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Conference Information

Full Title: When "Noun" Meets "Noun": A Cross-Linguistic Look at Complex Nominals

Short Title: When
Location: Zurich, Switzerland
Start Date: 10-Sep-2017 - 13-Sep-2017
Contact: Steve Pepper
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting URL:
Meeting Description: The workshop will investigate the strategies employed by the languages of the world to create complex denotations by combining two nominal (or nominalizing) elements.

In Germanic languages this is usually achieved through compounding (e.g. Ger. Eisen.bahn [iron.track] ‘railway’), but other languages use other constructions. Thus, Romance typically employs prepositional compounds (e.g. Fr. chemin de fer [track PREP iron] ‘railway’), while Slavic favours relational compounds (e.g. Rus. železnaja doroga [iron.ADJZ road] ‘railway’). Turkish has an izafet construction (demir.yol.u [iron.road.IZ] ‘railway’) and elsewhere possessives abound (e.g. Malagasy [road.PER.iron] ‘railway’). In all of these examples, the constituent meanings, the resultant meaning, and presumably also the underlying cognitive processes, are essentially identical, but the constructions are quite different. What they have in common is that they serve to name a complex concept via the combination of two “Thing-roots” (Haspelmath 2012), between which there is an unstated (or underspecified) relation. They are all binominal naming constructions (BNCs).

In terms of Štekauer’s model of onomasiological word-formation BNCs are Type 3 naming units, in which “the determined (actional) element is not linguistically expressed” (Štekauer 1998). This perspective prompts two further refinements to the concept of BNCs. The first is the exclusion of complex nominals of Štekauer’s Type 1 and Type 2 that contain an “Action-root”. As a consequence, synthetic compounds like truck-driver are considered out of scope. The second is based on the recognition that nominalizing affixes, like Eng. er and Slovak ica, and noun classifiers like Bora -heju (‘hole-like object’), constitute the “base” in a Type 3 complex nominal. As a consequence, adnominal nominalizations (e.g. Slovak želez.n.ica [iron.ADJZ.NMLZ] ‘railway’), and noun classifier constructions (e.g. Bora túú.heju [nose.CM(hole)] ‘nostril’), fulfil the basic criterion and are considered very much in scope.

This approach to complex denotation cuts across traditional boundaries between morphology and syntax, and between compounding and derivation: it “divides the cake” in a new way that might reveal new insights into language and conceptualization. The goal of this workshop is therefore to explore semantic and morphosyntactic aspects of BNCs as defined here, along with frequency, productivity, and competition between different strategies (cf. Rainer 2013), across a broad range of languages. In particular, papers are sought that investigate BNCs through:

- Studies of individual languages, especially lesser-studied and non-SAE languages
- Contrastive studies of languages, in particular those closely related genetically
- Typological and areal studies
- Studies that address cognitive aspects of complex nominals


Haspelmath, Martin. 2012. How to compare major word-classes across the world’s languages. UCLA Working Papers in Linguistics, Theories of Everything 17, Article 16. 109–130.
Rainer, Franz. 2013. Can relational adjectives really express any relation? An onomasiological perspective. SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics 10(1).
Štekauer, Pavol. 1998. An onomasiological theory of English word-formation. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Linguistic Subfield: Morphology; Semantics; Typology
LL Issue: 28.267

This is a session of the following meeting:
50th Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea

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