Denominal verbs are verbs formed from nouns by means of various word-formation processes such as derivation, conversion, or less common mechanisms like reduplication, change of pitch, or root and pattern. Because their well-formedness is determined by morphosyntactic, phonological, and semantic constraints, they have been analyzed from a variety of lexicalist and non-lexicalist perspectives, including Optimality Theory, Lexical Semantics, Cognitive Grammar, Onomasiology, and Neo-Construction Grammar. Independently of their structural shape, denominal verbs have in common that they denote events in which the referents of their base nouns (e.g., computer in the case of computerize) participate in a non-arbitrary way. While traditional labels like ‘ornative’, ‘privative’, ‘locative’, ‘instrumental’ and the like allow for a preliminary classification of denominal verbs, a more formal description has to account for at least three basic aspects, namely (1) competition among functionally similar word-formation patterns, (2) the polysemy of affixes, which precludes a neat one-to-one relation between derivatives displaying a particular affix and a particular semantic class, and (3) the relevance of generic knowledge and contextual information for the interpretation of (innovative) denominal verbs.
The onomasiological approach is a theoretical framework that emphasizes the cognitive-semantic component of language and the primacy of extra-linguistic reality in the process of naming. With a tangible background in the functional perspective of the Prague School of Linguistics, this approach believes that name giving is essentially governed by the needs of language users, and hence assigns a subordinate role to the traditional levels of linguistic description. This stance characterizes the onomasiological framework in opposition to other theories of language, especially generativism, which first tackle the form of linguistic material and then move on to meaning. The late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed the emergence of several cognitive-onomasiological models, all of which share an extensive use of semantic categories as working units and a particular interest in the area of word-formation. Despite a number of divergences, such proposals all confront mainstream morphological research by heavily revising conventional concepts and introducing model-specific terminology regarding, for instance, the independent character of the lexicon, the (non-)regularity of word-formation processes, or their understanding of morphological productivity. The models adhering to such a view of language have earned a pivotal position as an alternative to dominant theories of word-formation.
Conversion is traditionally viewed as a word-formation technique of forming a word from a formally identical but categorically different word without adding a(n explicit) morphological exponent. Despite its apparent formal simplicity manifested first of all in the sameness of the input and the output, the proper understanding of what exactly happens during conversion, morphosyntactically and semantically alike, is by no means an easy matter even in respect of one language, let alone languages representing different typological groups or subgroups. To determine the linguistic status of conversion and its place among other types of word formation is not a simple matter either, and, paradoxically, it is especially so in the case of the most extensively studied English conversion. The reason for this is that the traditional view of conversion has often been called into question, giving rise to a diversity of interpretations of conversion not only in English but also in a cross-linguistic perspective. Conversion research has gone a long way to explore the mechanism of conversion as a kind of word formation; nevertheless, further research is necessary to understand every detail of this mechanism.