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 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.