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The Grammar of Words

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« on: August 04, 2022, 07:52:13 am »

The Grammar of Words, by Geert Booij

An Introduction to Linguistic Morphology

One dimension of the kind of knowledge about words assumed by dictionary makers of English manifests itself in the fact that words that are quite common in English might not be covered by a dictionary. For instance, my English–Dutch dictionary does not mention bottle factory, although it does mention bottle baby, bottle bank, bottleneck, and a number of other words beginning with bottle.

Yet, I have no problem in understanding the title of the novel The Bottle Factory Outing written by Beryl Bainbridge. What the dictionary presupposes is that the user of English knows the words bottle and factory, and that the compound bottle factory refers to a particular kind of factory, not to a particular kind of bottle: it is the rightmost of the two word constituents that determines what kind of thing the compound denotes.

This is a systematic fact of English. Therefore, one can understand the meaning of bottle factory without having ever come across that word before. That also applies to the even more complex word bottle factory outing.

This example illustrates the creative aspect of morphological knowledge: it enables us to understand or coin new words. Morphological knowledge may thus lead to rule-governed creativity in the use of language. If we want to be understood, our new linguistic expressions must comply with the rules of the language. It is these rules that enable every language user to produce and understand linguistic expressions that he has never come across before.


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