[Lexicog] binominals

John Roberts dr_john_roberts at SIL.ORG
Mon Feb 6 10:05:19 UTC 2006

The article by Y. Malkiel "Studies in irreversible binominals" Lingua 8, 
113-60. (1959) has been reprinted in Y. Malkiel (1968) Essays on Linguistic 
Themes. Oxford: Blackwell. It is available from amazon.co.uk. I also have 
not seen this text. However, there are useful descriptions of English 
irreversable binominals in

Angus Maciver (1983) First Aid in English. Revised Edition. Glasgow: Gibson 
& Sons. p. 29. (called "Doubles")
Angus Maciver (1986) The New First Aid in English. Revised Edition. Glasgow: 
Gibson & Sons. p. 119. (called "Doubles")
Randolph Quirk, et. al. (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of The English 
Language. London: Longman. pp. 971, 1487.
D. A. Cruse (1986) Lexical Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
pp. 39-40, 47.
Howard Jackson (2002) Lexicography. An Introduction. London: Routledge. pp. 
5, 86, 99.

But I do not know of any cross-linguistic comparative study in irreversible 
binominals. Quirk (1985) et. al. say that it has been suggested the order of 
the conjoined words in English binominals is constrained by either (a) 
length of the words (longest last), (b) rhythm (long+short is preferred to 
short+long rhythm), (c) semantic or cultural salience, e.g. father and son, 
this and that, or (d) phonological constraints, e.g. low vowels follow high 
vowels or back vowels follow front vowels. It would be interesting to know 
which of these constraints apply primarily to irreversible binominals across 
a range of languages.

For example, in Amele (Papuan) it would appear to be semantic or cultural 
salience which is the primary constraint for the expression of paired 
antonyms rather than the morphophonological shape of the words:


bagalan sosog=ca          'wide and narrow' (long-short) (front vowel-back 
cecelac gohic=ca           'long and short' (long-short) (front vowel-back 
manahal=fo cufunec=fo   'male or female' (front vowel-back vowel)

dunuh hahagum=ca       'inside and outside' (short-long) (back vowel-front 
hudec menec=ca           'open and closed' (back vowel-front vowel)
lu=fo cahel=fo                'food aplenty or famine' (short-long) (back 
vowel-front vowel)

Where there are different orders between the Amele pairings and the 
equivalent pairings in English, it would also seem to be cultural prominence 
that is the determining factor:

memegeil anagail=ca    'fathers and mothers' (English: mothers and fathers)
maha sao=ca               'earth and sky' (English: heaven and earth)
lili huhu ec                   'to go (go go) and come (come come)' 
(English: come and go)

Amele has head-last syntax compared to English head-first syntax and the 
subordinate clause precedes the main clause in complex sentences. In Amele 
nominal compounds involving nouns the final noun is usually the head of the 
compound. E.g.

jo       nah        'post of a house'
house post

nah  jo            'house of posts'
post house

But the fact that Amele has head-last syntax and head-last nominal compound 
morphology does not affect the ordering of irreversible binominals in the 

How do irreversible binominals work in the language you are documenting?

John Roberts 

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