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Building the lexicon for awakening languages



Just as language endangerment involves a reduction in the domains of language use, language revitalization involves an expansion of the language into new (or previous) domains. Yet while all language revitalization efforts face the task of augmenting the lexicon to accommodate these new domains, very little guidance or training is available to communities for this purpose. This is especially unfortunate because word creation and the expansion of the lexicon are not straightforward tasks, either linguistically or socially. The creation or repurposing of words is a process fraught with conflicting language ideologies, and should ideally be informed by the lexeme-building processes that already exist in the language. This talk will provide essential guidance on how to avoid these pitfalls while successfully expanding the language into new domains. There are two important components of expanding the lexicon for awakening languages, one sociocultural, the other linguistic. When awakening a language, it is important to decide whether coining new words is necessary or even appropriate, and to anticipate the consequences of these decisions for the community. For example, older speakers may be unable to understand younger speakers using coined words. Language revitalization projects also often overlook bottom-up approaches, where young speakers are encouraged to coin terms they feel appropriate, using the structures and words that already exist in the language, just as generations of speakers before them did. This ensures that the new words are both relevant to their everyday activities and are something they have a sense of vested ownership for, rather than being just another arbitrary word to memorize, passed down by the language committee. Such bottom-up expansion of the lexicon requires speakers with a sufficient understanding of the language’s structure, and this is where linguistic considerations play a key role. Each language has specific techniques for coining new words, some more productive than others. Using examples of recently-coined words from several awakening languages, this talk will overview the variety of ways languages tend to form new words (e.g. compounding; various types of nominal, verbal, and adjectival derivation; describing an object’s function or appearance; etc.), to help speakers and learners of awakening languages identify the specific strategies that are most appropriate for their language.
Hieber, Daniel W. 2014. Building the lexicon for awakening languages. Chapter prepared for
the Conference on Language Revitalization: Sleeping & Awakened Languages of the Gulf
South, Tulane University. (Proceedings were never published.)
Building the lexicon for awakening languages
Daniel W. Hieber
University of California, Santa Barbara
1 Introduction
Just as language endangerment involves a reduction in the domains of use for a language,
so does language revitalization usually entail an expansion of the language into new (or
previous) social domains. Therefore a major task facing language revitalization efforts is the
need to augment the lexicon to accommodate these new domains. Yet little guidance or training
is available to communities or the linguists working with them on how this is to be done. This
is especially unfortunate because coining new terms and other means of expanding the lexicon
are not at all straightforward tasks, either linguistically or socioculturally. The process can be
fraught with conflicting language ideologies, and should ideally be informed by the lexeme-
and phrase-building processes that already exist in the language. This paper provides essential
guidance on how to avoid these pitfalls with successfully expanding the lexicon into new
domains. It is written primarily for language revitalization teams and the linguists that work
with them.
Expanding a lexicon is not simply a matter of creating new words for new things. In many
cases, as will be seen, this would be an inappropriate way to accomplish the task. It must
always be kept in mind that
the central goal of revitalization-oriented lexicographic work is to
accommodate new uses of the language in a manner commensurate with the wishes and
language ideologies of the community
. Occasionally this entails creating new bits of language,
but much more often it entails giving new uses to old words instead. Each language already has
within it the remarkable potential to accomplish whatever social aims a human mind can put it
to. Expanding the lexicon is simply a matter of teaching speakers how to do this, given the
linguistic resources at their disposal.
A few terminological points are in order: This paper uses the term NEOLOGISM to refer to
any new word, term, or phrase, or new uses of existing words and morphemes. It is important
to note that neologisms are not just words, but can be any means of referring to a concept or
thing. In Western Apache, place names consist of phrases that physically describe the location
in some way, such as
tsk yahil
water flows downward on top of a series of flat rocks
(Basso 1996:27). This is not a noun or even a nominalized phrase, but rather a description, yet
this is the canonical method of referring to places. So this paper is not so much about
and terms that speakers have at their disposal, 
I distinguish between two types of neologisms. One type is WORD CREATION, which I define
here as the creation of new morphemes through novel combinations of strings of phonemes, or
in product naming,
branding, and marketing, and is the origin of names such as
, but is rarely
done in language revitalization projects, for reasons I will return to later. A second type of
neologism I refer to as a COINAGE, which makes use of morphemes and words already in the
language, but in novel ways. The recent English coinage
is one such example. It
contains two morphemes already present in English at the time of its creation (
, referring
to the symbol <#>, and the word
), but combines them in a novel way with a novel
With these points in mind, this paper proceeds as follows: [paper outline].
2 Issues & Ideologies
The ways in which a language revitalization team chooses to expand the lexicon, and
whether those choices will lead to success or failure, depend crucially on the language attitudes
and ideologies of both the dedicated language team and the community at large. At the heart of
all this is the issue of authenticity what counts as authentic language according to each
member of the language team and the community?
The answer to this question varies tremendously from community to community and person
to person. At one extreme is an ideology that says that all new ways of using the language are
inauthentic, and is reflected in the prescriptivist ideologies of those who find all linguistic
change to be a corruption of the language. In its extreme form, this ideology also prohibits
borrowing or code-switching the language should be pure and unmixed or not used at all.
This ideology is a death knell for any revitalization project, for if the language cannot be used
in novel ways, it can never expand into new domains. At the other end of the spectrum is an
ideology which does not give any special status to the heritage language, so that there is no
imperative to adhere to how the language actually is or was. Using words or even the
phonology of another language is considered completely legitimate.
Language ideologies regarding authenticity typically lie somewhere between these two
extremes. For example, the Mohawk Language Standardization Project states in its
nguages are acceptable as well (Jacobs,
Thompson & Leaf 1993, cited in Grenoble & Whaley 2006:92). This demonstrates a preference
for using existing Mohawk words over loanwords, presumably reflective of an ideology that
this is more authentic Mohawk than, say, English words pronounced with Mohawk phonology.
Hinton & Ahler (1999:62) report a much different ideology for some participants in Karuk
revitalization efforts, which one speaker summarizes by saying, 
grammatical accuracy than simply using the language whenever possible.
Revitalization teams should think hard on what they consider to be authentic language
before embarking on a project to expand the lexicon, and ask themselves whether these
ideologies are in line with their broader revitalization goals. This is true regardless of whether
revitalization efforts will involve a centralized language planning committee that coins new
terms, or adopts a distributed, bottom-up approach instead. If one goal of a revitalization
project is to see speakers using the language on the internet, would it be considered inauthentic
for a speaker to use the word
as a verb in a blog post (e.g.
)? If so, the language team should be prepared to coin terms for a large variety of tasks and
concepts relating to electronically-mediated communication, or have some plan in place for
teaching speakers/learners how to utilize existing linguistic resources to this end. On the other
hand, if the revitalization team encourages borrowings for technical terms, will speakers find it
strange or inappropriate to hear speech peppered with terms like
, and
? A compromise position is to recommend that speakers make free use
of jargon words like these, but integrate them phonologically and structurally into the language.
Again, this requires educating new speakers on how this is done in the language. As an
example, both Tlingit and Chickasaw have borrowed the word
as a verb stem that takes
normal verbal inflection a
ash wutusikayp
(Crippen & Twitchell 2013; Hinson 2014).
Revitalization efforts also need to take into account community reactions to the effects of
decisions made by language teams. Prominent  language activist Tmoti Kretu often
states that coining new terms via committee is unnecessary for  language revitalization,
reasoning that one has merely to go ask speakers to find out that they are already using terms
for the concept. A bigger concern, in his opinion, is a proliferation of terms that few people
issues for lexical expansion projects: First, centralized approaches where neologisms are
created by a dedicated team always face the problem of dissemination. Coining the terms is just
the first step. How will the language team educate new speakers about these terms? Including
them in any dictionary projects is one straightforward step, but other strategies include word-
of-the-day/week programs via various media outlets, or asking language instructors to include
the new terms in their curricula. Just as important as educating new speakers is informing
existing speakers about the new terms, which raises the second issue: mutual comprehensibility
between speakers, and in particular between existing and new speakers. Neologisms are often
opaque, and only make sense once explained. Spolsky & Boomer (1983:235) report one
coinage by a Navajo speaker of the term
saad ahh deidinili
, that translates literally as, one
telephone operator without an explanation or sufficiently strong context to inform them.
Moreover, when traditional speakers who are typically older and regarded as most
knowledgeable about the language are confronted with terms that are unfamiliar, confusing,
ntial to foster negative attitudes towards new
uses of the language, and because the new speakers now command phrases that traditional
speakers do not, even challenges their status as an authority on the language. A common
reaction is to reject these neologisms as inauthentic, creating linguistic rifts within the
community. One of the best ways to address this potential hurdle, aside from fostering a
general attitude of open-mindedness among both new and existing speakers alike, is to coin
terms that are as faithful to traditional patterns of coinage as possible in both form and content.
Then, when traditional speakers encounter the new terms, it will be in grammatical
constructions and ways of speaking that are familiar to them, and which they are most
comfortable with. Again, the best solution to this problem is to coin terms that are faithful to
traditional patterns in the language.
Faithfulness to the patterns of the traditional language goes far beyond the mere assembling
of morphemes into a grammatical utterance. It also includes faithfulness to traditional values,
practices, and ways of viewing the world (Hinton & Ahlers 1999). For example, learning place
each place 
(Basso 1984:3536). A failure to use these place names when they would be called for, or
coining some neologism in their stead, would only alienate traditional speakers, and prompts
(Basso 1984:21). 
is an important
metaphor for both life and marriage, giving rise to expressions like
(Hinton & Ahlers 1999:65). Hinton & Ahlers note that this metaphor could be
exploited for many related terms, such as 
community members who have been socialized into traditional culture and language, while
simultaneously providing cultural insights for new speakers as well.
In sum, for any revitalization project it is vital to keep in mind the language ideologies of
community members, their possible reactions to new uses of the language, and the important
cultural values and practices that ought to be reflected in the language. I turn now to the
different broad strategies that one can take towards expanding the lexicon.
3 General Approaches
Broadly speaking, there are two approaches that revitalization teams can adopt in expanding
the lexicon: CENTRALIZED and DECENTRALIZED. I prefer these terms to the more common terms
because they avoid any implication or imposition of social hierarchy.
Centralized approaches are those where a dedicated team of language experts or otherwise
duly-appointed individuals make decisions regarding the lexicon and in some way disseminate
those decisions to the rest of the speech community. Decentralized approaches encourage new
and/or existing speakers to create their own neologisms instead. The role of the language team
in decentralized approaches can either be to document and disseminate the terms that
community members are using, or to let speakers adopt whichever terminology they prefer as
neologisms spread through the community, until speakers standardize on just one or several
terms. In this second approach, where the adoption of neologisms is largely emergent, the
primary task of the revitalization team is to educate new speakers on the methods of coining
new terms that reflect the ideologies of the community (§2), using the kinds of techniques
presented here (§4).
Crippen (2013) 
d points out several drawbacks of
centralized approaches. First is that the language team may become viewed as the only
authority on what is considered correct for the language. People may be reluctant to use the
rectly. Second is that a firm insistence on standards
the community. The primary goal of most revitalization projects, after all, is for speakers to
pass on and grow their language on their own. Additional risks for centralized approaches is
that the language team might coin terms where appropriate ones already exist in the
community, or that not everyone will like the new terms.
Still, it is important to realize that centralized lexicon expansion is not necessarily the same
language team to collect and report on neologisms in the community rather than dictate them.
The difference is essentially one of prescriptivism versus descriptivism. As a more specific
method, the language team might encourage weekly contests for community members to coin
new terms for specific concepts. The language team could then choose the best neologism
based on whether it adheres to both the grammatical conventions in the language and traditional
values and ways of seeing the world. In many communities though, the support for language
revitalization is not yet broad enough to receive sufficient participation in such a contest.
Decentralized approaches are not without risks either. The most obvious one is that mass
second language acquisition tends to affect the grammar of the language, usually discussed in
This has been well documented for
Dyirbal, where morphological ergativity is no longer present among the language of younger
speakers. Again, the most effective way of mitigating against this risk is educating new
Another matter entirely is when the language has not been spoken in the community for
some time, and there remain no native speakers. In this case, the team doing language work is
the only source of information on the language. Even then, decentralized approaches are
possible if the language team takes as its focus instructing language learners on how to form
new terms in linguistically and culturally appropriate ways. A major advantage of this approach
is that it relieves the language team of the burden of having to coin hundreds of new terms,
allowing them to focus on the task of making information on the grammar and previously-
documented lexicon available instead. In this way lexical expansion can be both centralized and
decentralized at the same time, through a division of labor between the language time and the
community of leaners.
Regardless of the strategy a language team adopts, the goals of the revitalization effort
should be kept prominently in mind. If the goal is for speakers to learn how to be creative with
the language, and adapt it to new uses themselves, then the language team should make its
focus providing language learners with the linguistic resources they need to take the language
into new domains. Small language teams cannot do everything themselves, but language
learners also need somebody to turn to as an authority on the language. This will almost always
entail some division of labor between the language team and the community of learners.
Commented [DWH1]: Problem for both vital and
Commented [DWH2]: citation
Having stressed several times now the importance of teaching new speakers the appropriate
ways of creating neologisms in their language, I now turn to discussing the many specific
techniques involved.
4 Specific Techniques
This section outlines a number of specific techniques that languages have for creating new
terms and phrases. It must be emphasized at the very start that
languages vary widely in which
of these techniques they use. Not every language will use each method, and in some languages
the technique may not even be possible or grammatical
. Moreover, even when a language has
multiple techniques for forming new terms, there tends to be a preference for one method over
another, or for certain methods in certain grammatical contexts. Navajo has a robust enclitic
that turns verbs into nouns, and another enclitic
that attaches to the end of phrases and
turns the entire phrase into a nominal. These two morphemes are used in a huge number of
coinages, some of which are shown below (note that (2) actually shows several neologisms
within neologisms).
chid  htsoh bikg
chid = h-tsoh bi-k dah
car it_crawls_about=NZR explosion_is_made_with_it-big 3sg.POSS-on up_there
Navajo does not, however, make extensive use of compounding. In strongly isolating
languages, the opposite is often true. Both English and Mandarin use compounds as a primary
means of coining new terms, as the following examples from Mandarin show.
 (Anderson 1985:46)
 (Anderson 1985:46)
 (Anderson 1985:46)
Therefore, when investigating how a language coins new terms, it is important to pay attention
to the frequency with which different methods are used, and the syntactic contexts in which
they occur. Just as important is to then teach this to language learners as well.
In this section I will first outline some basic concepts in word formation, and then list
specific grammatical techniques used in word formation, providing examples of each. These
techniques are meant to apply to any open class of words such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, or
adverbs. I will also end with a section devoted to suggestions for specific parts of speech.
Whenever possible, the examples in this section have been taken from languages of the Gulf
South in the United States, and especially Chitimacha.
Basic Concepts
A useful concept to keep in mind when thinking about neologisms is PRODUCTIVITY, which
is (roughly) the number of constructions a certain morpheme or pattern can be used to form.
Constructions vary tremendously in how productive they are. An incredibly productive suffix in
English is
, and can be used to form all sorts of words like
, and many others. English also has some extremely unproductive (or even non-
productive) morphemes, such as the suffix
, which appears on exactly one word:
words based on a morpheme that only has one or two productive uses. At the same time, there
are some cases where this is exactly what you should do. Some ways of forming new words
only apply in very narrow circumstances, but are completely productive within those contexts.
An example from English is the suffix
, which may be added to verbs ending in
not many other contexts. Despite this limited productivity, it would still be perfectly
grammatical and even expected to coin terms ending in
this way. Iupiaq likewise has a
or used, but is quite productive despite this limited range of syntactic contexts.
Another factor to consider in thinking about productivity is the fact that some words that
(1985:18) discusses the lack of a word
in English, despite the fact that one of the
acceptable uses of
is to create action nominals. For awakening languages being
revitalized from archival materials, it is impossible to know what new words would have been
acceptable to speakers. For example, Chitimacha has a verb
nominal form
, but nothing is documented for the action nominal form of this verb.
Since almost all other action nominals in Chitimacha are formed with a final
, one could coin
a term
rhaps this was actually a word speakers used, but
never made it into the documentation. Or maybe speakers would have reacted to it like English
speakers react to
. This should not discourage language teams from coining the term
anyway. After all, it was not very long ago that using the word
as a verb was completely
stilted and ungrammatical, like
would have been used instead). Yet the
expansion of the English language into a new domain (namely, the social media website
Facebook) quickly made the verb
a common term. One can likewise never know if
would have caught on among traditional speakers. But given everything we currently
know about the Chitimacha language, this is the most reasonable guess we can make about
what speakers might have said in the same context.
A final useful concept is the idea of DERIVATION, 
(Aikhenvald 2007). All languages have some
method of derivation, and it is these derivational techniques (among others) that language
teams can use in coining new terms. Derivation is often overtly marked by an affix or other
morphological process, as in the examples below:
be.good be.good\APPL
 
(Arabic; Anderson 1985:35)
soon soon-AZR
  (Hieber 2014:A26h.11, A03c.2)
But derivation can also happen with no overt changes at all. This is often called ZERO-
DERIVATION, and can be seen in the examples below.
Chitimacha examples in this paper use a practical orthography developed by the Chitimacha Tribe. Notable
characters are <q>=//, <c>=//, <j>=//, <dz>=/
are to speaker, text number, paragraph and sentence number in Hieber (2014).
I run every Tuesday.
(verb) >
I went for a run
. (noun)
hiaka yakera
beauty garment beauty
  (Warao; Romero-Figeroa 1997:49)
-gipa mande
big-3sg-FUT big-REL man
  (Mande; Burling 1961:27)
For some languages, zero-derivation may be rare or even impossible, and words will always
require some type of overt change to switch parts of speech Iupiaq is like this. For other
languages (usually isolating ones like Indonesian), derivational changes are hardly ever needed.
Derivation frequently changes the part of speech of the word, as in (12) and (13), but need
not always do so, as in (14) and (15).
kap gapt-k,  pex-iqi
seize-NFsg PUNC seize-PTCP fly-NFsg
[the water] seized [his tail] (v.) 
(Chitimacha; Hieber 2014:A10d.3, A01c.1)
 -HAVE-3sg.INDIC
 (n.)  (v.)
(Iupiaq; Lanz 2010:96)
go_out-GER go_out-HORIZ-NFsg
 
(Chitimacha; Hieber 2014:A64a.3, A21b.12)
walk walk-slowly
  (Lanz 2010:145)
Finally, derivation can apply to single words (16) or entire phrases (17).
 (Chitimacha; Hieber 2014:A09e.1)
[ney heex paac]-pa
earth powder roast-NZR
 (Chitimacha; Swadesh 1953a:32, 46)
General Techniques
Create a New Word
One way to form a neologism is to create an entirely new word from scratch, not based on
other words in the language. Most people find this to be the most inauthentic way of creating a
new term, but it is actually quite possible for a word to be completely new and yet still
authentic in that it adheres to the patterns of the language. Any new word should of course
match the sound patterns (phonology) of the language, and not include sounds or combinations
language in playful and creative ways, by using alliteration, assonance, reduplication, haplology
(dropping a repeated or similar syllable), metathesis (switching the order of two sounds), plays
on words (puns), etc. Each of these utilizes existing resources in the language in a way that, if
done correctly, can actually be a fine homage to the patterns of the traditional language, and
become a form of linguistic artistry.
For example, one fun coinage for Chitimacha would be the verb
intr.). What
makes this a fun term is that in the practical orthography developed by the Chitimacha Tribe,
the letter <x> represents the sound //, so if a Chitimacha speaker were to pronounce the
English word
as it was written, it would be /wa/. It also happens that
is an acceptable
syllable shape for verb stems in Chitimacha, so it sounds like traditional Chitimacha in more
ways than one. This stem can then be the basis for the transitive version of the verb,
qapx waxt-
this same technique might be
pronounced /tet/, which could be backformed to
affective verb
This little bit of linguistic play creates words that are neither Chitimacha or
English in origin, and so are completely new, but respect the patterns of Chitimacha in terms of
its orthography, sounds, syllable shape, and integration into the morphology.
Borrow a Word
Another contentious strategy is to simply borrow the term one needs from another
language. Using this technique depends a great deal on the language attitudes of the
community. Moreover, it seems that some languages are simply not highly prone to borrowing.
In all the time that Navajo has had contact with Spanish speakers, for example, and despite the
Commented [DWH3]: Avoid the empty header here.
Commented [DWH4]: Add a final note that these
coinages were not, however, considered sufficiently
authentic by the Chitimacha language team to be included
in the dictionary.
many cultural items that the Navajo inherited from the Pueblos (e.g. rug weaving) or Spanish
(e.g. kinds of food), the language still has less than thirty words borrowed from Spanish.
Speakers of Navajo and languages similar in their lack of borrowing clearly expanded their
lexicon into new domains as they encountered foods, technologies, and ideas from Europeans
and other Native American groups, but generally did so by making use of the linguistic
resources already present in their language instead of borrowing those resources from the other
On the other hand, some languages have dedicated grammatical devices just for the purpose
of handling borrowings. Languages with noun classes, for example, tend to borrow loan words
into only one or two noun classes. Mohawk uses a special dummy syllable
borrowed words so that they match the syllable structure of the Mohawk verb:
 (Mohawk; Mithun, p.c.)
Revitalization teams should look to see how past borrowings have been handled in their
language and what kinds of grammatical devices were used, and model future borrowings on
Rather than borrowing words verbatim from other languages, a simple step that helps give
borrowed words more legitimacy is to adapt them to the phonology of the heritage language.
(< Sp.
) and
Chitimacha as
(< Fr.
). Another strategy is to integrate borrowed words into the
grammar of the heritage language whenever possible, like the hypothetical example of
above. A great example of this are backformations, which divide a word into
its morphemes based on the structure of the borrowing language rather than the original
language. Thus the Arabic word
en borrowed into Swahili, was reanalyzed as
the singular prefix
+ a stem
. Since the plural of Swahili
, speakers then
began using
Borrow a Meaning
Rather than borrow a word, one can borrow meanings or ways of talking about things
instead. This is called a LOAN TRANSLATION or CALQUE. Iupiaq and Chitimacha language
speakers both use a loan translation for the wor
tusaayugaa-t maqpiaa-t sheet_of_paper-pl
newspaper (Iupiaq; Edna MacLean, speaker)
ni kimti naakxt
knowledge paper
 (Chitimacha)
Loan translations are especially useful when they come from related or neighboring
languages. Oftentimes languages in the same family or region will coin terms using the same
nanx xah-i
fetus put_in-NZR
 (Chitimacha; Swadesh 1953a:51)
- (Creek; Martin & Mauldin 2000:349)
Neighboring and related languages are thus an excellent place to look for inspiration when
expanding the lexicon. Moreover, because neighboring languages often share similar cultures or
have been in contact for long periods of time, using these languages to create new terms is
much more likely to be culturally and linguistically accurate or authentic.
A final source of loan translations can actually be from the histories of words in other
languages. A really useful technique can be to look up the term in an etymological dictionary,
and create a loan translation based on the original meaning. This was done for the Chitimacha
which consists of
, which
stems from the Latin
sacer ficere
Extend the Meaning of a Word
One of the most common neologisms is to simply expand the meaning of a term to
encompass something new. In this technique, no new words are actually coined. I have already
shown one example of this with the English word
. It can now be said that the uses of
 A somewhat common
Chitimacha used this technique of semantic extension to expand the meaning of a number of
(23) a.
xux kut
ruit) > 
 > 
 > 
 > 
heex paacpa
 > 
Use an Existing Pattern
An easy way to think of new terms is to find a related term in the language that has more
than one piece to it, and follow that pattern. For example, Chitimacha has a number of terms
that use the word
(24) a.
duskunkatsi hana
blacksmith shopmetal house
Based on this pattern, the Chitimacha language team coined many new words for various types
of locales:
(25) a.
This technique is a great way to flesh out the lexicon for specific semantic domains, and the
consistency of the pattern makes it both easier for learners to acquire, and easier for them to
coin new words with the pattern themselves.
Derive a New Word
Another extremely common way of forming neologisms is to derive the new term from an
already-existing word with a related meaning. Languages often have ways of deriving every
part of speech from every other part of speech. For most North American languages, however,
verbs play a central role in the grammar, so that many words are derived from verb roots.
Below are a number of simple derivations of new terms created either by the Chitimacha
language team or documented in the speech of traditional speakers:
(26) Verb > Verb
 >
Verb > Phrasal Verb
 >
qapx gama-
Verb > Noun
 >
Verb > Adjective
 >
Noun > Noun
 >
Noun > Verb
a  >
Noun > Phrasal Verb
 >
kap qaxinjatma-
Noun > Adjective
 >
Create a Compound Word
Compounding is a very frequent way of creating new words in English and other more
isolating languages, and gives us words like
. If a language has very
little inflectional or derivational morphology, compounding is a great way to coin new terms
from preexisting words. When coining compounds, it is important to pay attention to the order
of words. English compounds tend to follow an order of Modifier-Modified, where the
Modified thing is the more general category, and the Modifier specifies more precisely what
type of thing or action it is. So a
is a kind of board, and
is a kind of
(metaphorical/digital) book.
In this section I will not focus so much on the grammar of compounds than on the types of
semantic patterns that form them, since each language will be different in how its compounds
are formed. For excellent overviews of compounding and other word-formation processes
across languages, see Aikhenvald (2007) and Anderson (1985).
The most straightforward type of compound, frequently used in coining terms for nouns, is
the Modifier-Modified pattern mentioned above. So if one wanted to coin a name for an object,
they would first select a word for the broader, superordinate category in which that object falls,
and then another word which describes it more specifically, as in the following examples from
 <
 
 <
 <
Compounds can create verbs as well, usually by combining a verb and a noun associated
with that action [XX], or two verbs [XX]. Example (28) is a loan translation into Chitimacha
from English, while example (29) is from Mandarin (Anderson 1985:50).
 <
breathe; breath <
Another way of forming compounds is to use two opposite categories to describe the larger
category of which they are members:
 <
traffic <
(Mandarin; Anderson 1985:50)
Finally, many lwell (usually called SERIAL VERBS),
where speakers combine two (or more) verbs to form a single verbal construction. An example
from English is
come see what I drew
, where both
create a single verb sequence.
Serial verbs are not especially common in English, but for other languages they can be highly
frequent. Pawley (2006) even reports on several Trans New Guinea languages that have as few
as 60 to 150 verbs, but combine these verbs in different ways to create thousands of different
meanings. Examples using the verb
(32) a.
 
 
(Pawley 2006:12, 13)
Use a Description
One of the easiest ways to talk about a thing is simply to describe something about it. For
some languages, a description is all that is needed to talk about a thing. No extra nominalizers,
clitics, or special grammatical constructions are necessary. The description is still a recognized
in the traditional sense. Western Apache place names are like this (33), as are some Chitimacha
words for locations (34).
 bi-h t -l
cottonwood POSS-below water inward-it.flows
(Western Apache; Basso 1996:27)
(34) a.
duskunkatsi getuyna hana
metal they_usually_hit house
smithy (lit. )
  (Chitimacha)
Not all languages can use descriptions in this lexicalized way however. More often, a special
clitic of some sort turns the entire phrase into a noun or verb. The Navajo enclitic
is like
(Navajo; Spolsky & Boomer 1983:243)
But neologisms based on descriptions can also be made with just a single word and a simple
learn-PLACT-A.NZR learn-PLACT-
  (Chitimacha)
The following sections outline some common ways that descriptions are used to coin new
terms. The majority of the examples in this section come from Sally 
figurative language in the Athabaskan language Dene Sin (Rice 2012), in part because of the
breadth of examples provided there, and in part because the Athabaskan languages use
descriptions as neologisms with an extremely high frequency, so examples from these
languages are especially apposite for this section.
Describe the Physical Characteristics
A coinage can be based on a description of the color [XX], shape [XX], or size [XX] of an
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:42)
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:49)
sed to refer to the French)
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:23)
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:49)
kix qatin
Example (39) also illustrates a technique called METONYMY, or using a part to refer to the
whole (in this case, using the buttons worn by the French to refer to the entire person).
The coinage may also describe things that are similar to the one being coined.
neka xix gamin
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:22)
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:23)
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:49)
A coinage may also describe the materials a thing is made of [XX], its distinctive features
[XX], or important pieces [XX]. This is an especially good technique for languages with a
system of nominal classification, which can describe the object in terms of the classifier. In
[XX], the classificatory verb for solid roundish objects is used to refer to the sun.
iti chnaha
(Choctaw; Byington 2001:405)
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:47)
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:53)
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:62)
Describe the Action
A good way to coin either nouns or verbs is to describe the actions or processes relating to
the thing, idea, or event, as the following example illustrate:
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:23)
sa ghea
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:63)
One can also describe the sound that a thing or action produces. Example (2) above illustrates
kinds of neologisms may also be formed from onomatopoeic sounds, as in the following
waas waas
(Chitimacha; Swadesh 1953a:27)
Finally, one can describe the result of the action involved:
(Chitimacha; Swadesh 1953a:65)
(Mandarin; Anderson 1985:51)
Describe the Purpose or Function
A coinage can also be based on the purpose or function of the object involved:
vhakv em pvtakv
(Creek; Martin & Mauldin 2000:218)
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:27)
Use Associated Words
Neologisms do not always have to be directly about the concept itself. New terms can be
based on concepts or things that are closely associated with the word one is trying to coin:
Ciqix Panq
bescho nen
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:22)
Use a Metaphor
If the traditional language or culture makes use of metaphor, these can be an excellent
source of neologisms. Rice (2012:41) describes a metaphor DISEASE IS A DEVOURING ANIMAL
that is used to coin new terms for diseases [XX], and a sitting metaphor for marriage [XX]:
(62) a.
gu sedak
dekoth sedak
ya sedak
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:41)
DU) sat tog
(Dene Sin; Rice 2012:63)
Techniques for Specific Parts of Speech
Coining terms for adjectives and adverbs can be tricky, especially if the heritage language
does not have these parts of speech. In this case, the most common methods of modifying other
words are by using nouns or verbs. Languages without a clear category of adjectives differ as
to whether their adjective concepts are more noun-like or verb-like (or sometimes either,
depending on the word). In this case it is important to see whether modifiers in the heritage
language function more like nouns or verbs before coining new words for them.
Nouns can be used to modify other nouns directly:
(64) a.
kr tg
people village
wl ksg
day market
Godu tam
monkey woman
 (Lele; Nikolaeva & Spencer 2013:229)
On the other hand, it is often possible to simply use a noun or verbal noun instead of a
we niik-m
DET be.sick-A.NZR
 (Chitimacha; Swadesh 1953b:A65b.8)
Adjectival concepts can also be conveyed by using possessives with another noun:
mke wa kijana
female of youth
 (Swahili; source: personal knowledge)
then often taken adjectivizing or nominalizing suffixes. Chitimacha has a verb-forming
 >
Like adjectives, adverbs can be formed from possessives, or even oblique phrases involving
kwa haraka
(Swahili; source: personal knowledge)
In Chitimacha, almost all adverbs are really just other parts of speech being used in adverbial
ways. One of the most common ways of forming adverbs in Chitimacha is through the use of
demonstrative pronouns:
(69) a.
Often adjectives double as adverbs, as with the Chitimacha modifier
, which can mean
5 Conclusion
Expanding the lexicon of an awakening language into new domains is never an easy task.
This paper has attempted to provide guidance that will help make this process easier for
language revitalization teams and linguists alike. It has examined the many sociopolitical and
practical factors that go into the process of lexical expansion, and suggested proactive ways of
avoiding potential issues that may even improve the outcome of lexical expansion projects.
Through an efficient division of labor between dedicated language activists and the community
of speakers at large, the task of expanding the language into new domains does not have to be
an insurmountable one.
This paper also provided very practical advice and specific techniques for how to go about
appropriate. What should be clear from this discussion is the tremendously rich array of
techniques that languages have for creatively expressing new meanings. With an understanding
of this wonderfully diverse set of grammatical and conceptual possibilities, expanding the
lexicon can go from lexicographic drudgery to linguistic artistry, in a way that honors the
conceptual nuance and traditional values embedded in the language.
1 first person
2 second person
3 third person
NF non-first person
sg singular
pl plural
A agent
APPL applicative
AZR adjectivizer
DUM dummy material
FUT future
GER gerund
HORIZ horizontal, lying
INDIC indicative
MID middle voice
NZR nominalizer
P patient
PLACT pluractional
PTCP participle
REL relative
SRO solid roundish object
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Full-text available
This chapter deals with patterns of word-formation, their classification and parameters of cross-linguistic variation. Grammatical words (section 1) in most languages have an internal structure; the typological parameters which account for their cross-linguistic variation are discussed in section 2. Word-formation processes correlate with syntax in different ways depending on language type. One such word-formation process - known as ‘the most nearly syntactic of all' (Mithun (1984))-is noun incorporation, discussed in section 3. The structure of words in a language can be more or less iconically motivated (see section 4). Word-formation, traditionally, falls into compounding and derivation. A compound consists of morphemes which could be free (see section 5), while derivation involves the use of different classes of bound morphemes and of morphological processes to form words (see section 6). Word-formation processes vary in terms of their productivity - see section 7. Word-formation processes are prone to distinct patterns of grammaticalization and lexicalization - see section 8. A brief summary is given in section 9, and in section 10 I provide suggestions for field workers describing word-formation in previously undocumented or poorly documented languages. Word-formation accounts for the structured organization of the lexicon. The lexicon is usually conceived of as a list of the form-meaning correspondences conventionalized by speakers, but which are largely arbitrary. However, this list may be structurally organized.
Full-text available
For reasons perhaps more sociolinguistic than linguistic, Athapaskan languages rarely borrow in order to expand the lexicon. Instead, they opt for the recycling of a very small set of core stems through recombination or simple reinterpretation (involving metaphor and metonymy). The resulting lexical inventory is striking to cognitive linguists because of the way experiential reality and typologically common construal patterns are routinely exploited for lexical expansion. This paper presents figurative lexicalization strategies in Dene Sųłiné and argues that they are similar to patterns adopted by genetically unrelated languages. Importantly, a deeper understanding of the processes involved in Athapaskan lexicalization may help speakers continue to lexicalize new concepts in indigenous ways, thus helping sustain the health and viability of their languages.
Written not only for linguists and anthropologists, this book serves as a general reference guide to language revitalization for language activists and community members who believe they should ensure the future use of their languages, despite their predicted loss. Drawing extensively on case studies, it highlights the necessary background and central issues such as literacy, policy decisions, and allocation of resources. The volume’s primary goal is to provide the essential tools for a successful language revitalization program, setting and achieving realistic goals, and anticipating and resolving common obstacles.
Typological distinctions in word formation
  • Stephen R Anderson
Anderson, Stephen R. 1985. Typological distinctions in word formation. Language typology and syntactic description, Vol. III: Grammatical categories and the lexicon, 3-56. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Stalking with stories": Names, places, and moral narratives among the Western Apache. Text, play, and story: The construction of reconstruction of self and story
  • Keith H Basso
Basso, Keith H. 1984. "Stalking with stories": Names, places, and moral narratives among the Western Apache. Text, play, and story: The construction of reconstruction of self and story. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.
A Garo grammar. (25). Poona: Deccan College
  • Robbins Burling
Burling, Robbins. 1961. A Garo grammar. (25). Poona: Deccan College.
Choctaw language dictionary
  • Cyrus Byington
Byington, Cyrus. 2001. Choctaw language dictionary. Asheville, NC: Global Bible Society.
Morris Swadesh's Chitimacha texts
  • Daniel W Hieber
Hieber, Daniel W. (ed.). 2014. Morris Swadesh's Chitimacha texts. Charenton, LA: Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana.