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Conference on word formation

Bern, 5. / 6. Februar 2014


Martina Werner
Vienna University, Austria
The diachrony of German compounding: a process of grammaticalization?

The view that word-classes emerge by grammaticalization is not new (LEHMANN 2005). But can grammaticalization theory help to explain diachronic developments of word-formation processes, such as suffixation or compounding? Looking at the history of compounding in German, it clearly shows up that diachronic drifts have taken place, i.e. that some morphological restrictions have been omitted: Before late OHG times, ‘simple’ V+N-compounds (such as MHG rîbîsen ‘grater’ > rîben ‘to rasp’, îsen ‘iron’ or NHG Schwimmbad ‘swimming pool’) cannot be attested due to a restriction to N+N-compounding in OHG times (cf. CARR 1939). In contrast, consider the following compounds of contemporary German containing not only verbs, but also VPs as first constituents (1–2):

(1) Fallschirm-spring-benutzung-s-anweisung ‘instruction of parachute usage’

(2) Fahrgast-datenbank-reservierung-s-abfrage ‘database request of passenger’s reservation’
N:passenger-N:database-N:reservation-LE-N:request (LE = linking element/interfix)

In this regard, a diachronic complexification of the first constituents (N -> V -> VPs) can be observed. Especially the diachronic reanalysis of unmarked modifier nouns to verbal stems in late OHG times (such as NHG Schlaf-: N-/V-stem?)-zimmer) seems to be crucial for the diachronic ability for word-internal (synthetical) complexification. The talk aims to relate this morphological development of compounds in German with grammaticalization theory: It will be asked the question whether the diachronic structuring of German compounding itself is grammatically motivated, also with respect to involved word classes and the role of morphological complexity (such as derivedness, interfixation).

CARR, Charles T. (1939): Nominal Compounds in Germanic. Oxford: OUP.
LEHMANN, Christian (2005): Wortarten und Grammatikalisierung. In: Knobloch, Clemens, Schaeder, Burkhard (eds.): Wortarten und Grammatikalisierung. Perspektiven in System und Erwerb. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 1–20.

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