The morphology of oddities


Camiel Hamans (Brussels)


Traditionally morphology deals with complex words, "words which are not simple signs, but which are made up of more elementary ones", as Aronoff (1976:1) puts it. It is the aim of a generative theory of morphology to describe and analyse 'the rules for making up new words' (ibid:19) and to predict which words are possible (ibid:18 & 35). Although Aronoff accepts words such as 'slurp' and 'quack' to belong to English (ibid:8), the coining of these onomatopoetic or partially phonetically symbolised words does not belong to the study of word formation, since the meaning of these 'composite items' can only 'be partially, but not completely, derived from meanings of their parts'.


According tot Aronoff (ibid: 20-21) 'portmanteau' words such as 'smog' or 'chunnel', although being derived from other forms - 'smoke + fog' and 'channel+tunnel' - should not be described in a theory of word formation either. These products of a blending process are 'oddities' just as acronyms and 'morpheme strings' such as 'transmote', a combination of the two non-independent morphemes 'trans' and 'mote'.


This view of Aronoff is the traditionally accepted opinion about morphology. Also structuralists as Uhlenbeck and Schultink did not discuss what they called intentionally creative processes of word coining.


However recently some linguists got interested in these and other oddities and described as being productive (Hüning, Hinskens, Kemmer, Meesters, Ronneberg-Siebold, Szpyra, Hamans). In this paper I shall discuss why the traditional morphological approach failed and how all of a sudden such different scholars came up with alternatives.