Clement Kwamina Insaidoo Appah Obed Nii Broohm

Partial motivation in Kwa: the case of complex nominals with non-lexical bases

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This paper deals with partial motivation, where significant formal components do not contribute to the meanings of complex words in which they occur. The purpose is to study diminutive and personal nouns in three Kwa languages (Akan, Esahie and Nzema), to show the extent of partial motivation among the nouns, and to provide a formal account of their properties. The diminutive nouns terminate in -wa/-ba/-ma (including Akan mpoku-wa “developing breasts of a teenagerµ, Esahie talu-wa “young womanµ, and Nzema abOdo-ma “babyµ) while the personal nouns bear the suffixes -foO/- fUE/-volE (including Akan Opem-foO “pregnant womanµ, Esahie EwO-fUE “visitorµ, and Nzema EyO-volE “stranger). We show that, although the bases of these complex words (mpoku, talu, & abOdo, and Opem, EwO & EyO) are non-lexical, they are identifiable constituents of complex words whose semantics tend not to be completely arbitrary, since the diminutive/personal meanings of the suffixes show in the meanings of the complex words. Thus, the complex words are partially motivated and their properties may not be expressed in terms of the classic morpheme-based derivational rules for two reasons: (1) their bases are not lexical items; (2) the patterns are only marginally productive, therefore, assuming a rule would incorrectly generate new words of the type. Thus, this paper provides empirical support for the view that complex words may be partially motivated, and that adopting an abstractive model of morphology comes with crucial advantages


  • Construction Morphology
  • diminutives
  • Kwa
  • partial motivation
  • personal nouns
  • schema


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