Review of Lexical Creativity, Texts and Contexts
| EDITOR: Munat, Judith
TITLE: Lexical Creativity, Texts and Contexts
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics 58
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
It should be said right off that this is a delightful book that brings lots of
fresh new material and insight to the study of compounding, which is not an easy
feat, particularly for an edited volume with papers on highly diverse topics.
The papers are grouped under the section headings: (1) Lexical creativity in
discourse; (2) Lexical creativity in texts, with subsections entitled: (a) The
press, (b) Cartoon art, (c) Advertising and the media, (d) Electronic
communication, and (d) Fictional genres; (3) Creative concept formation, and (4)
Sociopolitical effects on creativity; in addition to an Editor's preface and
Introduction. There are also a useful name index and subject index covering all
of the papers.
Each chapter of this volume manages to attract and engage the reader for
In the Editor's preface, Munat tells how the idea for this book first began in a
2004 seminar she conducted in Zaragoza entitled ''Lexical Creativity as a Feature
of Textuality.'' She emphasizes the importance of context in lexical creativity,
since many novel coinages are understandable only within a specific context. And
because of this, many of them have very short lives, or may even be nonce or
single-use occurrences. Still, she states that all of them are based on
''canonical word-forming processes'' and ''contribute to the construction of
discourse meaning and text worlds in subtle and interesting ways'' [p. xiv].
A paper by Leonhard Lipka, entitled ''Lexical Creativity, textuality and problems
of metalanguage'' offers an overview of the entire book and serves as the
introduction to this volume. He first defines the central concepts of
productivity, creativity, and context, and introduces the notion of ''dynamic
lexicology'' in studies of creative compound formation. Dynamic lexicology, he
writes, distinguishes four macro-mechanisms of lexical innovation: 1.
morpho-semantic neologism, 2. semantic neologism, or semantic transfer, i.e.
metaphor and metonymy, 3. morphological neologism, i.e. reduction processes like
clipping, blending and acronymy, and 4. external or loan processes.
The second paper (the chapters are not explicitly numbered), by Peter Hohenhaus,
is entitled, ''How to do (even more) things with nonce words (other than
naming).'' In this chapter, the author deals in further depth with the core issue
of productivity vs. creativity, noting that examples of both fall along a cline
and are not an either-or phenomenon, with productivity tending to be more and
creativity to be less rule-governed, and with unrestricted productivity still
being very much the exception rather than the rule. He distinguishes between
neologisms, words that are young but established, and nonce formations, which
are newly formed upon performance. He finds that nonce formations can have (1) a
deictic or pronominal function (e.g. ''the apple-juice seat''); (2) a
hypostatisation effect, i.e. their use convinces the listener of the existence
of something, useful e.g. in science fiction; (3) an attention-getting or
foregrounding function; and other metacommunicative functions.
The third paper, ''The phonetics of 'un''', by Jen Hay, uses acoustic methods to
demonstrate that the _un-_ in more decomposable words (e.g. _unhappy_),
especially newly coined ones (e.g. _unboring_), will tend to be pronounced
longer than the _un-_ in less decomposable ones (e.g. _unless_). Hay used data
from New Zealand English for her study, but presumably her results would apply
to most varieties of English as spoken by native speakers.
Chapter four, ''Tracing lexical productivity and creativity in the British media:
The Chavs and the Chav-Nots,'' by Antoinette Renouf, outlines some of the ''rules''
for creativity in new word formations in the British Media, e.g. how much a word
used in a pun can differ from the word it is replacing, for example, it may
differ by one phoneme - _destruction_ may be replaced by _distraction_.
Another ''fun'' paper of this nevertheless serious scholarly work is chapter five,
''Cathy Wilcox meets the phrasal lexicon: Creative deformation of phrasal lexical
items for humorous effect,'' by Koenraad Kuiper. Kuiper analyzes the word play in
the comic art of Australian cartoonist Cathy Wilcox, tabulating the percentage
of each type of word deformation of phrasal lexical items (PLIs), on which the
punch lines rely, e.g. phonological, as in the caption for cartoon of a dog
leaning on a crutch, which reads, _the leaning piece of towser_ (for _The
Leaning Tower of Pisa_). Kuiper finds single, double, triple and quadruple
substitutions, as well as Spoonerisms, syllabic exchanges and lexical exchanges,
Chapter six, entitled, ''Blendalicious'', by Adrienne Lehrer, is a personal
favorite. Blends are often not included in lists of morphological processes in
English, perhaps because they tend to be nonce usages and highly idiosyncratic.
But more and more, blends are becoming an everyday method of coining new words,
particularly in advertising and headlines, where they call special attention to
themselves. Though blends coined for a certain occasion, such as _Frutopia_,
_webliography_ and _tankkini_ (bikini swimwear with a tank top), tend to be
ephemeral, they sometimes do end up sticking, so this word formation type should
no longer be considered marginal. Usually speakers can retrieve the etymological
source words, though blends often need to be glossed upon their first appearance.
''Keeping up with the times: Lexical creativity in electronic communication'' is
the title of chapter seven, written by Paula López Rúa. López Rúa found that
word-shortening methods already existing in various computer jargons have been
adapted for use in online and mobile phone communications, but with innovations
particular to the new media. These include innovative affixation, unconventional
reductions and combinations, which are used to name new realities and condense
information, express humor, and create and maintain social bonds.
Chapter eight, by the volume editor, Judith Munat, is entitled ''Lexical
creativity as a marker of style in science fiction and children's literature''.
Both these genres provide plentiful examples of creative word formation, such as
_psionic_ and _thneed_ . Munat finds that ''novel blends and other neologisms
serve a perlocutionary intent, that of slowing down the reader's response with
the use of a clever or puzzling new word, given that new words generally require
greater processing effort. Thus a novel formation demands greater attention, in
addition to providing pleasure, amusement and entertainment'' [p. 179]. This
chapter is interesting in how it illuminates general word creation patterns and
rules through idiosyncratic ones coined by individual authors for works of fiction.
Next is Tony Veale's ''Dynamic creation of analogically-motivated terms and
categories in lexical ontologies''. Veale suggests that ''the interpretation and
generation of novel lexical analogies has much in common with the interpretation
and generation of creative noun compounds'', and that a similar ''computationally
precise'' formalistic mechanism can be formulated for both [p. 189]. He also
believes that ''term creation is a scalable phenomenon through which one can
explore creativity in general'' [p. 209].
Those interested in formal semantics may find Veale's chapter interesting; I
found the approach a bit too mechanical for my tastes.
In chapter ten, ''Creative lexical categorization in a narrative fiction'', author
Dolores Porto Requejo illustrates with examples from fantasy fiction how
ascribing new meanings to common words (neosemes) is a powerful tool for lexical
creativity, for example, one learns through recontextualization that _Dead_
(capitalized) in the fantasy novel _Forging the Darksword_ refers to someone
born ''without magic''.
Most of the papers in this volume are about English, but chapter eleven is
entitled, ''Occasional and systematic shifts in word-formation and idiom use in
Latvian as a result of translation.'' This chapter has much broader appeal and
application than its title might suggest, since the processes it describes, such
as adoption of common English idioms and metaphors, is something that is perhaps
happening in all languages of the world that have contact with English, perhaps
after a period of influence by some other formerly dominant language, in this
case, Russian. The English idiom, ''a skeleton in the closet/cupboard'' first
appeared in the early nineties as _skeleta skapiī, mostly in texts dealing with
foreign countries, and it was at the point generally accompanied by an
explanation of its meaning. One also saw occasional Latvian variants such as
_mironi skapī_'corpse in the cupboard' [p. 251]. By now it is fully integrated
into Latvian and can appear, often in modified form and usually in the plural,
in any kind of text.
The contrasts between the earlier Russian-influenced and current
English-influenced styles are highly illuminating; this chapter would be an
excellent reading or reference for a university-level course or unit in
sociolinguistics or language change.
The final paper, ''Critical creativity: A study of 'politically correct' terms in
style guides for different types of discourse,'' by Roswitha Fischer, explores
the notion of political correctness guidelines and trends as a source of
creative word formation. The paper confirms the suspicions perhaps many of us
had, that attention to political correctness in discourse leads to a narrowing
of vocabulary choices rather than a creative production of new terms.
In terms of overall interest and opening up new vistas for the study of
morphology, this book gets a full five stars.
This collection of papers demonstrates that there is no clear distinguishing
line between productivity and creativity; the two form a continuum. What once
sounded like a creative nonce usage may catch on and a pattern becomes actively
productive. Language is constantly growing and changing, but sometimes we tend
to discount newly appearing phenomena as fad and not worthy of serious study,
thinking they are just blips on the screen that will soon disappear. But all
language phenomena are worthy of observation and study, and only by following
all of them from their first appearance can we have a full record of their
origins and development, and put together a more complete picture of how
language works and is at any given moment, both for ourselves and our students.
Orthodoxy, convention, and inertia are some of the enemies of innovation, deeper
understanding and advancement in a field of study as a whole. Groundbreaking
works like this one should be encouraged and attentively read, and their spirit
Another review of this book, by Bogdan Szymanek, appears in Volume 5 (2008), No.
1 of the _Journal of The Slovak Association for the Study of English_ (SKASE);
it can be accessed at: http://www.skase.sk/Volumes/JTL11/
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Karen Steffen Chung teaches English and linguistics at National Taiwan
University in Taipei. Her areas of specialization include phonetics and
pronunciation teaching, and Chinese morphology. Her 2004 dissertation, _Mandarin
Compound Verbs_ (Leiden University; published by Taipei: Crane in 2006),
received an Excellent Scholarly Book Award from National Taiwan University in 2007.