From hand-carved to computer-based: Noun-participle compounding and the upward strengthening hypothesis

Hilpert, Martin

In: Cognitive Linguistics, 2015, vol. 26, no. 1, p. 113-147

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    This paper addresses the recent history of noun-participle compounding in English. This word formation process is illustrated by forms such as hand-carved or computer-based. Data from the COHA shows that over the last two-hundred years, such forms have undergone a substantial increase in type and token frequency. These quantitative changes motivate an exploration of the qualitative changes that have accompanied them. A diachronic analysis of the noun and participle types that are recruited into noun-participle compounds reveals that the word formation process has changed substantially with regard to its component parts. While the observable changes in noun-participle compounding match several defining criteria of grammaticalization, it is argued here that these developments are more usefully seen as a process of constructional change. To distinguish between those two, this paper develops an idea that is called the upward strengthening hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, grammaticalization happens when the activation of a node in a constructional network strengthens not only that node itself, but also a node that is situated at a higher, more abstract level of that network.