[Lingtyp] Analyzability and compositionality

Bohnemeyer, Juergen jb77 at buffalo.edu
Mon Dec 30 18:33:26 EST 2019


Dear Ian — I’m familiar with ‘compositionality’ solely as a semantic term, in the sense of the Principle of Compositionality, also known as the Fregean Principle. In this sense, an expression is semantically compositional if its meaning is fully predictable based on the meanings of its constituents and the construction that combines them. In this sense, _tabletop_ is *not* fully compositional if one assumes that _tabletop_ and _laptop_ have the same structure, since _tabletop_ has a possessive semantics and _laptop_ does not (or rather, it does etymologically, but in addition applies metonymy, since it designates an object characterized by its being designed to be used on top of a person’s lap - but again, that’s really just etymology). There are other ways of analyzing this: one could argue that the two items are licensed by distinct nominal compound constructions (implausible, since the semantic derivation of _laptop_ seems very ad hoc), or that they are licensed by a single construction whose meaning is heavily underspecified - but then one might want to argue that an expression being integrated by a semantically vague construction is just a special case of reduced compositionality. 

To return to your question, ‘analyzability’ is not used as a term in the semantic literature, and so to that extent, the two terms are not interchangeable. But there may be other uses of ‘compositionality’ that I’m not aware of and that are interchangeable with ‘analyzability’.

HTH! — Juergen

> On Dec 30, 2019, at 5:59 PM, joo at shh.mpg.de wrote:
> 
> Dear all,
> 
> I would like to know if the terms analyzability and compositionality are used interchangeably, and if so to what extent.
> In other words, I would like to know if there is any consensus on how to use these terms differently, or are they just synonyms.
> Example: The word “tabletop” is fully compositional/analyzable, and the word “laptop” less so (Langacker 2008).
> My impression is that analyzability is used mostly for lexemes whereas compositionality is used mostly for phrases, but there seems to be no clear boundary.
> I would appreciate any opinion on this.
> 
> From Jena,
> Ian
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Juergen Bohnemeyer (He/Him)
Professor and Director of Graduate Studies 
Department of Linguistics and Center for Cognitive Science 
University at Buffalo 

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