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Conversionconsists in making a new word from some existing word by changing the category of a part of speech: the morphemic shape of the original word remains unchanged. The new word has a meaning which differs from that of the original one though it can more or less be easily associated with it. It has also a new paradigm peculiar to its new category as a part of speech.


nurse, n >   to nurse, v
  -s, pl.   -s, 3rd p. sg.
Substantive paradigm -`s, possesive, sg. -s`, possesive, pl. Verbal paradigm -ed, past s., past participle -ing, pres. part, gerund

Conversion is accepted as one of the major ways of enriching English vocabulary with new words. One of the major arguments for this approach to conversion is the semantic change that regularly accompanies each instance of conversion. Normally, a word changes its syntactic function without any shift in lexical meaning. E.g. both in yellow leaves and in The leaves were turning yellow the adjective denotes colour. Yet, in The leaves yellowed the converted unit no longer denotes colour, but the process of changing colour, so that there is an essential change in meaning.

The change of meaning is even more obvious in such pairs as hand > to hand, face > to face, to go > a go, etc.

The other argument is the regularity and completeness with which converted units develop a paradigm of their new category of part of speech.As soon as it has crossed the category borderline, the new word automatically acquires all the properties of the new category, so that if it has entered the verb category, it is now regularly used in all the forms of tense and it also develops the forms of the participle and the gerund.

Conversion is not only a highly productive but also a particularly English way of word-building. Its immense productivity is considerably encouraged by certain features of the English language in its modern stage of development. The analytical structure of Modern English greatly facilitates processes of making words of one category of parts of speech from words of another. So does the simplicity of paradigms of English parts of speech.A great number of one-syllable words is another factor in favour of conversion.

One should guard against thinking that every case of noun and verb (verb and adjective, adjective and noun, etc.) with the same morphemic shape results from conversion. There are numerous pairs of words (e.g. love n – to love v, work n – to work v, etc.) which did not occur due to conversion but coincided as a result of certain historical processes (dropping of endings, simplification of stems) when before they had different forms.

The two categories of parts of speech aspecially affected by conversion are nouns and verbs. Verbs made from nouns are the most numerous amongst the words produced by conversion: e.g. to hand, to back, to face, to screen, to blackmail, and very many others.

Nouns are frequently made from verbs: do, make, walk, etc.

Verbs can also be made from adjectives: to pale, to cool, to yellow, etc.

Other parts of speech are not entirely unsusceptible to conversion: to down, to out.

* * *

It was mentioned that a word made by conversion has a different meaning from that of the word from which it was made though the two meanings can be associated. For instance, in the group of verbs made from nouns some of the regular semantic associations are as indicated in the following list:

I. The noun is the name of a tool, the verb denotes an action performed by the tool: to hammer, to nail, to comb, to brush.

II. The noun is the name of an animal, the verb denotes an action or aspect of behaviour considered typical of this animal: to dog (преследовать), to wolf (пожирать), to monkey (дразнить), to rat (предать).

III. The name of a part of the human body – an action performed by it: to hand, to eye (разглядывать), to elbow (толкать локтем), to nose (нюхать).

IV. The name of a profession or occupation – an activity typical of it: to nurse, to cook.

V. The name of a place – the process of occupying the place or of putting smth./smb. in it: to room (занимать комнату), to place, to table (класть на стол).

VI. The name of a container – the act of putting smth. within the container (to can, to bottle (разливать по бутылкам)).

VII. The name of a meal – the process of taking it (to lunch, to supper).

The suggested groups do not include all the great variety of verbs made from nouns by conversion. They just represent the most obvious cases and illustrate the great variety of semantic interrelations within so-called converted pairs.


Answer these questions.

1. What are the main ways of enriching the English vocabulary?

2. What are the principal productive ways of word-building in English?

3. What do we mean by derivation?

4. What is the difference between frequency and productivity of affixes? Give examples.

5. Give examples of your own to show that affixes have meanings.

6. Prove that the words a finger and to finger (“to touch or handle with the fingers”) are two words and not one word finger used either as a noun or as a verb.

7. What features of Modern English have produced the high productivity of conversion?

8. Which categories of parts of speech are especially affected by conversion?


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