words into one new word, or combining the elements of one word with notional word, e.g.: smog (smoke + fog), radiotrician (radio + electrician), drum (drinks + lunch), cinemagnate (cinema + magnate), etc.


Several nouns and words of Romanic origin have a distinctive stress pattern. Such nouns, as a rule, are forestressed, and verbs have a stress on the second syllable, e.g.; 'accent (n.) :: ac'cent (v.), 'contest (n.) :: 'con'tcst (v.), 'record (n.):: rc'cord (v.). 'attribute (n.):: att'ribute (v.), etc.

The same distinctive stress pattern is observed in some pairs of adjectives and verbs, e.g.: 'absent (a.):: ab'sent (v.). 'abstract (a.):: ab'stract (v.), 'frequent (a.):: fre'quent (v.), etc.

Words belonging to different parts of speech may be differentiated due to the sound interchange in the root, e.g.: food (n.):: feed (v.), gold (n.):: gild (v.), strong (a.):: strength (n.), etc.

Sound-imitative (onomatopoeic) words are made by imitating different kinds of sounds that may be produced by animals, birds, insects, human beings and inanimate objects, e.g.: babble, bang, buzz, crash, giggle, hiss, moo, purr, rustle, etc.

It is of some interest that sounds, produced by the same kind of animal, are frequently represented by quite different sound groups in different languages. For instance, English dogs bark (cf. the R. лаять) or howl (cf. the R. выть). The English cock cries cock-a-doodle-doo (cf. the R. Ky-Ka-pe-кy). In England ducks quack and frogs croak (cf. the R. крякать said about ducks and квакать said about frogs). It is only English and Russian catsб who seem capable of mutual understanding when they meet, for English cats mew or miaow (meow). The same can be said about cows: they moo (but also mow).

Some names of animals and especially of birds and insects are also produced by sound-imitation: crow, cuckoo, humming-bird, whip-poor-will, cricket.

The following desperate letter contains a great number of sound-imitation words reproducing sounds made by modern machinery:

The Baltimore & Ohio R. R. Co.,

Pittsburg, Pa.


Why is it that your switch engine has to ding and fizz and spit and pant and grate and grind and puff and bump and chug and hoot and toot and whistle and wheeze and howl and clang and growl and thump and clash and boom and jolt and screech and snarl and snort and slam and throb and soar and rattle and hiss and yell and smoke and shriek all night long when I come home from a hard day at the boiler works and have to keep the dog quiet and the baby quiet so my wife can squawk at me for snoring in my sleep?


(FromLanguage and Humour by G. G. Pocheptsov.)

There is a hypothesis that sound-imitation as a way of word-formation should be viewed as something much wider than just the production of words by the imitation of purely acoustic phenomena. Some scholars suggest that words may imitate through their sound form certain unacoustic features and qualities of inanimate objects, actions and processes or that the meaning of the word can be regarded as the immediate relation of the sound group to the object. If a young chicken or kitten is described as fluffy there seems to be something in the sound of the adjective that conveys the softness and the downy quality of its plumage or its fur. Such verbs as to glance, to glide, to slide, to slip are supposed to convey by their very sound the nature of the smooth, easy movement over a slippery surface. The sound form of the words shimmer, glimmer, glitter seems to reproduce the wavering, tremulous nature of the faint light. The sound of the verbs to rush, to dash, to flash may be said to reflect the brevity, swiftness and energetic nature of their corresponding actions. The word thrill has something in the quality of its sound that very aptly conveys the tremulous, tingling sensation it expresses.

LEXICALIZATION OF THE PLURAL OF NOUNSThere are cases when the grammatical form of the plural of nouns becomes isolated from the paradigm and acquires a new lexical meaning. This leads to appearance of new lexical units, cf.: look "погляд" :: looks "зовнішність".

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