Scaling morphosemantic transparency/opacity: A corpus-linguistic and acquisitionist study of German diminutives

Sonja Schwaiger 1 , Jutta Ransmayr 2 , Katharina Korecky-Kröll 3 , 4 , Sabine Sommer-Lolei 4 , 5 , and Wolfgang U. Dressler 4 , 5
  • 1 aAustrian Academy of Sciences, , Vienna, Austria
  • 2 Austrian Academy of Sciences, , Vienna, Austria
  • 3 aAustrian Academy of Sciences, , Vienna, Austria
  • 4 University of , Vienna, Austria
  • 5 Austrian Academy of Sciences, , Vienna, Austria


The judicious use of electronic corpora allows new possibilities in the study of word formation. In contrast to the usual way of contrasting morphosemantic transparency (or compositionality) and morphosemantic opacity (or non-compositionality) in a dichotomous way, we present a ten-step scale from maximum transparency to total opacity, exemplified with the common German diminutive suffixation in -chen and Austro-Bavarian -erl. Our corpus-linguistic investigation allows new insights into problems of distribution of type and token frequency according to degrees of morphosemantic transparency/ opacity and of the two rivalling diminutive formations. An analysis of diminutive acquisition is added as external evidence for or against previous claims. Acquisition data come from three longitudinal corpora and from 24 children of a transversal quasi-longitudinal study. Here the order of acquisition of diminutives according to the ten-step scale of morphosemantic transparency/opacity and to adult type and token frequency will be presented and the relation between morphosemantic and morphopragmatic meaning will be discussed.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Barz, I. 1983. “Wortbedeutung und Wortbildungsbedeutung”. Zeitschrift fur Germanistik 4. 65-69.

  • Bauer, L. 2001. Morphological productivity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Bourque, S.Y. 2014. Toward a typology of semantic transparency: The case of French compounds. (PhD dissertation, Department of French Studies, University of Toronto.)

  • Clark, E.V. 1993. The lexicon in acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Corbin, D. 1987. Morphologie derivationnelle et structuration du lexique. Tubingen: Niemeyer.

  • Crocco Galeas, G. and W.U. Dressler. 1992. “Trasparenza morfotattica e morfosemantica dei composti nominali piu produttivi dell’italiano di oggi.” In: Moretti, B., D. Petrini and S. Bianconi (eds.), Atti del 25. Congresso Societa di Linguistica Italiana. Roma: Bulzoni. 9-24.

  • de Knop, S. 1987. Metaphorische Komposita in Zeitungsuberschriften. Tubingen: Niemeyer.

  • Dressler, W.U. 1985. “On the predictiveness of Natural Morphology”. Journal of Linguistics 21. 321-337.

  • Dressler, W.U. 1989. “Prototypcial differences between inflection and derivation”. Zeitschrift fur Phonetik, Sprachwissenschaft und Kommunikationsforschung 42. 3-10.

  • Dressler, W.U. and L. Merlini Barbaresi. 1994. Morphopragmatics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

  • Dressler, W.U. and L. Merlini Barbaresi. 2001. “Morphopragmatics of diminutives and augmentatives: On the priority of pragmatics over semantics”. In: Kenesei, I. and Robert Harnish (eds.), Perspectives on semantics, pragmatics, and discourse. A Festschrift for Ferenc Kiefer. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 43-58.

  • Dressler, W.U. 2005. “Word-formation in Natural Morphology”. In Štichauer, P. and R. Lieber (eds.), Handbook of word-formation. New York: Springer. 267-284.

  • Dressler, W.U. (ed.). 2006. Natural Morphology. (Folia Linguistica 40, special issue.) 1-2.

  • Dressler, W.U. and K. Korecky-Kroll. 2015. “Evaluative morphology and language acquisition”. In: Grandi, N. and L. Kortvelyessy (eds.), Edinburgh handbook of evaluative morphology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 134-141.

  • Dressler, W.U. and L. Merlini Barbaresi. 2017. “Pragmatics and morphology: Morphopragmatics.” In: Huang, Y. (ed.), The Oxford handbook of pragmatics. Oxford University Press. 493-510.

  • Dressler, W.U., L. Merlini Barbaresi, S. Schwaiger, J. Ransmayr, S. Sommer-Lolei and K. Korecky-Kroll. 2017. “Rivalry and lack of blocking among Italian and German diminutives in adult and child language”. In: Rainer, F., F. Gardani, H. Luschutzky and W.U. Dressler (eds.), Competition in morphology. Berlin: Springer. In print.

  • Fradin, B. 2009. “Morphologie constructionnelle et semantique”. Memoires de la Societe de Linguistique de Paris 17: La morphologie lexicale: un domaine autonome de la grammaire? 89-118.

  • Gagné, C.L. and T.L. Spalding. 2016. “Written production of English compounds: Effects of morphology and semantic transparency”. Morphology 26(2). 157-200.

  • Kilani-Schoch, M., F. Sanchez Miret and W.U. Dressler. 2011. “Towards naturalness scales of pragmatic complexity”. Poznań Studies in Contemporary Linguistics 47. 237-263.

  • Korecky-Kroll, K. 2017. “Kodierung und Analyse mit CHILDES: Erfahrungen mit kindersprachlichen Spontansprachkorpora und erste Arbeiten zu einem rein erwachsenensprachlichen Spontansprachkorpus”. In: Resch, C. and W.U. Dressler (eds.), Digitale Methoden der Korpusforschung in Osterreich. Vienna: Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. 87-113.

  • Libben, G. 2010. “Compounds, semantic transparency and morphological transcendence”. In: Olsen, S. (ed.), New impulses in word formation. Hamburg: Buske. 212-232.

  • Libben, G. 2014. “The nature of compounds: A psychocentric perspective.” Cognitive Neuropsychology 31. 8-25.

  • Mattiello, E. and W.U. Dressler. 2017. “The morphosemantic transparency/opacity of novel English analogical compounds and compound families”. (Submitted to Journal of English Linguistics.)

  • Merlini Barbaresi, L. 2015. “Evaluative morphology and pragmatics”. In: Grandi, N. and L. Kortvelyessy (eds.), Edinburgh handbook of evaluative morphology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 32-42.

  • Motsch, W. 1999. Deutsche Wortbildung in Grundzugen. Berlin: de Gruyter.

  • Ransmayr, J., K. Morth and M. Durco. 2017. “AMC (Austrian Media Corpus) - ‘Korpusbasierte Forschungen zum Osterreichischen Deutsch’”. In: Resch, C. and W.U. Dressler (eds.), Digitale Methoden der Korpusforschung in Osterreich. Vienna: Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. 27-38.

  • Ransmayr, J., W.U. Dressler and S. Schwaiger 2017. “Semantische Untersuchungen zu osterreichischen Diminutiven und Diminutivkomposita: Wortfelder und Graduierung der morphosemantischen Opazitat”. (To be submitted.)

  • Savickiene, I. and W.U. Dressler (eds.). 2007. The acquisition of diminutives: A cross-linguistic perspective. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

  • Schwaiger, S., A. Barbaresi, K. Korecky-Kroll, J. Ransmayr and W.U. Dressler. 2017. “Diminutivvariation in osterreichischen elektronischen Korpora”. (Submitted as a conference paper for the conference Deutsch in Osterreich und an dere plurizentrische Kontexte: Variation - Kontakt - Perzeption. Vienna: 07 Jul 2017-09 Jul 2017.)

  • Slobin, D.I. 1985. “Crosslinguistic evidence for the language-making capacity”. In: Slobin, D.I. (ed.), The crosslinguistic study of language acquisition. (Vol. 2.) Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum. 1157-1249.

  • Talamo, L., C. Celata and P.M. Bertinetto. 2016. “/derIvaTario/: A lexicon of annotated Italian derivatives”. Word Structure 9. 72-102.


Journal + Issues