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Typically, a compound is defined as ‘[…] the formation of a new lexeme by adjoining two or more lexemes’

As for English, ‘[…] it is only the lack of inflected morphemes […] that makes surface forms of English compounds and free syntactic groups identical in terms of their morphological forms’ (Lieber and Stekauer 2009:5) (cf. greenhouse and green house).

There are two main forms of compounds, namely root compounds (primary compounds), such as blackboard, blue-stocking, ice-cream, and synthetic compounds (also referred to as verbal, deverbal, or verbal nexus compounds), e.g. truck driver, shoe making, wind-blown. What differentiates root from synthetic compounds is the ‘shape’ of the second stem. In verbal nexus compounds the stem in question is derived from a verb.

Spelling and lexicalization are often unreliable criteria for identifying compound words in English. English spelling is often erratic. Therefore, orthographic representation of English compounds, unlike in Polish, Czech or Slovak in which compounds are spelt as one word, is very inconsistent. As for lexicalization as a criterion for compoundhood, ‘[…] the more productive the process of compounding in a language, the less chance that individual compounds will be lexicalized’ (Lieber and Stekauer 2009:7).

Both root and synthetic compounds are said to have a characteristic accentuation pattern where the heaviest stress is placed on the leftmost component, e.g. gréenhouse, blúe stocking, trúck driver, móth eaten. However, root compounds which are made of two adjectives (e.g. icy cold or blue-green) often do not receive left-hand stress. Instead, they possess level stress. What is more, there are even some noun-noun compounds that exhibit right-hand stress (cf. ápple cake vs. apple píe).

The most reliable is perhaps the inseparability test, stating that the two stems cannot be separated by a modifier: *a blue little baby or *blue light green. While it is possible to insert a word in between words of a phrase, e.g. a blackbird (Turdus merula) vs. a black bird (any bird having a dark plumage) > a black scary bird no such mechanism is allowed with compounds. The word ugly can only act as a modifier of the compound as a whole: an ugly blackbird (Lieber 1992, 2005; Lieber and Stekauer 2009).

According to Bauer (1998), unlike in syntactic phrases, the second head stem of a compound cannot be replaced by a pro-form, such as one. Consider the following ungrammaticality: ‘*I bought a whiteboard and a black one’.

In and outside of English, the uninflected character of the non-head may constitute an argument in favour of the compoundhood of the formation (cf. Polish compounds proper, e.g. bosonóżka ‘a bare-feet dancer’ but also the class of Polish juxtapositions, e.g. psubrat ‘a rascal’).

Moreover, in many languages, such as Polish or German (marginally even English), a compound may be recognized through the formal exponent of composition, namely the interfix.

Also, from a semantic perspective, there are certain distinguishing features of compounds. Firstly, the initial stem of any compound is non-referential, which is to say that it does not refer to any special entity that it names, e.g. church in churchyard does not refer to any concrete church. Secondly, in languages such as English or Polish, the second stem assumes the role of the semantic head of a compound. Therefore, churchyard denotes a kind of yard, not a kind of church. Thirdly, the first stem in English synthetic compounds 1 functions as an argument (predominantly the internal one) of the verb stem, e.g. in bookseller the noun book, being the object of the verb sell, will receive the internal argument interpretation. Finally, obligatorily ditransitive verbs are ruled out as components of synthetic compounds in English and Polish. Consider the verb put and the following impossible synthetic combinations: *shelf book putter, *book putter on shelves (Lieber 2004:46). It is because verbs such as put obligatorily discharge all the arguments they have in their theta-grid.

Head-modifier relation:

It is possible for a language to have both left and right-headed compounds. One such language is Italian. Consider the following examples quoted by Scalise (1992):

1 unlike in some of the Polish synthetic compounds in which the order of the verb stem and its argument may be reversed, e.g. bawidamek ‘a ladies’ man, lit. an entertainwoman + suf.’.


capo-stazione ‘station mast er, lit. master station’

croce-rossa ‘red cross, lit.

cross red’


gentil-uomo ‘gentleman, lit . kind man’

Phrasal compounds:

[French history]NP teacher [20th century]NP welfare s tate [wages or employment]NP protection [‘one size fits all’]S mass p roduction public service

Booij (2005:79)

The process of compounding in English is recursive and, as a result, very productive. Due to the property of recursiveness , being typically a characteristic feature o f syntactic phrases,

endocentric compounds may repair shop supplies cited by

assume great size and complexity. Consid er vacuum cleaner Szymanek (1998:48-49) and its structural rep resentation below:

great size and complexity. Consid er vacuum cleaner Szymanek (1998:48-49) and its structural rep resentation below: