Specific features of English compounds

There are two important peculiarities distinguishing compounding in English from compounding in other languages. Firstly, both immediate constituents of an English compound are free forms, i.e. they can be used as independent words with a distinct meaning of their own. The condi­tions of distribution will be different but the sound pattern the same, ex­cept for the stress. The point may be illustrated by a brief list of the most frequently used compounds studied in every elementary course of Eng­lish: afternoon, anyway, anybody, anything, birthday, day-off, downstairs, everybody, fountain-pen, grown-up, ice-cream, large-scale, looking-glass, mankind, mother-in-law, motherland, nevertheless, notebook, nowhere, post-card, railway, schoolboy, skating-rink, somebody, staircase, Sunday.

It is common knowledge that the combining elements in Russian are as a rule bound forms, but in English combina­tions like Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Soviet, Indo-European or politico-eco­nomical, where the first elements are bound forms, occur very rarely and seem to be avoided. They are coined on the neo-Latin pattern.

The second feature that should attract attention is that the regular pattern for the English language is a two-stem compound, as is clearly testified by all the preceding examples. An exception to this rule is ob­served when the combining element is represented by a form-word stem, as in mother-in-law, bread-and-butter, whisky-and-soda, deaf-and-dumb, good-for-nothing, man-of-war, mother-of-pearl, stick-in-the-mud.

If, however, the number of stems is more than two, so that one of the immediate constituents is itself a compound, it will be more often the determinant than the determinatum. Thus aircraft-carrier, waste-paper-basket are words, but baby outfit, village schoolmaster, night watch­man and similar combinations are syntactic groups with two stresses, or even phrases with the conjunction and: book-keeper and typist.

The predominance of two-stem structures in English compounding distinguishes it from the German language which can coin monstrosities like the anecdotal Vierwaldstdtterseeschraubendampfschiffgesellschaft or Feuer- und Unfallversicherungsgesellschaft.

One more specific feature of English compounding is the important role the attributive syntactic function can play in providing a phrase with structural cohesion and turning it into a compound. Compare: ... we've done last-minute changes before ...( Priestley) and the same combi­nation as a free phrase in the function of an adverbial: we changed it at the last minute more than once. C f. four-year course, pass-fail basis (a student passes or fails but is not graded).

It often happens that elements of a phrase united by their attributive function become further united phonemically by stress and graphic­ally by a hyphen, or even solid spelling. C f. common sense and common-sense advice; old age and old-age pensioner; the records are out of date and out-of-date records; the let-sleeping-dogs-lie approach (Priestley). C f.: Let sleeping dogs lie (a proverb). This last type is also called quotation compound or holophrasis. The speaker (or writer, as the case may be) creates those combinations freely as the need for them arises: they are originally nonce-compounds. In the course of time they may become firmly established in the language: the ban-the-bomb voice, round-the-clock "duty.

Other syntactical functions unusual for the combination can also provide structural cohesion. E. g. working class is a noun phrase, but when used predicatively it is turned into a compound word. E. g.: He wasn't working-class enough. The process may be, and often is, com­bined with conversion and will be discussed elsewhere (see p. 163).

The function of hyphenated spelling in these cases is not quite clear. It may be argued that it serves to indicate syntactical relationships and not structural cohesion, e. g. keep-your-distance chilliness. It is then not a word-formative but a phrase-formative device. This last term was suggested by L. Bloomfield, who wrote: "A phrase may contain a bound form which is not part of a word. For example, the possessive [z] in the man I saw yesterday's daughter. Such a bound form is a phrase formative."* C f. ... for the I-don't-know-how-manyth time (Cooper).