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CONVERSION AND OTHER TYPES OF WORD-FORMATION
The flexibility of the English vocabulary system makes a word formed by conversion capable of further derivation, so that it enters into combinations not only with functional but also with derivational affixes characteristic of a verbal stem, and becomes distributionally equivalent to it. For example, view ‘to watch television’ gives viewable, viewer, viewing.
Conversion may be combined with other word-building processes, such as composition. Attributive phrases like black ball, black list, pin point, stone wall form the basis of such firmly established verbs as blackball, blacklist, pinpoint, stonewall. The same pattern is much used in nonce-words such as to my-dear, to my-love, to blue-pencil.
This type should be distinguished from cases when composition and conversion are not simultaneous, that is when, for instance, a compound noun gives rise to a verb: corkscrew n : : corkscrew v; streamline n : : streamline v.
A special pattern deserving attention because of its ever increasing productivity results as a combined effect of composition and conversion forming nouns out of verb-adverb combinations. This type is different from conversion proper as the basic forms are not homonymous due to the difference in the stress pattern, although they consist of identical morphemes. Thanks to solid or hyphenated spelling and single stress the noun stem obtains phonetical and graphical integrity and indivisibility absent in the verb-group, сf. to ‘draw ‘back : : a ‘drawback. Further examples are: blackout n : : black out v; breakdown n : : break down v; come-back, drawback, fall-out, hand-out, hangover, knockout, link-up, lookout, lockout, makeup, pull-over, runaway, run-off, set-back, take-off, takeover, teach-in.
The type is specifically English, its intense and growing development is due to the profusion of verbal collocations (see p. 120 ff) and con- or unchangeable, whether the meaning of the one element remains free, and,
more generally, on the interdependence between the meaning of the elements and the meaning of the set expression. Much attention is devoted to different types of variation: synonymic, pronominal, etc.
After this brief review of possible semantic classifications, we pass on to a formal and functional classification based on the fact that a set expression functioning in speech is in distribution similar to definite classes of words, whereas structurally it can be identified with various types of syntagmas or with complete sentences.
We shall distinguish set expressions that are nominal phrases: the wot of the trouble’, verbal phrases: put one’s best foot forward; adjectival phrases: as good as gold; red as a cherry; adverbial phrases: from head to foot; prepositional phrases: in the course of; conjunctional phrases: as long as, on the other hand; interjectional phrases: Well, I never!Astereotyped sentence also introduced into speech as a ready-made formula may be illustrated by Never say die! ‘never give up hope’, take your time ‘do not hurry’.
The above classification takes into consideration not only the type of component parts but also the functioning of the whole, thus, tooth and nail is not a nominal but an adverbial unit, because it serves to modify a verb (e. g. fight tooth and nail); the identically structured lord and master is a nominal phrase. Moreover, not every nominal phrase is used in all syntactic functions possible for nouns. Thus, a bed of roses or a bed of nails and forlorn hope are used only predicatively.
Within each of these classes a further subdivision is necessary. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive, but to give only the principal features of the types.
I. Set expressions functioning like nouns:
N+N:maiden name ‘the surname of a woman before she was married’; brains trust ‘a committee of experts’ or ‘a number of reputedly well informed persons chosen to answer questions of general interest without preparation’, family jewels ‘shameful secrets of the CIA’ (Am. slang).
N’s+N:cat’s paw ‘one who is used for the convenience of a cleverer and stronger person’ (the expression comes from a fable in which a monkey wanting to eat some chestnuts that were on a hot stove, but not wishing to burn himself while getting them, seised a cat and holding its paw in his own used it to knock the chestnuts to the ground); Hob-son’s choice, a set expression used when there is no choice at all, when a person has to take what is offered or nothing (Thomas Hobson, a 17th century London stableman, made every person hiring horses take the next in order).
Ns'+N:ladies’ man ‘one who makes special effort to charm or please women’.
N+prp+N:the arm of the law; skeleton in the cupboard.
N+A: knight errant (the phrase is today applied to any chivalrous man ready to help and protect oppressed and helpless people).
N+and+N:lord and master ‘husband’; all the world and his
wife (a more complicated form); rank and file ‘the ordinary working members of an organisation’ (the origin of this expression is military life, it denotes common soldiers); ways and means ‘methods of overcoming difficulties’.
A+N: green room ‘the general reception room of a theatre’ (it is said that formerly such rooms had their walls coloured green to relieve the strain on the actors’ eyes after the stage lights); high tea ‘an evening meal which combines meat or some similar extra dish with the usual tea’; forty winks ‘a short nap’.
N+subordinate clause:ships that pass in the night ‘chance acquaintances’.
II.Set expressions functioning like verbs: V+N:take advantage
V+and+V:pick and choose V+(one’s)+N+(prp):snap ones fingers at V+one+N:give one the bird ‘to fire sb’
V+subordinate clause:see how the land lies ‘to discover the state of affairs’.
III. Set expressions functioning like adjectives: A+and+A:high and mighty
(as)+A+as+N:as old as the hills, as mad as ahatter Set expressions are often used as predicatives but not attributively. In the latter function they are replaced by compounds.
IV. Set expressions functioning like adverbs:
A big group containing many different types of units, some of them with a high frequency index, neutral in style and devoid of expressiveness, others expressive.
N+N:tooth and nail
prp+N:by heart, of course, against the grain
adv+prp+N:once in a blue moon
prp+N+or+N:by hook or by crook
cj+clause:before one can say Jack Robinson
V. Set expressions functioning like prepositions: prp+N+prp:in consequence of
It should be noted that the type is often but not always characterised by the absence of article. Сf: by reason of : : on the ground of.
VI. Set expressions functioning like interjections:
These are often structured as imperative sentences: Bless (one’s) soul! God bless me! Hang it (all)!
This review can only be brief and very general but it will not be difficult for the reader to supply the missing links.
The list of types gives a clear notion of the contradictory nature of set expressions: structured like phrases they function like words.
There is one more type of combinations, also rigid and introduced into discourse ready-made but differing from all the types given above in so far as it is impossible to find its equivalent among the parts of speech. These are formulas used as complete utterances and syntactically shaped like sentences, such as the well-known American maxim Keep smiling! or the British Keep Britain tidy. Take it easy.
A.I. Smirnitsky was the first among Soviet scholars who paid attention to sentences that can be treated as complete formulas, such as How do you do? or I beg your pardon, It takes all kinds to make the world, Can the leopard change his spots? They differ from all the combinations so far discussed, because they are not equivalent to words in distribution and are semantically analysable. The formulas discussed by N.N. Amosova are on the contrary semantically specific, e. g. save your breath ‘shut up’ or tell it to the marines. As it often happens with set expressions, there are different explanations for their origin. (One of the suggested origins is tell that to the horse marines; such a corps being nonexistent, as marines are a sea-going force, the last expression means ‘tell it to someone who does not exist, because real people will not believe it’). Very often such formulas, formally identical to sentences are in reality used only as insertions into other sentences: the cap fits ‘the statement is true’ (e. g.: “He called me a liar.” “Well, you should know if the cap fits. ) Compare also: Butter would not melt in his mouth; His bark is worse than his bite.
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