Unpacking contemporary English blends: Morphological structure, meaning, processing
It is not coincidental that blend words (e. g. nutriceutical ← nutricious + pharmaceutical, blizzaster ← blizzard + disaster) are more and more often used in media sources. In a blend, two (or sometimes more) words become one compact and attention-catching form, which is at the same time relatively transparent, so that the reader or listener can still recognise several constituents in it. These features make blends one of the most intriguing types of word formation. At the same time, blends are extremely challenging to study. A classical morpheme-based morphological description is not suitable for blends because their formation does not involve morphemes as such. This implies two possible approaches: either to deny blends a place in regular morphology (as suggested in Dressler (2000), for example), or to find grounds for including them into general morphological descriptions and theories (as was done, using different frameworks, in López Rúa (2004b), Gries (2012), Arndt-Lappe and Plag (2013) and other studies). The growing number of blends observed in various media sources indicates that this phenomenon is an important characteristic of the living contemporary language, and therefore, blends cannot be ignored in a morphological description of the English language (and many other typologically different languages). Moreover, I believe that the general morphological theory has to embrace blends because of the vast amount of regularity observed in their formation, despite their incredible diversity. The formation of blends involves both addition and subtraction, which relates them both to compounds and to clippings. This research aims to clarify the morphological status of blends in relation to the neighbouring word formation categories, in particular, to the so-called clipping compounds (e.g. digicam ← digital + camera). To approach this problem, I compiled a collection of English neologisms formed by merging two (in some cases, more) words into one, and analysed their formal and semantic properties. The results of this analysis were used to distinguish between blends and clipping compounds, and also to justify the classification of blends according to different degrees of formal transparency (using the principles of Lehrer’s (1996, 2007) classification). The strength of the association between blends (or clipping compounds) and their source words was then assessed in two experiments: an online survey involving evaluating definitions of blends and clipping compounds, and a psycholinguistic experiment involving a production and a lexical decision task. The experimental findings show that recognisability of the source words of blends and clipping compounds has significant influence both on the evaluation of their definitions and on their processing. The main implication of the experimental results is that blends, unlike clipping compounds, are closer to compounds than to clippings. In addition to this, significant differences are revealed between blends containing full source words and blends containing only parts of them. Therefore, the structural type of blend, as defined in this study, is a factor which has strong influence on the processing of blends and their source words.