Personal/Participant/Inhabitant in Morphology
Abstract and Keywords
The category of Personal/Participant/Inhabitant derived nouns comprises a conglomeration of derived nouns that denote among others agents, instruments, patients/themes, inhabitants, and followers of a person. Based on the thematic relations between the derived noun and its base lexeme, Personal/Participant/Inhabitant nouns can be classified into two subclasses. The first subclass comprises derived nouns that are deverbal and carry thematic readings (e.g., driver). The second subclass consists of derived nouns with athematic readings (e.g., Marxist).
The examination of the category of Personal/Participant/Inhabitant nouns allows one to delve deeply into the study of multiplicity of meaning in word formation and the factors that bear on the readings of derived words. These factors range from the historical mechanisms that lead to multiplicity of meaning and the lexical-semantic properties of the bases that derived nouns are based on, to the syntactic context into which derived nouns occur, and the pragmatic-encyclopedic facets of both the base and the derived lexeme.
1. Personal/Participant/Inhabitant Derived Nouns
The purpose of this article is to examine the morphosyntactic and semantic properties of the category of Personal/Participant/Inhabitant (henceforth P/P/I) derived nouns. This category comprises a conglomeration of derived nouns that denote agents, experiencers, stimuli, instruments, patients/themes, the goal, locations, inhabitants, followers of a person, people with a particular set of beliefs, kinship terms, and feminine entities.
Based on the thematic relations between the derived noun and its base lexeme, P/P/I nouns can be classified into two subclasses, derived nouns that are deverbal and carry thematic readings as for example driver in (1)a, and derived nouns with athematic readings as for example Thatcherite in (1)b.
In (1)a, driver carries a thematic reading, in that its referent is a participant in the event denoted by the verb drive; it is an agent. In (1)b, Thatcherite is a person who supports the political ideas and policies of the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher, and belongs to the subclass of athematic P/P/I nouns.
Depending on their typological characteristics, languages may employ suffixation, prefixation, infixation, reduplication, and conversion to derive P/P/I nouns. Greek, for example, forms agentive nouns with the suffix -tis, as in:
In Zulu, an agentive noun is formed by prefixing to a verb root the prefix um(u)-, which appears on all nouns in the human class, and by replacing the verbal suffix -a by -i (Comrie & Thompson, 2007, p. 338):
In Boumaa Fijian, an Austronesian language, the prefix ai- is added to place names to derive a native of that place as in (examples adapted from Dixon, 1988, p. 43):
In the Austronesian language Ilocano, inhabitant nouns are formed with the infix -um- as in (Rubino, 1998, p. 97):
Reduplication is used to form agent nouns in the Senegambian language Serer (Luschutzky & Rainer, 2011, p. 316):
Finally, in English, a P/P/I noun may be formed by conversion as in (7) where cook.N has an agentive reading:
This article focuses on both the morphosyntactic make-up and the semantic properties of P/P/I derived nouns. Section 2 provides a classification of P/P/I nouns into thematic and athematic. Sections 3 and 4 tackle an issue that figures prominently in the study of derived nouns, that is, polysemy, and present a number of analyses that have been put forth to deal with it. Section 5 offers a discussion of open issues in the study of P/P/I derived nouns.
2. Semantic Classification of P/P/I Nouns
P/P/I nouns can be classified into two subclasses, the semantic criterion being the thematic relation between the derived noun and its base lexeme.
2.1 Thematic P/P/I Nouns
The first subclass of P/P/I nouns comprises nouns that are deverbal and carry thematic readings. In these cases, the derived noun denotes a participant in the event denoted by the verb. This subclass is further divided into nouns that have subject-oriented readings and nouns that have object-oriented readings. Subject-oriented readings cover agents (“people or person who verb-s”, e.g., worker), experiencers (“entity that is aware of the event undergone”, e.g., hearer), stimuli (“cause in an event that elicits an emotional or psychological response”, e.g., pleaser), and instruments (“the thing that verb-s”, e.g., scanner, sealer, sweeper) as in (8).
The second subclass of derived nouns with thematic readings comprises object-oriented nouns. As shown in (9), these nouns may denote patients/themes (“thing verb-ed, thing affected or moved but not created by verb-ing”, e.g., employee), the goal (“location or entity in the direction of which something moves”, e.g., addressee), and locations (“the place of verb-ing”, e.g., diner).
2.2 Athematic P/P/I Nouns
The second subclass of P/P/I nouns comprises derived nouns with athematic readings. This class covers a wide range of nouns that denote inhabitants (e.g., Londoner), followers of a person/people with a particular set of beliefs or way of behaving (e.g., Marxist), kinship terms (e.g., grandfather), and feminine gendered terms (e.g., Daemonette).1
A major difference between the subclasses of thematic nouns and athematic nouns is that the morphological means that create thematic nouns alter the word class of the base, whereas means that form athematic readings may not alter the word class of the base. For example, the addition of -er to the verb drive triggers a change from verb to noun. The suffix -ette in the athematic daemonette, however, does not alter the word class of the base lexeme daemon. Thus, the subclass of athematic derived nouns covers processes that may trigger a change from one subclass of a noun to another, for example, from a noun that is typically not gendered, that is, daemon, to a noun that is, that is, daemonette.
3. Polysemy of P/P/I Nouns
The suffixes that form P/P/I nouns are highly polysemous, in that they have a primary function but also a number of secondary functions as well. For instance, Diola (an Atlantic language of the Niger-Congo family), uses the same affixal material, that is, -a, for the agentive atEb-a “builder’ in (11)a, and the instrumental Elib-a in (11)b (Comrie & Thompson, 2007, p. 339):
In the relevant literature, a lot of attention has been directed toward the study of the English suffixes -er and -ee because the primary functions of each of these affixes are largely complementary; -er is primarily used to derive subject-oriented nouns and -ee to form object-oriented nouns.
The suffix -er may take on any of the thematic roles that the base verb assigns to its external argument (Alexiadou & Schäfer, 2010; Comrie & Thompson, 2007; Fabb, 1984; Keyser & Roeper, 1984; Levin & Rappaport Hovav, 1988; Lieber & Andreou, 2018; Rappaport Hovav & Levin, 1992; Roeper, 1987; Roeper & Van Hout, 1998). For example, it may correspond to the agent (e.g., worker) but also to the stimulus (e.g., pleaser) or to the experiencer (e.g., hearer). This observation has come to be called the “External Argument Generalization,”
It has been voiced in the literature that -er nouns that obey the external argument generalization can be classified into two subclasses: event -er nouns and nonevent -er nouns. For Levin and Rappaport Hovav (1988), event -er nouns inherit the argument structure of the base verb, and the obligatory internal arguments of the verb appear as complements to the head noun. Those -er nouns that do not inherit the argument structure of the base verb are classified as nonevent.
The distinction between event and nonevent -er nouns corresponds to whether the noun refers to an actualized event or not. Consider, for example, the -er noun destroyer with an agentive reading as in (12)a and an instrumental reading as in (12)b (Levin & Rappaport Hovav, 1988, p. 1069).
In a, the agentive destroyer inherits the argument structure of the verb destroy, refers to an entity who has participated in the actual event of destroying the city and, thus, receives an event reading. In b, however, the instrumental destroyer receives a nonevent reading. It does not inherit the argument structure of the base verb and, in addition, it does not presuppose an actual event of destruction. Rather, destroyer with the reading “warship” refers to something that is intended to be used for a particular purpose; it has a dispositional reading. Thus, a warship may be called a destroyer even if it has never destroyed anything.
It should be noted that the distinction between event and nonevent -er nouns does not depend on the semantic role (e.g., agent, instrument) the referent of the derived noun carries. Thus, although more often than not event nouns are agentive, and nonevent nouns bear the instrumental reading, there are cases of event -er nouns that are instrumental and nonevent -er nouns that denote the agent. Consider these (example adapted from Alexiadou & Schäfer, 2010, p. 20):
In (13), inducers and conservers are event instrumental nouns that inherit the complement structure of the verbs induce and conserve, respectively. In (14), teacher and lifesaver are occupational nouns that denote people who are trained for a specific job. They are noneventive because they do not presuppose that their referents have participated in an actual event of teaching or lifesaving, respectively.
A secondary function of -er is to form nouns with an object-oriented reading as in
The suffix -ee primarily forms sentient nouns with an object-oriented reading (e.g., employee). The requirement that the referent of an -ee nouns must be sentient restricts -ee nouns to animate referents. For example, addressee and employee in (9) are animate object-oriented nouns. In order to form inanimate object-oriented nouns, English employs processes and affixes whose primary use is to create event/state/result nouns. Consider the examples in (16):
In (16)a, the process of conversion gives rise to the noun buy, the referent of which is a pistol (i.e., inanimate theme). In (16)b, the suffix –ation, the primary function of which is to derive event/state/result nouns, is used to derive the noun allocations, which receives an inanimate theme interpretation.
Although the primary function of -ee is to derive object-oriented nouns, the examples in (17) show that subject-oriented readings with -ee are also possible.
4. Theoretical Treatments of P/P/I Nouns
4.1 Generative Approaches
4.1.1 Syntactic Approaches
An issue that is central to syntactic approaches to P/P/I nouns is the distinction between event and nonevent nouns and the syntactic structure that gives rise to these interpretations (Alexiadou & Schäfer, 2010; Harley, 2009; Roeper & Van Hout, 1998). For Roeper and Van Hout (1998), this distinction is attributed to different underlying syntactic structures between event and nonevent nouns. This idea has been called into question by Alexiadou and Schäfer (2010), who claim that there is no structural difference between event and nonevent nouns.
Working within the framework of Distributed Morphology, Alexiadou and Schäfer (2010) argue for a distinction between -er nouns that obey the external argument generalization irrespectively of whether they are event or nonevent nouns, and -er-nouns that do not obey the external argument generalization. Nouns that obey the external argument generalization are classified into episodic and dispositional, the criterion being whether they always project their internal complements or not. Crucially, episodic nouns and dispositional nouns are derived from verb phrases and have the same rich syntactic structure shown in (18).
Episodic nouns involve an episodic aspect head, whereas dispositional nouns involve a dispositional aspect head.
4.1.2 Non-Syntactic Approaches
Early approaches to nominalization (Booij, 1986; Levin & Rappaport Hovav, 1988; Rappaport Hovav & Levin, 1992) highlight the central role of argument structure in the interpretation of -er nouns. According to these accounts, the suffix binds the external argument of the base verb and the interpretation of the resulting -er noun depends on the thematic role associated with the external argument of the base. For example, when the role of agent is associated with the external argument of the base, the resulting noun is interpreted as agentive (e.g., worker), and when the external argument of the verb bears the role of experiencer, the derived noun denotes the experiencer (e.g., hearer).
Object-oriented -er nouns (e.g., fryer) receive an interpretation that is close to the interpretation of their base verb in middle constructions (e.g., This chicken fries well) (Rappaport Hovav & Levin, 1992). Thus, fryer does not derive directly from the transitive or unaccusative use of the verb fry, but rather from its middle version, which also involves “the externalization of an internal argument in the lexicon” (Levin & Rappaport Hovav, 1988, p. 1078). The externalization of the theme captures the fact that -er nouns that are related to middle constructions denote the external argument. This analysis, however, cannot capture cases of patient/theme -er nouns such as loaner in (20):
In (20), loaner denotes the theme, but an analysis based on middle construction is not possible because the base verb loan does not have a middle version.
An argument structure analysis is not possible for object-oriented suffixes such as -ee because -ee does not always bind the internal argument of the verb. In particular, the referent of employee is the internal argument (i.e., patient/theme) of the base verb, whereas the referent of addressee is not. It is the indirect object, that is, the goal.
Barker (1998) argues in favor of a semantic analysis of -ee nouns according to which -ee binds an argument of the verbal base under the following three conditions: (a) the argument -ee binds must be episodically linked to the verb (i.e., the argument must be a participant in the event denoted by the verb), (b) it must denote something sentient, and (c) it must lack volitionality.
These three conditions account for the derivation of employee and addressee as follows. The verb employ has two arguments, an agent and a patient. The agent is sentient and volitional and as such it does not meet the condition of non-volitionality on -ee nouns. The second argument, that is, the patient, is also sentient but lacks volitionality. Thus, -ee in employee binds the patient argument, which meets all three conditions. The noun addressee is analyzed in a similar manner. The referent of addressee cannot be the agent because this argument is volitional and it cannot be the theme argument (e.g., a letter) because this argument is not sentient. Thus, the only possible argument -ee can bind is the goal argument.
The role of semantics in P/P/I nouns is also evident in the work of Cohen (2016), Lieber (2004), and Lieber and Andreou (2018). Cohen (2016) offers a semantic explanation for the external argument generalization that is based on modality. In particular, he argues that this generalization follows from the fact that -er nouns are dynamic modals. Dynamic modals, as for example can, are subject-oriented and express inherent/essential properties predicated on the external argument. For instance, the external argument in (21), that is, John, has the ability to swim.
In a similar vein, the -er noun swimmer in (22) attributes swimming abilities to the external argument, John. Thus, according to Cohen (2016), the affix -er is a dynamic modal that encodes an inherent/essential property of the external argument, and its syntactic behavior follows from its modal nature.
Lieber and Andreou (2018) present a corpus study of more than 16,000 tokens of deverbal -er nouns that were extracted from the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the British National Corpus, and argue that the modal reading of -er nouns does not arise from the semantic representation of the affix itself. They show that deverbal -er nouns can have both modal and aspectual readings and set out to identify factors that affect both the modal and the aspectual readings of these nouns. Modal readings of -er nouns can sometimes be dynamic, as in (23)a but can also be deontic, as in (23)b (adapted from Lieber & Andreou, 2018, p. 11):
The aspectual readings can be habitual as in (24)a or can suggest either bounded (24)b or ongoing events (24)c.
The picture that emerges from (23) and (24) reveals that it is highly problematic to maintain the idea that -er is a dynamic modal. The nuances of meaning in (23) and (24) suggest that -er nouns are highly polysemous either with respect to their thematic relations or the modal and aspectual nuances they may express.
An account of affixal polysemy in terms of lexical semantics is offered in Rochelle Lieber’s Lexical Semantic Framework (Lieber, 2004, 2007, 2015, 2016). In this framework, affixes have a semantic/grammatical skeleton and their semantic contribution can be accounted for by the same semantic features that are needed for the description of the semantics of simplex words. The semantic contribution of the affix -er, for example, can be described as the addition of the features [+material] and [dynamic] to a <base>. More specifically, -er creates concrete and processual substances/things/essences.
The derivation of dancer, for example, involves the co-indexation of the highest argument of the non-head, which is the verb dance, with the only argument of the head, which in this particular case is the affix -er. The skeletons of -er and dance, as well as the application of the principle of co-indexation are illustrated here:
Because there are no semantic conditions on the head argument, the highest argument of the nonhead, in this particular case the external argument of the verb dance, is co-indexed with the highest (and only) unindexed argument of the head, that is, the ‘R’ argument of -er. Thus, the derived word is interpreted as bearing the role of the external argument of the verb; in this case it is an agent.
Indexing must be consistent with semantic conditions on the head argument, if any. The lexical-semantic representation of -ee in (27) comes with such conditions; it requires to be co-indexed with a sentient and non-volitional argument (Barker, 1998):
Consider now the derivation of the word employee (Lieber, 2004, p. 63):
Given that the first argument of the verb employ is always volitional, the only argument of the affix must be co-indexed with the second argument of the base, namely the patient argument, which is always nonvolitional. From this follows the theme reading of the word employee.2
It should be noted that although affixes have a skeletal part, the semantic content of an affix is abstract and underdetermined given that affixes have no (or little) semantic/pragmatic body. This is a source for polysemy in word formation. That is, the semantic contribution of the affix can be spelled out in several ways when the affix is combined with the more semantically robust base and deployed in context.
4.1.3 Cognitive and Functional Approaches
The polysemy of P/P/I derived nouns is also of interest to cognitive and functional approaches to word formation. In cognitive literature, the emphasis is not so much on predicting and deriving possible readings from a core sense, but on motivating those readings from the core sense. Thus, cognitive literature makes use of radial constellations in which secondary senses are linked to the core sense by relations of motivation. These relations are mainly created by the mechanisms of metaphor and metonymy (Rainer, 2014, p. 340).
Panther and Thornburg (2002, p. 285), for example, posit the central sense “a human Agent who performs an action or engages in an activity to the degree that doing so defines a primary occupation” for the suffix -er and argue that all other senses of -er are related to this central sense via semantic extension mechanisms. For example, in cases such as “driftnetter, hatter, etc., the denotatum of the base constitutes a reference point from which the occupational action or activity of the Agent is metonymically accessed” (Panther & Thornburg, 2002, pp. 288–289).
Agentive lexicalized -er nominalizations [. . .] imply a dynamic type of modality: most prototypical agentives imply the dynamic modality of ability (can) (e.g. teacher, baker, preacher, life-saver, trainer). Some also imply regularity or persistent habit (will) (e.g. gambler, drinker).
(Heyvaert, 2010, p. 65)
An account of polysemy that does not make reference to semantic extension mechanisms is put forth by Heyvaert (2006) in her treatment of the suffix -ee. Heyvaert (2006) proposes that there is a systematic relation between -ee nouns and the past participial -ed, and that this relationship can account for the range of semantic interpretations of -ee derived nouns. For example, object-oriented -ee nouns express meanings that are comparable to the passive use of the past participle: employee or experimentee in (29) have a patient/theme reading (Heyvaert, 2006, p. 353):
In a similar vein, there is a resemblance between agentive -ee nouns and the adjectival use of the past participle, as in (30)a, or the present perfect use of the past participle, as in (30)b (from Heyvaert, 2006, p. 353):
5. Critical Analysis of Scholarship
Our understanding of the multiplicity of meaning in P/P/I derived nouns has come a long way since the study of -er nouns from the perspective of argument structure. A number of methodological and theoretical issues remain, nevertheless, open for future research. In particular, there is a need to increase the empirical coverage of the studies on P/P/I nouns. This can be achieved by the use of large corpora and by an in-depth study of both synchronic and diachronic data cross-linguistically. The study of diachronic data can greatly advance our understanding of the mechanisms that are responsible for the extension of the senses of affixes. The examination of these mechanisms may have implications for theoretical accounts that need to accommodate the findings of historical and typological research.
Cross-linguistic studies on P/P/I nouns identify two prominent patterns of polysemy: agent/ instrument and instrument/location polysemy. These patterns are interesting from both a typological and a historical perspective (Bauer, 2002; Comrie & Thompson, 2007; Dressler, 1986; Luschutzky & Rainer, 2011, 2013; Rainer, 2014).
In some languages, the same affixal material can be used to derive all three readings. The English marker -er, for example, derives agents (e.g., driver), instruments (e.g., printer), and locations (e.g., diner).
It is usually assumed that this particular polysemy involves semantic extension mechanisms that are based on semantic affinity. For example, via metonymic extension, the instrument one uses to carry out an action can be thought of as the person who performs the action. Thus, suffixes that are used for agents can also be used to derive instrumental nouns. In a similar vein, locational uses of -er are extensions of instrumental ones (Panther & Thornburg, 2002, p. 294).
Luschützky and Rainer (2011, 2013) show that there is no evidence for a direct sense extension from agent to instrument or from instrument to location. Some of the mechanisms described in Luschutzky and Rainer (2011, 2013) are concretization of action nouns, borrowing, reanalysis, ellipsis, and homonymization. For example, the establishment of the locative reading of the English suffix -er “was due to the influence of the Anglo-Norman suffixes -eor/-our or the Parisian suffix -oir, which all go back to Latin -torium, as well as Old French -ier, which goes back to Latin -arium” (Luschutzky & Rainer, 2013, p. 1351). In addition, the development of a new sense due to borrowing, as for example the rise of location nouns in -er, may mean that not all senses of the same affixal material should be attributed to one affix. In other words, some affixes may not be polysemous but rather homonymous (i.e., same form but different affixes).
Another area that calls for further research relates to the factors that bear on the readings of derived words. Lieber and Andreou (2018) identify the following three factors: (a) the semantics of the base lexeme, (b) the context in which derived words occur, and (c) encyclopedic knowledge.
First, consider effects that follow from the semantics of the base verb. In (32), the derived stirrer shows two different subject-oriented readings. In (32)a, it denotes the stimulus and in (32)b, it is instrumental. Crucially, these two different readings of stirrer follow from the polysemy of the base verb stir. In (32)a, stirrer is based on the sense “arouse feelings in, provoke, agitate, foment, urge, incite” of the verb stir, which involves a stimulus and an experiencer; stir in this sense is an amuse verb. In (32)b, the instrumental stirrer is based on yet another sense of stir, namely, “move an implement through with a circular motion, mix” (Lieber & Andreou, 2018, p. 19).
Another effect that follows from the semantics of the base verb relates to the aspectual characteristics of the derived noun. For example, the base verb confess in (33)a is inherently telic, in that it implies an endpoint (i.e., a resulting confession). Thus, the noun confessor in (33)a receives a bounded aspectual reading. The noun maintainer, however, in (33)b receives an unbounded aspectual reading that is linked to the atelic characteristic of the base verb; maintain does not imply a natural endpoint.
A second factor that affects the reading of derived nouns is the context in which they occur. Consider these examples:
In both (34)a and (34)b, the derived beater is subject-denoting. In (34)a, it denotes an agent (the referent is animate and human), whereas in (34)b it denotes an instrument (an electric inanimate beater). Crucially, the value of beater with respect to animacy is set in the context in which beater occurs.
Contextual cues may also affect other properties of derived nouns, such as their aspectual characteristics. The modifier frequent in (35), for example, adds a habitual reading to the noun flyer, that is, “a person who travels by air frequently.”
In (36), the context allows one to set the referent of choppers, that is, portabellos. Contextual information alone, however, cannot account for the reading of choppers, in that it is not clear from the context whether choppers is subject-oriented or object-oriented. The piece of encyclopedic knowledge that portabellos are large mature mushrooms forces a reading of chopper that is not consistent with either the agent or the instrument (i.e., subject reading). Thus, chopper in (36) is interpreted as a theme (i.e., object reading).
Finally, another issue that remains open in theoretical accounts of P/P/I nouns relates to the paradigmatic nature of affixal semantics. The derivation of feminine inhabitant nouns in Dutch best exemplifies this issue (Booij, 1997, p. 47):
Consider, for example, the relation between Amerika, Amerikaan, Amerikaan-s, and Amerikaans-e. The first observation is that the toponymic adjective Amerikaan-s derives from a stem allomorph of the toponym that is formally identical to the corresponding inhabitant term Amerikaan. The second observation is that the feminine gendered term Amerikaans-e does not derive directly from the neutral inhabitant term Amerikaan as one may expect. It derives from the toponymic adjective Amerikaan-s by adding a suffixal schwa. The relation between the feminine gendered term and the toponymic adjective is especially evident in cases in which the toponymic adjective does not derive from the inhabitant term, as in Amsterdam-s and Amsterdams-e. Booij argues that in order to best capture this state of affairs, one must acknowledge a paradigmatic relation between the toponym, the term for the inhabitant, the toponymic adjective, and the feminine gendered term. Evidence for paradigmatic relations in P/P/I derived nouns poses serious problems for the analysis of word-formation phenomena in terms of syntactic structures.
Work on this article was partially funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft SFB 991 “The Structure of Representations in Language, Cognition, and Science” (Project: C08, “The Semantics of Derivational Morphology: A Frame-Based Approach”).
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