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Lexical blends and lexical patterns in English and in American Sign Language


Lexical blending has long been recognized as a creative and productive strategy for coining new words. English brunch, for example, is an established lexical blend of breakfast and lunch, and cronut is a more recent blend of croissant and donut. Lexical blending has also traditionally been viewed as a largely unpredictable process. However, recent studies have demonstrated that, though blending is probabilistic rather than categorical, blend structure is indeed constrained by phonological and semantic considerations. This paper examines some consequences of lexical blending for morphology and for morphological theory, particularly issues stemming from the fact that parts of existing words seem to develop new or specialized meanings as a result of the blending process. Here I examine smaller, less-established blending patterns in two languages, English and American Sign Language. I argue that, though many individual blends are unlikely to become established, conventional lexical items, the general mechanism that allows speakers to produce and interpret blends is clearly part of morphology: Lexical blending forges and reinforces connections between whole words. Accordingly, blending is most appropriately viewed as a step between compounding and derivation, an analogical process that typically creates and exploits paradigmatic lexical relationships. These findings are situated in the framework of Construction Morphology, which allows for the straightforward description of morphological patterns as structural alignments of form and meaning and as templates for the creation of new words.

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