Topic 10 – The lexicon. Characteristics of word-formation in english. Prefixation, suffixation, composition

Topic 10 – The lexicon. Characteristics of word-formation in english. Prefixation, suffixation, composition

I have based this essay on the following sources:

– Crystal David, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.

– Quirk & Sidney. A University Grammar of English.

In this essay I will deal with the following issues:

Firstly, with the origins of the word lexicon and what it is.

Secondly with the morphology of English and different processes of word formation: reduplications, clippings, acronyms, borrowings, suffixes, prefixes, compounds.

To end up focusing on the suffixes, infixes, prefixes and compounds.


The term lexicon is known in English from the early 17th century when it referred to a book containing a selection of a language’s words and meanings, arranged in alphabetical order. The term itself comes from the Greek lexis, word.

To study the lexicon of English is to study all aspects of the vocabulary of the language: how words are formed, how they have developed over time, how they are used now, how they relate in meaning to each other and how they are handled in dictionaries.

The LEXICON or mental stock of words embodies elements of each of the other three components. Every word is associated with:

  • a phonological representation to show how words are to be pronounced.
  • syntactic information to show how words fit together to form sentences.
  • and the semantic component specifies how the meanings of words .

The words of any language can be divided into two broad categories:

  1. CLOSED – function words: pronouns, conjunctions, determiners, etc.
  2. OPEN – the major lexical categories: N, V, Adj., Adv. It is to this category that mew words are added.



A MORPHEME is the smallest meaningful elements into which words can be analysed. For example, the plural morpheme in English has 3 main allomorphs: /s/, /z/ and /iz/ as in /buks/, /bedz/ and /disiz/.

The regular allomorphs are distributed according to the final sound of the form to which they are attached:

  • /s/: appears after morphs ending in the voiceless consonants /p, t, k …/.
  • /z/: appears after morphs ending in all vowels and voiced consonants /b, d, g, …/.
  • /iz/: appears after consonants having sibilant or affricative qualities /s, c, z, …/.

In English there are different processes of word formation, and the most important are:

  • AFFIXATION wich is divided in several categories: suffixation, prefixation…etc
  • CONVERSION, where a word changes its class without any change of form (e.g. the carpet = noun, becomes to carpet = verb).
  • COMPOUNDING, where two base forms are added together, (e.g. blackbird).

There are also some less usual ways of making new words:

· REDUPLICATION: part of a base is repeated either to the left, right or middle.

Rhyming (e.g. pall-mall, teeny-weeny).Exact (bye-bye, knock-knock) Ablaut (ping-pong, kitty-cat)

· CLIPPINGS: word formed from an existing word (e.g. ad, maths, gym).

· ACRONYMS: words formed from the initial letters of the words that make up a name (e.g. AIDS, LASER, RADAR).

LOAN WORDS. Crystal points out that ‘English is an insatiable borrower’. In 1973, a computerised survey of about 80,000 words in the old Shorter Oxford Dictionary .Their estimates for the origin of English words were as follows:

The reasons for English’s vast borrowing include:

· BLENDS: a word formed by joining parts of 2 or more older words. (e.g. brunch = breakfast + lunch, smog=smoke+fog; motel, modem)).


An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word.

Affixes may be DERIVATIONAL like -ness; pre- or INFLECTIONAL like English plural -s and past tense –ed .

There are 3 types of affixes:

  • those attached to the beginning of other forms are called PREFFIXES
  • those attached to the middle are called INFIXES
  • and those attached to the end are called SUFFIXES.


INFLECTIONAL SUFFIXES changes grammatical functions without changing lexical meanings. (i.e. boy / boys). Inflectional suffixes:

  • come at the end of a word
  • Have very wide distribution.
  • Ed-past tense; ing-progressive continous, s-plural; er-comparative, est- superlative etc

DERIVATIONAL SUFFIXES alter the lexical meaning and often the part of speech, when they are added to another word. (e.i. friend / friendship, happy/happiness).

A derivational suffix usually applies to words of one syntactic category and changes them into words of another syntactic category. For example, the English derivational suffix -ly changes adjectives into adverbs (slowslowly).

Some examples of English derivational suffixes:

  • adjective-to-noun: -ness (slowslowness)
  • adjective-to-verb: -ise (modernmodernise)
  • noun-to-adjective: -al (recreationrecreational)
  • noun-to-verb: -fy (gloryglorify)
  • verb-to-adjective: -able (drinkdrinkable)
  • verb-to-noun (abstract): -ance (deliverdeliverance)
  • verb-to-noun (concrete): –-er (write-writer)

Although derivational affixes do not necessarily modify the syntactic category, they modify the meaning of the base. In many cases, derivational affixes change both the syntactic category and the meaning: modernmodernize (“to make modern”). The modification of meaning is sometimes predictable: Adjective + nessthe state of being (Adjective); (whitewhiteness).


It’s not very common It’s a characteristic of hip-hop slang eg. Hizouse, shiznit

Language games like edumacation ,saxomaphone.

And chemical nomenclature eg. Pipelicone phenetdine


Prefixes are always DERIVATIONAL.

PREFIXES in English can mean:

· Negation (atheist, disobey, incomplete)

· Reversal (defrost, disconnect, undo)

· Disparaging (malfunction, miscommunication)

· Size, degree (co-habit, mini-skirt)

· Orientation (counter-clockwise)

· Location and distance (extra-terrestrial, interplay)

· Time and order (ex-husband, recycle)

· Number (bilingual, semi-circle, mono-rail)


Compounding is a process involving the combination of two words to create a new one. The compounds have the following CHARACTERISTICS:

  • The constituent members of a compound are not equal.
  • The lexical category of the last member of the compound is the same as that of the entire compound.
  • There is a formal classification :

Noun-noun railway

Verb-noun killjoy or noun verb fingerpointing

Verb-verb up and left / go and do

· There is also a a semantic classification.

Endocentric: A+B denotes a special kind of B Eg doghouse

Exocentric : A+B denotes an unexpressed meaning Eg skinhead

Copulative: A+b denotes what A and B mean Eg bittersweet

Appositional: A and B provide different descriptions for the same referent. Eg maidservant

English orthography is not consistent in representing compounds since they are sometimes written as single words, sometimes with an intervening hyphen, and others as separate words. However, it is usually possible to recognize compounds by their stress pattern, since the first component is pronounced more prominently than the second.