Maria Silvia Micheli

The diachrony of Italian mal(e)-constructions: from compounding to derivation

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In this paper, I investigate a morphological construction expressing the evaluative meaning of contempt in Italian. The words formed by means of this construction contain the string mal(e)-, linked to the adverb male ‘badly’, plus a base that can be an adjective, a verb or a participle (e.g. malsano ‘insane’, maltrattare ‘to ill-treat’, malvivente ‘criminal’, lit. ‘badly living’, or malnato ‘miscreated’). Based on diachronic data ranging from Old to Contemporary Italian, I examine the evolution of this partially lexically specified construction focusing on its functional and distributional properties, within the framework of Construction Morphology (Booij 2010). The analysis reveals that mal(e)- displays a prefix-like behavior and conveys a pejorative or a negative value, depending on the meaning of the base word and the context. I argue that it can be considered as an evaluative prefix and that mal(e)- construction is at the present stage closer to derivation than compounding.


  • Prefixation
  • Compounding
  • Construction Morphology
  • Diachrony
  • Italian Language


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