Heterogeneity in word-formation patterns

Heterogeneity in word-formation patterns. By Susanne Mühleisen. (Studies in language companion series 118.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. xiii, 245. ISBN 9789027205858. $143 (Hb).

Reviewed by Eric A. Anchimbe, University of Bayreuth

Morphological change in language is often investigated in either only historical or synchronic terms. In this book, the author rather adopts a diachronic-synchronic approach in her attempt to trace the career of -ee words from medieval legal use to contemporary online usage and even potential new -ee word formations. From a close description of the origin of -ee word-formation, its development over several centuries, and contemporary influences on it, she considers -ee suffixation a language contact phenomenon, which in the case of English, is naturally productive given the varied multilingual contexts in which the language is used. With the help of the largest uncoded corpus (i.e. the World Wide Web), she integrates this diachronic-synchronic approach into the study of varieties of English.

The issue of non-nativeness often raised against the standards of non-native, especially second-language (L2), varieties of English by skeptics and prescriptivists is resolved thus: ‘While the (likely) inclusion of non-native speaker creations in the study of neologisms in English may be seen by some as distorting the value of the results, I would like to argue that non-native speaker contributions in a globalized English have been a reality for a long time and cannot be ignored’ (11). By including Indian and Jamaican Englishes in the analysis alongside British, Australian, American, and New Zealand Englishes, the author accords authenticity to new English varieties spoken in postcolonial communities.

The book is divided into six chapters, focusing on polsysemy, heterogeneity, and ambiguity in word-formation (Ch. 1); constraints on the formation of -ee words (Ch. 2); a diachronic analysis of the career of -ee words from medieval legal use to nineteenth century ironic nonce words (Ch. 3); the creativity and productivity of -ee words (Ch. 4); a corpus-based investigation of 1000 potential new -ee words (Ch. 5); and -ee words in varieties of English (Ch. 6). The conclusion calls for more studies that take into account ‘possible variabilities of a word-formation pattern by using not only a synchronic but also a diachronic perspective…not in a regional and contextual void but…in different varieties of English’ (192).

This book successfully bridges the gap between synchronic and historical approaches to word-formation by carrying out a carefully document analysis of the history of -ee word-formation and combining it with an investigation of various synchronic syntactic and semantic patterns of word-formation. Language contact has always been instrumental in making ‘processes such as borrowing and parallel changes in correlative and homophonous word-formation pattern’ (17) relevant to any investigation of -ee word-formation. The concise history of the -ee words and the elaborate description of syntactic and semantic characteristics of 1000 potential new -ee words, make this book a suitable reading for scholars interested in both the diachronic and synchronic aspects of word-formation as a whole. Using the Internet as a source of data—no longer disputed today—helps capture the rapid globalization and internationalization of English and gives a clear view of the creativity and productivity of-ee suffixation in the hands of both native and non-native speakers (though no such distinction is made here).