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Titill

Role of Metonymy in Unmarked Change of Word Category

Útdráttur

Unmarked change of word category, e.g. when the verb kiss becomes the noun kiss, is one of the most productive ways for coining new words in English. Traditionally the process has been seen as conversion or zero-derivation, neither of which fully explains the phenomenon. Recently, scholars from the field of cognitive linguistics have made attempts to explain the process with the help of metonymy – with some interesting results. In this essay, a cognitive approach to conversion, the metonymy theory, will be examined and its advantages and disadvantages measured up to those of the formalist zero-derivation theory. This is done in an attempt to answer the question of whether unmarked change of word category is better explained with metonymy than it is with the traditional zero-derivation, and if so, whether the new word-forms should be considered metonymic expressions rather than zero-derivatives.
The zero-derivation theory’s greatest merit is its simplicity and conformity to traditional morphology and word-formation. The zero-morphemes are however very polysemous which breaks the ground rule of one form – one meaning which is so important in traditional morphology. The metonymy theory on the other hand embraces the polysemy and accounts for the extended meanings that the converted words acquire, but fails to provide a uniform explanation for all types of conversion.
The dissimilarities of the two theories proved to be problematic when evaluating which theory better described the unmarked change of word category. Eventually the merits of the zero-derivation theory were considered greater than those of the metonymy theory, largely because of the author’s formalist background.

Birting
26.4.2010


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