Blocking can be defined as the non-occurrence of some linguistic form, whose existence could be expected on general grounds, due to the existence of a rival form. *Oxes, for example, is blocked by oxen, *stealer by thief. Although blocking is closely associated with morphology, in reality the competing “forms” can not only be morphemes or words, but can also be syntactic units. In German, for example, the compound Rotwein ‘red wine’ blocks the phrasal unit *roter Wein (in the relevant sense), just as the phrasal unit rote Rübe ‘beetroot; lit. red beet’ blocks the compound *Rotrübe. In these examples, one crucial factor determining blocking is synonymy; speakers apparently have a deep-rooted presumption against synonyms. Whether homonymy can also lead to a similar avoidance strategy, is still controversial. But even if homonymy blocking exists, it certainly is much less systematic than synonymy blocking. In all the examples mentioned above, it is a word stored in the mental lexicon that blocks a rival formation. However, besides such cases of lexical blocking, one can observe blocking among productive patterns. Dutch has three suffixes for deriving agent nouns from verbal bases, -er, -der, and -aar. Of these three suffixes, the first one is the default choice, while -der and -aar are chosen in very specific phonological environments: as Geert Booij describes in The Morphology of Dutch (2002), “the suffix -aar occurs after stems ending in a coronal sonorant consonant preceded by schwa, and -der occurs after stems ending in /r/” (p. 122). Contrary to lexical blocking, the effect of this kind of pattern blocking does not depend on words stored in the mental lexicon and their token frequency but on abstract features (in the case at hand, phonological features). Blocking was first recognized by the Indian grammarian Pāṇini in the 5th or 4th century bc, when he stated that of two competing rules, the more restricted one had precedence. In the 1960s, this insight was revived by generative grammarians under the name “Elsewhere Principle,” which is still used in several grammatical theories (Distributed Morphology and Paradigm Function Morphology, among others). Alternatively, other theories, which go back to the German linguist Hermann Paul, have tackled the phenomenon on the basis of the mental lexicon. The great advantage of this latter approach is that it can account, in a natural way, for the crucial role played by frequency. Frequency is also crucial in the most promising theory, so-called statistical pre-emption, of how blocking can be learned.
Adjectivalization is the derivation of adjectives from a verb, a noun, an adjective, and occasionally from other parts of speech or from phrases. Cross-linguistically, adjectivalization seems to be less frequent than nominalization and verbalization. In most languages adjectivalization involves suffixation, but other adjectivalization devices, such as prefixation, reduplication or zero derivation, are also attested. Adjectivalization by means of suffixation has been studied in depth for English. As for other languages in which suffixation is used for adjectivalization, topics that have been studied for English are the types of suffixes used for adjectivalization, their productivity, their semantic contribution, the category of the base to which they attach, and their etymology. For English an etymological distinction between native suffixes and suffixes with a Romance, more specifically Latinate, origin can be made, related to their bound or non-bound character, the type of base to which they attach, and the prosody of the derived word. One of the major challenges to the idea of word-class changing derivation, in this case adjectivalization, comes from polyfunctional words. Participles may function both as verbs and as adjectives, which leads to the question how these complex forms are formally and semantically related. There are also derivational suffixes that are used for the formation of both adjectives and nouns. For these cases as well the formal and semantic relation has to be established. For several Western European languages a relation has been established, in the theoretical literature, between the polyfunctionality of adjectival/nominal suffixes and their influence on the prosody or the phonological properties of the root, due to their etymology. It seems that the dichotomy between two types of suffixes that is created in this way does not always occur and that there is also a mixed case.
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.
Agustín Vicente and Ingrid L. Falkum
Polysemy is characterized as the phenomenon whereby a single word form is associated with two or several related senses. It is distinguished from monosemy, where one word form is associated with a single meaning, and homonymy, where a single word form is associated with two or several unrelated meanings. Although the distinctions between polysemy, monosemy, and homonymy may seem clear at an intuitive level, they have proven difficult to draw in practice. Polysemy proliferates in natural language: Virtually every word is polysemous to some extent. Still, the phenomenon has been largely ignored in the mainstream linguistics literature and in related disciplines such as philosophy of language. However, polysemy is a topic of relevance to linguistic and philosophical debates regarding lexical meaning representation, compositional semantics, and the semantics–pragmatics divide. Early accounts treated polysemy in terms of sense enumeration: each sense of a polysemous expression is represented individually in the lexicon, such that polysemy and homonymy were treated on a par. This approach has been strongly criticized on both theoretical and empirical grounds. Since at least the 1990s, most researchers converge on the hypothesis that the senses of at least many polysemous expressions derive from a single meaning representation, though the status of this representation is a matter of vivid debate: Are the lexical representations of polysemous expressions informationally poor and underspecified with respect to their different senses? Or do they have to be informationally rich in order to store and be able to generate all these polysemous senses? Alternatively, senses might be computed from a literal, primary meaning via semantic or pragmatic mechanisms such as coercion, modulation or ad hoc concept construction (including metaphorical and metonymic extension), mechanisms that apparently play a role also in explaining how polysemy arises and is implicated in lexical semantic change.