[Lingtyp] Analyzability and compositionality

Nigel Vincent nigel.vincent at manchester.ac.uk
Tue Dec 31 02:07:40 EST 2019

I have a discussion of the relation between these two terms in my chapter 'Compositionality and change' in Claire Bowern and Bethwyn Evans (eds) 'The Routledge Handbook of Historical Linguistics', 2015, pp.103-123. It is important to distinguish the two since, as Juergen says, compositionality is exclusively a semantic term while analyzability as defined by Langacker is commonly used to refer to linguistic forms.

Professor Nigel Vincent, FBA MAE
Professor Emeritus of General & Romance Linguistics
The University of Manchester

Linguistics & English Language
School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
The University of Manchester


From: Lingtyp [lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org] on behalf of Bohnemeyer, Juergen [jb77 at buffalo.edu]
Sent: Monday, December 30, 2019 11:33 PM
To: joo at shh.mpg.de
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Analyzability and compositionality

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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