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Review of  Meaning Predictability in Word Formation

Reviewer: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Book Title: Meaning Predictability in Word Formation
Book Author: Pavol Štekauer
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Cognitive Science
Book Announcement: 16.3402

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Date: Fri, 18 Nov 2005 12:36:45 +0530 (IST)
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash <>
Subject: Meaning Predictability in Word Formation

AUTHOR: Štekauer, Pavol
TITLE: Meaning Predictability in Word Formation
SUBTITLE: Novel, context-free naming units
SERIES: Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics 54
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2005


The purpose of the present book is to examine empirically the event of
meaning predictability of novel naming units in the context of context-
free interpretation. The focus is mostly based on the side of listeners
or readers (naming interpreters) in normal communication channel.
That means, in a normal environment, the author wants to know how
the listeners and readers are able to predict the meaning of newly
coined naming units with close reference to their inherent knowledge
base, and how that meaning is related with similar units available in
the language.


Chapter 1: Literature Survey (Pp. 1- 42). It includes discussions on
and evaluation of the morphological traditions framed by Lees (1960),
Levi (1978), Lint (1982), Zimmer (1971), Downing (1977), and Allen
(1978) and others. It also focuses critically on some of the basic
psycholinguistic methods broadly classified into slot-filling models,
relation models, analogy-based models, combined and other models,
and non-compound interpretation models.

Chapter 2: General Word Formation Framework (Pp. 43-54). This
chapter includes two broad areas: (a) onomasiological model of word
formation, and (b) onomasiological types.

Chapter 3: A Theory of Predictability (Pp. 55-98). This chapter refers
to various issues related with the present investigation. It discusses
the event of context-free meaning of predictability, how predictability is
interrelated with lexical meaning, conceptualization and extralinguistic
knowledge, the process of meaning prediction, the interface
underlying predictability and productivity, the interdependency of
predictability and typicality of word meaning, etc.

Chapter 4: The Experiments (Pp. 99-240). This chapter describes in
details the experiments undertaken by the author to observe the
phenomenon and to establish his arguments derived from his
experiments. The author has initiated four types of experiment, which
are described and defined here along with the outputs of the studies.

Chapter 5: Conclusions (Pp. 241-263). This chapter summarizes the
results of the experiments along with the final observations of the
investigator. At least fifteen conclusions are drawn from the
experiments to be presented here.


In chapter 1 (pp. 1-42), the author systematically presents some
critical and precise estimation on the previous researches directly or
indirectly connected with the particular topic of meaning predictability
in word formation, which is the central point of investigation of this
book. In the course of his research and experiment, the author has to
explore the views and arguments of the earlier scholars who have
designed theories and principles for predicting meanings of the
compounds. The author outlines a number of theories that account for
the interpretation of compound words as either based on relation or
slot-filling. In addition, he also refers to some models (e.g. proposed
by Finin (1980) and Murphy (1988)), to combine slot-filling with the
representation of relations between the modifier and the head.

The author, however, argues that a more adequate view of the
process of word interpretation can be coined by examining the word-
formation processes existing in a language. Form the analysis
presented in Chapter 2 and 3 the author shows that the basic
structure that underlies the act of naming includes prototypical
features of the motivating constituents. Eventually, these features
establish the naming-defining relation(s) between the naming unit
constituents. For instance, while Wisniewski (1996) distinguishes two
different strategies for two different readings of box clock (one is
property-mapping for square clock and the other is relation-linking for
clock contained in box), the author proposes that both are
interpretable as relations between compatible characteristic features
(properties) of the objects involved: the former reading will base on
similarity or pattern relation between the box and the clock, the latter
meaning will base on location relation enabled by compatibility of
features for box and clock.

In chapter 2 (pp. 43-54) the author presents a short outline on the
principles of onomasiological approach to word formation as a
theoretical framework to address the event of meaning predictability of
novel, context-free naming units. According to the author there are
two basic approaches to the study of word formation. One is related to
word formation and word-formedness as proposed and elaborated by
Stepanova (1973) and others, the other one is related to word
formation and word analysis proposed and investigated by Aronoff
(1976), Hansen (1978) and others. With a background described in
the two approaches the onomasiological model for word formation
proposed by author accounts for the formation of new naming units by
way of concentrating on the dynamic facet of the phenomenon. For
this goal, the author proposes five onomasiological types (p. 52),
which are necessary to understand the phenomenon of meaning
predictability of compounds. These types are:

Type I: All the onomasiological level constituents (i.e. the
onomasiological base, the determined constituents, and the
determining constituents) of the onomasiological mark are linguistically
expressed here. E.g., truck driver, language teacher, brain-storming,
air hostess, housing development, photo-sensor, sea-rover, etc.

Type II: The determined constituent of the onomasiological mark is
expressed while the determining constituent is not. E.g., lock nut,
sensing electrode, stop button, stop watch, etc.

Type III: The determined constituent of the onomasiological mark is left
unexpressed. E.g., policeman, alpinist, honey bee, summer house,
sun lamp, etc.

Type IV: The onomasiological mark cannot be analyzed into the
determining and the determined parts. Therefore, naming units falling
within this type distinguish only tow constituents, the onomasiological
base and the onomasiological mark. E.g., blue-eyed, unhappy, restart,

Type V: It stands for onomasiological recategorization, traditionally
called conversion or zero-derivation.

In fact, the onomasiological approach to conversion is based on the
fact that each naming unit results from an intellectual analysis of an
extralinguistic object to be named. Within this analysis scheme the
object is classed with one of the five above-mentioned conceptual
categories. From the analysis and investigation presented in the
chapter what we find is that new naming units do not come into
existence in a vacuum or accidentally. There is always a demand on
the part of a speech community to give a name to a new object,
action, quality, emotion, or circumstance. Each naming process is
conditioned and determined by the knowledge and experience of a
particular person who first coins the naming unit (p. 43).

In chapter 3 (pp. 55-98), the author presents a general theory of
predictability and its various aspects. He argues that the meaning
predictability of all naming units within the onomasiological scheme is
based on some principles, without which the traditional word formation
process was not possible. Therefore, a unified theory of meaning
predictability may be proposed, which is equally applicable to
compounding and affixation. The author argues that a part of his
model corresponds to what has been traditionally called conversion or
zero-derivation, which needs to be modified to a certain extent to
account for the features of onomasiological structure.

In essence, in this chapter, the author argues for a close interaction
between the processes of word formation and word-interpretation;
accounts for close interrelation among the extralinguistic reality, the
conceptual level, and the linguistic level; emphasizes on the role of
world knowledge and experience of a speaker in the process of
meaning prediction; discusses the predicting capacity of both native
and non-native speakers; emphasizes on the role of prototypical
features of naming units; analyses the individual steps taken in the act
of meaning prediction; provides a discussion on the predictability of
converted naming units (including converted proper names);
discusses the relation between meaning predictability and typicality;
and finally, introduces two measures of meaning predictability:
predictability rate and objectified predictability rate.

In chapter 4 (pp. 99-240) the author presents the results of four
extensive experiments conducted by him to explore the act and nature
of meaning predictability. The goal of the first two experiments is
related to testing the methods of computing the predictability rate and
the objectified predictability rate. This is also related to the evaluation
of the correctness of the prediction concerning the key role of
prototypical semes. Here, the author has also an intention to trace the
interconnection between the linguistic and extralinguistic factors in
various predictable readings of sample naming unit (p.99).

The goal of the third experiment is to examine critically the possible
naming units that belong to the five different onomasiological types.
Each type is represented here by two possible naming units. The
primary objective is to apply the proposed method of calculation of
objectified predictability rate to various types of naming units, and in
this manner, to demonstrate the viability of the method of comparing
the predictability of meanings of various naming units (p. 100).

The last experiment evaluates the predictability rates of those naming
units, which do not comply with the productive principles of word
formation. These units actually belong to the types, which are
specified as unacceptable forms by various morphologists. Within the
scheme of synchronic word formation, these forms violate various
restrictions on productivity. The main objective of the author here is to
relate the notion of predictability and productivity as well as to
examine whether or not there is any interrelation and/or influence of
productive word formation/morphological types upon the predictability
rate of words. The chapter contains a number of tables, analysis and
comments on the proposed readings of sample naming unit, and the
circumstances affecting the predictability/unpredictability of individual
naming unit readings. In addition, it examines the inherent relation
underlying associative meanings and meaning predictability.

In chapter 5 (pp. 241-263) the author resumes the individual issues
discussed in chapter 3 in view of the results obtained from the
experimental research in order to arrive at relevant conclusions. To
establish his arguments the author categorically makes the following
conclusion in sequential order:

Conclusion 1: Both native and non-native speakers have an equal
amount meaning-prediction capacity. Virtually, there is no notable line
of distinction (p. 245).

Conclusion 2: There is no place for the term correct reading in a
theory of meaning predictability. Any naming unit is potentially fit for
reading of multiple types, which can neither tagged as correct nor as
wrong (p. 246).

Conclusion 3: There is an obvious tendency for the predictable
readings to be motivated by prototypical semes or their combinations,
which may reflect on the prototypical features of relevant objects (p.

Conclusion 4: Extralinguistic knowledge and experience of an
individual play a crucial role in the whole process of meaning
predictability (p. 249).

Conclusion 5: In the actual act of meaning prediction people normally
have a preference for stable relationships over fortuitous ones of the
naming units (p. 251)

Conclusion 6: The act of meaning predictability is often influenced by
the productivity of onomasiological types, word formation types, and
morphological types (p. 253).

Conclusion 7: Word formation process and meaning predictability is
closely interfaced. Thus, the prediction of meaning of new naming
units is often monitored by the process of their formation (p. 254).

Conclusion 8: The onomasiological type and the predictability rate are
also interrelated with meaning predictability of naming units (p. 255).
These are also interdependent in the act of naming.

Conclusion 9: The objectified parameter of meaning predictability
primarily depends on several mutually interrelated variables (p. 256).

Conclusion 10: While there are many potential readings of novel,
context-free naming units, it is usually only one or two readings that
are significant in terms of meaning predictability (p. 257).

Conclusion 11: The percentage of single occurrences among the
proposed readings is fairly high with respect to other readings (p. 257).

Conclusion 12: In majority of cases, the templates are insufficient to
recognize the subtle shades of individual readings of the naming units
(p. 258).

Conclusion 13: While there are some cases of overlap between
associates and predictable readings, this relation is far from being
systematic (pp. 259).

Conclusion 14: The analysis of the sample-naming units indicates that
there is no single factor conditioning the predictability of novel, context-
free naming units. On the contrary, there lies an inter-play of several
factors conditioning the meaning predictability of novel, context-free
naming units (pp. 259).

Conclusion 15: Given these factors, it is possible to identify an
optimum situation for meaning predictability of novel, context-free
naming units as well as the factors, which reduce their meaning


The onomasiological theory outlined in this volume and applied to
certain specific problems and experiments of word formation in a
series of articles of the present author is an attempt to describe all
productive word formation processes using one common mechanism.
It emphasizes the triadic aspect of word formation existing between
the extralinguistic reality (i.e. the objects to be named), speech
community (i.e. the name coiner), and word formation (i.e. the process
of neologism) in order to emphasize the active role and cognitive
capacity of a coiner. At the same time this theory establishes a
framework for the treatment of the individual word formation
processes on a common basis.

The theory assumes that the process of naming units do not come into
existence in isolation. Rather, it is resulted from the process of
proportional unification of various factors such as present needs,
need-filling motives, word formation rules and techniques functional in
a language, human knowledge, human cognitive abilities,
experiences, discoveries of new things, processes and qualities,
human imagination, world knowledge, etc. That means, when an
object to be named is not named on its own but is envisaged and
constructed in relation to the existing objects and concepts. Thus, the
structural relationships in the lexicon are preceded (or dominated) by
a network of objective relationships, which, should be taken into
serious consideration in the process of naming of units (p. 44).

What we understand from the discussion presented in chapter two
and three is that the predictability of meaning of naming units highly
correlates with the acceptability of such meanings to the interpreters.
Since there is no clear-cut boundary between acceptable and
unacceptable meanings, the predictability of meanings of naming units
is a cline. An important condition for meaning predictability is a
combination of prototypical semantic components as a linguistic
representation of logical predicates reflecting the prototypical features
of the objects named. The predictability of meanings of any naming
unit heavily relies on the conceptual level analysis, on the cognitive
abilities of language users (i.e. supralinguistic level) - the principles of
which are identical to mankind as a whole. Form this point of view, the
results obtained from the native speakers should not differ significantly
from those of the second language speakers.

Moreover, the meaning prediction process is significantly influenced
by extralinguistic knowledge and experiences of language users.
Given a more or less homogenous group of informants, living in similar
cultural settings, the results should not be negatively influenced by
their belonging to different speech communities (p. 98). In general,
any theory designed for interpreting the meaning of compounds
should consider seriously and reflect on number of factors such as
word formation factor, the relation between the morphological and the
semantic structures, the underlying morphological type, the word
formation type, and competition between the various possible
readings (p. 42).

In essence, the main focus of the present volume is a discussion of
the various factors affecting and conditioning predictability, such as
world knowledge and experiences, the level of semantic components
(semes), onomasilogical types, the internal semantic structure of a
word formation type and the role of the related onomasiological
structure rules, inherence of features, linguistic expression of the
actional constituent of the onomasiological structure, the productivity
of word formation types and morphological types, and associative
meanings. Additionally, emphasis is placed on the verification of
theoretical considerations by practical research, including four
experiments with native and non-native speakers.

The goal of the investigation was four-fold: (a) to develop a theory of
the meaning-predictability of context-free novel naming units as an
integral part of a general onomasiological theory of word formation;
(b) to identify the factors that influence the meaning-prediction
process either positively or negatively; (c) to propose a method of
calculating the predictability rate and the objectified predictability rate;
and (d) to verify the theoretical considerations and hypotheses in an
experimental research, by applying the proposed method to the whole
range of potential and non-established naming units within five
onomasiological types. The academic contribution of the present work
lies in its application of a new approach that aims at paving new
avenues for exploring one of the most intriguing areas of semantic
predictability of the context-free lexical items in a language.


Allen, Margaret R. (1978) Morphological Investigations. Doctoral
Dissertation, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT.

Aronoff, Mark (1976) Word Formation in Generative Grammar.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Downing, Pamela (1977) On the Creation and Use of English
Compound Nouns. Language. 4: 810-842.

Finin, Timothy W. (1980) The Semantic Interpretation of Compound
Nominals. Urbana: University of Illinois, Coordinated Science
Laboratory, Report T-96.

Hansen, Klaus (1978) Problems in the Semantic Analysis of
Compounds. Zeitschrift fur Anglistik und Amerikanistik. 26: 247-251.

Lees, Robert B. (1960) The Grammar of English Nominalizations.
Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Levi, Judith N. (1978) The Syntax and Semantics of Complex
Nominals. New York: Academic Press.

Lint, van Trudeke (1982) The Interpretation of Compound Nouns. In,
Daalder, S. and M. Gerritsen (Eds.) Linguistics in Netherlands 1982.
Pp. 135-145. Amsterdam/Oxford: North-Holland.

Murphy, Gregory L. (1988) Comprehending Complex Concepts.
Cognitive Science. 12: 529-562.

Stepanova, Maria D. (1973) Methoden der Synchronen
Wortschatzanalyse. Munchen: Max Hueber.

Wisniewski, Edward J. (1996) Construal and similarity in conceptual
combination. Journal of Memory and Language. 35: 424-453.

Zimmer, Karl E. (1971) Some general Observations about Nominal
Compounds. Working papers on Language Universals. Stanford
University 5: 1-21.

Dr. Niladri Sekhar Dash works in the area of corpus linguistics and
corpus-based language research and application in the Linguistic
Research Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India. His
research interest includes corpus linguistics, language technology,
natural language processing, lexicography, lexicology, and lexical
semantics. His recent book (Corpus Linguistics and Language
Technology, New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 2005) has addressed,
besides other things of corpus linguistics, the issues of corpus-based
linguistic research and application both in mainstream linguistics and
language technology in Indian languages. Presently he is working on
text corpus processing, corpus-based electronic dictionary building,
lexical polysemy, word-sense disambiguation, and corpus-based
machine translation in Indian languages.