Root compound

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A root compound is a compound whose head is not deverbal or whose non-head does not have the function of argument of the verb from which the head is derived.


English compounds such as housewife, blackbird, overcoat, rattlesnake, well-formed, off-white, overlook, and so on do not have a deverbal head, and therefore can be called root compounds. A compound such as truck driver on the other hand has a deverbal head and the non-head is an argument of the embedded verb drive. The distinction between root compounds and synthetic compounds has played a major role in theoretical discussions since the late seventies. Another term for root compound is primary compound. Synthetic compound.



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  • Roeper, T. and D. Siegel 1978. A Lexical Transformation for Verbal Compounds, Linguistic Inquiry 9, pp. 199-260
  • Selkirk, E. O. 1982a. The Syntax of Words, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
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