Holden Härtl: “On the Relation Between Word-formation and Naming”, 23.6.2014

We cordially invite to the following guest lecture:

Holden Härtl (Kassel)

Monday June 23, 16ct, room IG 3.201.

“On the relation between word-formation and naming: A pragmatic perspective”


In this talk, I will pursue a pragmatic account of interpretational properties of word-formation products. In particular, I will focus on novel adjective-noun compounds in German, e.g., Blauschachtel (‘blue_box’), Schmal­messer (‘slim_knife’), and investigate their in­cli­nation to be interpreted as names for kinds. For the analysis, the interplay between semantic compositionality and the supposed naming function of word-formation products will be of particular interest as well as how these two factors relate to the perceived novelty or “markedness” of newly formed compounds.
We will start from a lexicalist position and the conservative assumption that, in German, word-formation is the preferred route for establishing a concept’s name (cf., e.g., Bücking 2009; Motsch 2004), put this assumption to a number of tests and prove it to be correct. For example, the contrast in acceptability between (1a) and (1b) can be attributed to the more pronounced naming function of Kurz­bericht (‘short_report’) as compared to kurzer Bericht (‘short report’) and, specifically, to the fact that fast (‘almost’), as a scalar particle, implicates that some property of the modified element is not fully attained and that its complement still holds: almost Xnot X, see Rotstein & Winter (2004):

Das ist ein kurzer Bericht, fast schon ein Kurzbericht.
´this is a short report almost a short_report’

??Das ist ein Kurzbericht, fast schon ein kurzer Bericht.
‘this is a short_report almost a short report’

Thus, the scalar contrast involved in the felicitous example in (1a) can be characterized as an in­ten­sification of a category match, where the predicative introduced by fast in the second conjunct cor­responds to the “stronger” category, i.e., a kind name.
In the second part of my talk, I will argue for a systematic relation to hold between the mar­ked­ness of a novel adjective-noun compound and its interpretation as a kind name as well as its affinity to be lexicalized. Crucially, this relationship will be traced back – along the lines of Levinson’s M-principle – to a pragmatic principle. It holds that deviance from a default form – that is, in our case, from a phrasal expression like schmales Messer (‘slim knife’) – implies deviance from the meaning of this form, which, in turn, results in a re-interpretation as a kind name and in semantic specialization. Consequently, interpretation as kind name and semantic specialization in compounds will be described as the cause for potential lexicalization and not as its effect, as is often proposed in the literature. Some remarks about the compatibi­li­ty of the proposed analysis to alternative, non-rule-based approaches (e.g., Construction Grammar) will conclude my paper.


  • Bücking, Sebastian (2009): How do Phrasal and Lexical Modification Differ? Contrasting Adjective-Noun Com­bi­nations in German. Word Structure 2 (2), 184–204.
  • Levinson, Stephen C. (2000): Presumptive Meanings: The Theory of Generalized Conversational Implicature. Cam­bridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Motsch, Wolfgang (2004): Deutsche Wortbildung in Grundzügen. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.
  • Rotstein, Carmen & Yoad Winter (2004): Total Adjectives vs. Partial Adjectives: Scale Structure and Higher-Order Modifiers. Natural Language Semantics 12 (3): 259–288.