24.4755, Review: Morphology; Semantics; Syntax: Fleischer et al. (2012)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-24-4755. Tue Nov 26 2013. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 24.4755, Review: Morphology; Semantics; Syntax: Fleischer et al. (2012)

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Rajiv Rao, U of Wisconsin Madison
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Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2013 09:53:54
From: Karen Chung [karchung at ntu.edu.tw]
Subject: Wortbildung der deutschen Gegenwartssprache

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-794.html

AUTHOR: Wolfgang  Fleischer
AUTHOR: Irmhild  Barz
TITLE: Wortbildung der deutschen Gegenwartssprache [Word Formation in Contemporary German]
SERIES TITLE: De Gruyter Studium
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University

“Wortbildung” is a tightly organized catalogue, with plentiful examples, of
the ways words are put together in German. It takes as its base Wolfgang
Fleischer’s original 1969 work, which he later revised together with Irmhild
Barz and Marianne Schröder in 1990 and 1992. It was then reworked by just Barz
and Schröder in 2007 and again in 2012, the current edition (pp. v-vii). It is
more or less a German equivalent of English works like Marchand's “The
categories and types of present-day English word formation” (1969), Adams' “An
Introduction to English Word-Formation” (1973), and Bauer's “English
Word-Formation” (1983), but is considerably thicker and denser than the latter
two. It focuses mainly on the written language, but includes colloquialisms as
well. The authors state at the outset that they have consciously chosen not to
propose any formalistic models of word formation (p. v).

The book is organized into five chapters, starting with an overview of the
subject, ('Basic principles and concepts'), followed by one chapter each on
nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs, plus forewords to the fourth and first
editions, a bibliography, word form and subject indexes, and a list of forms
covered in each chapter. Readers interested in the very detailed table of
contents can view it here:

The first chapter, a quarter of the volume, offers an extremely thorough and
detailed treatment of the book’s goals, structure and main topics, including
synchrony and diachrony, different types of word formation, how to draw the
line between morphology and syntax, phonological and orthographic issues, word
creation, borrowing, lexicalization, affixation, combining forms (‘Konfixe’),
blends (‘Kontamination’), productivity, linking elements, compounding and

Chapter 2, on nouns, is the most substantial of the chapters on individual
parts of speech, not surprising considering that nouns account for about
50-60% of the German vocabulary, and play an especially important role in word
formation. Compounds formed from two nouns enjoy almost ''unlimited
productivity'' in German, with adjectives and verbs appearing as the first
member of a compound noun much less frequently. Prefixation of nouns may
express negation (‘Un-’: 'not, un-'), appraisal (‘Fehl-’: 'mis-', ‘Haupt-’:
'main', ‘Ur-’: 'original'), or augmentation (‘Un-’: 'un-' [as in English
‘ungodly’], ‘Erz-’: 'arch-'). Suffixation is used most often to mark
diminutives (‘-chen’, ‘-lein’, ‘-le’, ‘-el’); doer, instrument, gender (‘-er’,
‘-erich’, ‘-ling’, ‘-in’); or a collective notion (‘-schaft’, ‘-heit/keit’,
‘-erei’, ‘-nis’; the prefix ‘Ge-’ is also used for this function pp. 120-126).
Some interesting asymmetries are pointed out: although ‘Anfang’ and ‘Beginn’
('start, beginning') are synonyms, and both may appear as the second element
in compound nouns (‘Arbeitsbeginn’, ‘Arbeitsanfang’ 'beginning of work'), only
‘Anfang’ appears as a first element (‘Anfangsbuchstabe’ 'first letter of the
alphabet'; p. 135). A coupling of two diminutives is not allowed in noun
compounds, e.g. *’Häuschentürchen’ ('little door of a little house') is not an
acceptable form (p. 136). The infamous penchant of German for very long
compounds is said to belong mainly to written and technical language, though
they may appear in everyday usage as well, for example
‘Sonnabendnachmittagsbehaglichkeit’ 'Saturday afternoon comfort' (p. 139).
Some tongue-in-cheek names for certain types of people are listed in the
section on metaphors, e.g. ‘Pechvogel’ (bad-luck + bird) 'schlemazel, unlucky
person', ‘Schmutzfink’ (dirt + finch) 'slob', and ‘Ulknudel’ (humor +
noodle/dumpling) 'joker' (p. 143). There is an interesting class of doublets
which combine a foreign, usually English, loan with a native German synonym,
e.g. ‘Anwendungsapplikation’ (application + ‘application’) 'app' (p. 146).
Acronyms, initialisms, and clipping are examined in considerable detail, and
suggest interesting comparisons with English and other languages.

Adjectives, treated in chapter 3, comprise only about 15% of the German
vocabulary, and there may in fact be only a ''few hundred'' simplex forms;
polymorphic adjectives are mostly ad hoc coinages (pp. 297-8). Neither
blending nor reduplication is common in German adjectives. Some common
adjectival word-final elements are in other contexts free morphemes, e.g.
‘-reich’ ('-rich'), ‘-arm’ ('low-[e.g. fat]'), and ‘-fähig’ ('-capable'),
often making it difficult to draw a clear line between derivation and
compounding. ‘-arm’ is interesting in that it can be either negative or
positive semantically, depending on what it is attached to and the context: in
‘geräuscharme Maschinen’ ('low-noise machines'), it is certainly something
desirable; in ‘ideenarme Diskussion’ ('idea-impoverished discussion') it is
not (p. 305). Metaphorical nouns often function as intensifiers in colorful
adjectival formations. ‘stock-’ 'stick, cane' is used in ‘stocksteif’
'stick-stiff'; its meaning is further extended as a more abstract intensifier
in words such as ‘stockbesoffen’('''stick drunk'', smashed') and ‘stockheiser’
('''stick hoarse'', hoarse as a crow'); further examples include ‘pudelnass’
('wet as a poodle'), the alliterative ‘nagelneu’ ('new as a nail'), and
‘kerngesund’ ('healthy as a kernel'). Vulgar, taboo, and other words with
strong meanings may also be used as intensifiers, e. g. ‘tod-’ ('dead') is
used in ‘todschick’ ('super chic, ''dead chic'''; pp. 310-1).

Also mentioned are contrasting examples of compounds as opposed to phrases, in
which the only difference is an orthographic separation into two words for the
phrase, and in the spoken language, use of compound as opposed to phrasal
stress: ‘FRÜHreif’ 'early bloomer' (as adj.) vs. ‘FRÜH REIF’ 'matured early',
and ‘SCHWERkrank’ 'invalid' (as adj.) vs. ‘SCHWER KRANK’ 'critically ill'
(translations are only approximate and meant to point up the differences in
German; p. 325). There is an interesting contrast between words with the same
stem and largely synonymous prefixes: ‘selbstständig’ (self + standing =
'independent' vs. ‘eigenständig’ (self + standing = 'alone, without outside
help'; p. 328). Conversion is found with certain nouns, often foreign loans,
which are not declined when used adjectivally, e.g. ‘klasse’ 'super' and color
names such as ‘indigo’ and ‘orange’ (p. 358).

Chapter 4 is the shortest -- a mere 12 pages -- treating adverbs, which are in
German and many other languages among the least inflected parts of speech.
Nevertheless, there are numerous patterns of adverb formation worth noting,
including compound adverbs, formed with an adverb plus a preposition
(‘daneben’ 'next to it' and ‘darauf’ 'on it, thereon', the so-called
''prepositional adverbs''), two prepositions (‘inzwischen’ 'meanwhile'), an
adjective plus preposition (‘querdurch’ 'straight through') or a noun plus
preposition (‘tagsüber’ 'during the day'); also many derivations formed with
suffixes like ‘-dings’ (adverb marker suggesting 'thoroughness', e.g.
‘allerdings’ 'admittedly, certainly') and ‘-wärts’ ('in the direction of,
-wards'), e.g. ‘hinterwärts’ 'backwards').

Chapter 5 is again more substantial, as one would expect from a chapter on
German verbs, yet it is considerably shorter than the chapter on nouns. There
are not many verbal suffixes in German; however, few verbs can escape
occurring without either an inseparable prefix (a morphological formation), or
a separable particle (a syntactic formation), though seldom do both occur in
the same verb at the same time (p. 380). This book shines particularly in
making abstract or difficult-to-explain issues clear and explicit, for
example, the semantics of the prefix ‘be-’ (cognate with the English ‘be-’ as
in ‘belabor’, ‘bemoan’; p. 384). Especially enlightening is the section on
‘ver-’, an extremely common verbal prefix which exhibits seemingly
contradictory meanings. The authors impressively succeed in reconciling all
the diverging semantics of ‘ver-’ in the core meaning of 'the completion of an
event' (p. 389). Foreign-originating verbal prefixes such as
‘de-’, ‘dis-’, ‘kon-’, ‘re-’ are seldom used on a native German stem, while
the pattern of indigenous prefixes attached to ''exogenous'' stems is common
and even productive, e.g. ‘überreagieren’ 'to overreact', ‘umrangieren’ 'to
reroute, remodel' (p. 395, 116). And it is common for a number of different
foreign prefixes to be affixed to the same foreign stem, e.g. ‘de-’, ‘dis-’,
‘pro-’, ‘reponieren’ ('to deposit, dispose of, propose, set a bone'; p. 396).
There is a class of inseparable verb compounds which can be viewed as either
''copulative'', or ''determinative'', i.e. with a subordinative modifier +
main action structure, e.g. ‘grinskeuchen’ (grin + gasp) 'to grin and gasp, to
gasp while grinning' (p. 374). There are a number of causatives formed through
internal modification, e.g. ‘sinken’ ('to sink' [intransitive]) vs. ‘senken’
('to sink [transitive], cause to sink'), ‘trinken’ 'to drink' vs. ‘tränken’
'to water (animals), to immerse', but the pattern is no longer productive (p.
375). Some verbs, often ones ending in ‘-ieren’, have an abbreviated form,
e.g. ‘funktionieren’ ('to function, work') -> ‘funzen’, ‘registrieren’ ('to
register') -> ‘reggen’ (p. 375).

The book ends a bit abruptly here, with no concluding chapter; but that is
perhaps not necessary in a descriptive work like this one -- it's very much in
keeping with the no-nonsense, always-keeping-to-the-point nature of the whole

This is the fourth, ''fully reworked'' edition, and it shows in the great care
exercised in the topics addressed, tight organization, broad assortment of
illustrative examples, and in the clear, crisp style, which manages to
maintain a scholarly tone while avoiding pedantry. I spotted a single
misplaced word (p. 385); otherwise the book is virtually typo-free -- a
laudable feat, even taking into account that this is a fourth edition. It has
an attractive cover design featuring Lego pieces of various sizes snapped
together in different ways, an apt analogy for typical German word structure.

This book does an exquisite job of presenting, analyzing and exemplifying the
many things that make German morphology so satisfying -- its chunkiness, its
playfulness, its tendency to maintain the integrity of many of the elements
that go into the composition of its words, and its resulting transparency. The
authors are highly sensitive to the issue of defining what qualifies as a
compound, a collocation, and a syntactic phrase, and they explicitly point out
grey areas in between. The straightforward treatment of combining forms
(‘Konfixe’) is particularly refreshing; in English, combining forms are often
felt to be an awkward category, neither flesh nor fowl, not quite fitting in
as either affixes, word roots or free morphemes. In this work they are tidily
placed where they belong on the continuum of morpheme types. Not only is this
continuum approach an excellent model for other languages, but the high degree
of rigor employed in arriving at classifications is something we can all learn
from, and try to apply in our own work, and our evaluation of the work of

This volume may at first glance seem like a run-of-the-mill reference work to
be dug out now and then to read up on specific word types, but I personally
found it to be an outright inspiration, worth reading from cover to cover.
With its thorough coverage for German, it can serve as a solid basis and model
for similar analyses of other languages, even as unlikely a one as Chinese.
This book gets a full five stars.

Adams, Valerie. “An Introduction to English Word-Formation”. London & New
York: Longman, 1973.

Bauer, Laurie. “English Word-Formation”. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1983.

Marchand, Hans. “The categories and types of present-day English word
formation”. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1969.

Karen Steffen Chung is an associate professor of English and linguistics in
the foreign language department of National Taiwan University in Taipei, and
also teaches English over the radio and Internet. Her German learning began at
home with her father, a second-generation German, and was further refined
during a year of study at a Gymnasium in Hamburg. Her areas of specialization
include phonetics, teaching of pronunciation, and Chinese morphology. She is
the author of Mandarin Compound Verbs (Crane’s, 2006), which received an NTU
award for excellent research in 2007, and she is currently working on a book
on Taiwan English. Publications:

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