Book Review: Metonymy and Word-Formation: Their Interactions and Complementation

The book Metonymy and Word-Formation: Their Interactions and Complementation  by Mario Brdar examines numerous ways in which metonymy and word formation interact and complement each other. They both play a very important role in enriching vocabulary. However, both processes have been marginalized to some extent: word-formation in grammar and metonymy in cognitive linguistics.

The book is organized in seven chapters.  The first chapter is a brief overview of word-formation processes. Chapter 2 is a detailed account of metonymy, its definitions, approaches and types. Chapter 3 discusses a variety of views on the scope of metonymy in grammar. Chapters 4 and 5 describe the interaction of metonymy with non-concatenative and concatenative word-formation, respectively. Chapter 6 shows how metonymy and word formation complement (or block) each other, and, finally, Chapter 7 gives concluding remarks.

The  introductory chapter is an overview of lexicalization processes. The author starts with less common word-formation strategies, such as onomatopeia, deliberate word manufacture (e.g. quark in physics, cowabunga, blurb etc.), and linguistic borrowing. Then he moves on to the word formation processes  we use more often, such as affixation and other ways of modifying the morphological and phonological structure of words. In these processes, we recycle existing linguistic units in a language. An overview of morphemes and morphological processes commonly found in English, such as affixation, compounding, clipping, blending and back-formation is followed by examples of morphological processes found only in some languageas which do not belong to the Indo-European family. In addition to description and cross-linguistic analysis, the book also contains explanations about historical development of and motivation.

Chapter 2, Metonymy, describes types, functions and roles of metonymy in grammatical processes. This chapter inroduces the readers to the goals and the central hypothesis of the book. It offers an overview of cognitive-linguistic approach to metonymy, which started from Lakoff & Johnson (1980) and Radden & Kövecses (1999). These first definitions of metonymy have been questioned these days, as the new studies revealed that metonymy is much more complex than it was initially presented. The new studies resulted in an array of new and diverse definitions and opinions of metonymy, and most of those who write about metonymy disagree about a number of issues. In spite of a lot of new studies and literature about metonymy today, figures from scientific databases prove that it has been and still is less represented in linguistic literature than metaphor. This chapter also contrasts metonymy with metaphor on several levels: number of mappings, domains, directionality and functions. It also discusses diverse approaches to many different types of metonymy and their properties. After this overview of development of cognitive-linguistic approach to metonymy, Brdar raises interesting questions regarding the early definitions of metonymy, as they fail to encompass the complex nature of metonymic processes. New studies show that metonymic processes are much more complex than the simple one-way traffic from the vehicle/source domain to the target domain. The author even doubts whether there is a mapping in a metonymic process at all. He offers a more complex definition, which better explains a number of facts observed in recent research, and captures the dynamic nature of metonymy. This chapter also discusses the roles of metonymy in text cohesion and coherence and how it helps access the concepts which are otherwise difficult to conceptualize and lexicalize. According to the author, the focus of the earlier studies of metonymy was predominantly on its referential nature, while its pragmatic and grammatical effects have been disregarded. Although there are numerous studies of the role of metaphor in grammar and metaphorical extensions of grammatical categories, the role of metonymy in grammar has been neglected, partly because of the misconception that metonymy has hardly and impact on grammar. This chapter proves the opposite by providing examples of the effect of metonymy on grammar such as anaphora and change of countability status.

Chapter 3 presents two opposing views on what counts as metonymy in grammar. On the one hand, there is the position represented by Janda, Colman, Anderson, Basilio and Nesset that all affixed lexemes (derivations and inflections) are metonymies. These authors use the term word-formation metonymies, in order to distinguish them from lexical metonymies. On the other hand, there is Brdar’s approach. Brdar criticises this position as it inflates the phenomenon of metonymy beyond any acceptable measure. He does not consider Janda’s approach necessarily wrong, but if we accept it, lots of metonymy in the narrow sense goes unnoticed. He proposes the term supermetonymy for this very broad sense. However, the central hypothesis in this book is opposite of that of the above authors: metonymic operations and word-formation processes are not simultaneous – metonymy may precede or follow a word-formation process. Both metonymy and word-formation recycle existing items, but in different ways. Metonymy and metaphor recycle the existing lexemes in a way that maximizes polysemy. On the other hand, word-formation processes create new lexical items. They preempt polysemy and increase isomorphy. With word-formation processes, we have more lexical items to store in our mental lexicon. With metonymy and metaphor, we have fewer lexical items, but more work in processing ambiguity. The chapter concludes with the statement that metonymy and word-formation are different phenomena which interact with each other.

Chapter 4 deals with metonymy and non-concatenative word formation: abbreviation, backderivation, clipping, blending, and conversion. Unlike concatenative processes, non-concatenative processes can occur at the same time as metonymy. It begins by presenting several views on the relationship between abbreviation and metonymy. Radden & Kövecses (1999) treat abbreviations as form (a) – concept (a) for form (b) – concept (a) metonymy, meaning that two forms are used for the same concept. Barcelona (2005, 2007, 2012), on the other hand, regards  these processes as a salient part of the form for the whole form metonymy. Brdar considers this problematic because some instances of abbreviations do not fit in, such as, for example, lb for pound. He points out that the idea that abbreviations are metonyms of full forms is problematic in many respects. For instance, we often use acronyms even if we do not know their full forms, such as PDF for Printed Document Format or LCD for liquid crystal display. In the end, Brdar concludes that the metonymic link between the abbreviation and the full form is very weak, if it exists at all. Backderivation is the next process described in this chapter. Some linguists consider backformations as instances of metonymy. For example, donation>donate is regarded by some as object for action metonymy. Brdar, on the other hand, believes that some conditions for metonymy are not met in this case, one of them being invariance of form. Therefore, similar to derivation, metonymy occurs before or after the process of backderivation. Clippings are often problematic because they disrgegard morphological boundaries, and their source is not always a single word. They can be extended by diminutive/hypocoristic suffixes. Barcelona considers them as ‘form-level metonymies’, just like abbreviations.  Brdar, on the other hand, says that these ideas rest on shaky methodological grounds. Clipping and metonymy do interact, but in much more complex ways. Metonymy may take place either before or after clipping. Clipping differs from other, more central, word-formation processes such as affixation or compounding in that it does not change the denotative meaning of the source word (e.g. laboratory = lab). Clippings have a stylistic value – they are informal and  express closeness between interlocutors. Embellished clippings found in Austrailan and New Zealand English exhibit metonymy-based widening of meaning.  Embellished clippings are also found in Croatian, Hungarian and German, but without metonymy, which is blocked by the structure of these languages. Lexical blending is difficult to define and it is difficult to determine its scope. Brdar regards lexical blending as ”a cluster of related phenomena exhibiting family resemblance”. If metonymy is involved in lexical blends, it occurs on the inputs of blends, before the word-formation process. Reduplication is a process which has a number of meanings: plurality, continuation, diminition and many others. Metonymic shifts take place after reduplication. Another process which is difficult to define and whose scope is problematic is conversion. One of the problems with analysing conversions is that sometimes it is difficult to determine which word was an input and which one was derived. Many studies have proved that conversions are often motivated by metonymy.

Chapter 5 examines the interplay between metonymy and concatenative word-formation processes – compounding and suffixation. The author’s standpoint in this respect is that metonymy and concatenative word-formation processes cannot take place simultaneously, as some linguists claim. In his opinion, metonymic shifts take place either  before suffixation or compounding or after – or both. The author first discusses the relationship between metonymy and compounds. His discussion of endocentric compounds shows a number of examples of endocentric compounds which exhibit effect for cause metonymy, such as freezing cold and soaking wet. These examples show that metonymic processes either prepare the ground for compounding or follow it. The analysis of exocentric compounds focuses on baruvrihi compounds. These are compounds in which neither constituent nor its head refer to the entity named, but the relationship between the constituents and the referent can be explained by metonymy (e.g. loudmouth, hunchback, paperback, and heavyweight). Most baruvrihi compounds are examples of characteristic property for category and (salient) part for whole metonymy. Some cases of these compounds exhibit just a simple metonymy, while other, more complex cases, exemplify combinations of several metonymies or combinations of metonymies and metaphors. Metonymic operations take place either at the level of compound constituents or at the level of the composite expression as the whole word, i.e. before or after compounding. The discussion about the relationship of metonymy and suffixation is largely a criticism of Janda and some other authors (e.g. Nesset, Colman, and Anderson), who believe that suffixation is a type of metonymy. According to Janda, all suffixation, prefixation and compounding are instances of metonymy. Brdar believes that this approach would lead to an unconstrained use of the notion of ‘metonymy’. He agrees with Koch (2001) that a precondition for metonymy is morpho-lexical invariance, which in these cases is not met. According to him, morphological processes such as derivation, compounding and inflection are instances of contiguity relations, but not metonymy.  Brdar explains that Janda came to regard instances of suffixation, such as saharnica (sugar-bowl) and kvetinač (flower pot), as metonymy by reformulating Kövecses and Radden’s (1998) definition of metonymy and replacing the terms ”within the same domain or ICM” with the words ”in a given context”. Brdar uses the examples of word formation with the prefix un– to prove Janda wrong. Firstly, the notion of ICM is crucial in defining the nature of metonymy. The notion of ICM/frame/domain is problematic for Janda, and she needs to mention the affix. The affix cannot correspond to ICM/frame/domain, so, she introduces the notion of context instead. Janda’s approach to metonymy would fail to explain many examples of word formation. According to Brdar, metonymy occurs before or after suffixation. It is not suffixes that exhibit metonymy, and produce polysemy, but whole words (either words functioning as bases or derived words).

Brdar also criticizes Janda for failing to observe the rich hierarchical network of relations between individual metonymies. In Janda, suffixations are metonymies and their set is an unordered mass of lexical items.  According  to Brdar, metonymies come in networks, and are organized in sequences with nodes that may branch out at certain points. Suffixes may come to be seen as polysemous or polyfunctional as a result of generalization, because specific complex words containing them are polysemous or polyfunctional. Brdar gives a number of networks of polysemy to illustrate this.  He even presents examples of affixes which exhibit double polysemy, such as Croatian suffix –ište. In conclusion, the author says that there is ample evidence that concatenative word formation processes such as affixation and compounding interact in interesting ways with metonymy, but they are not simultaneous. Metonymy either precedes or follows these word-formation processes.

While Chapters 3-5 show how metonymy and word formation can interact and facilitate each other, Chapter 6 deals with the ways in which metonymy and word formation complement (or block) each other. In this Chapter, Brdar uses cross-linguistic analysis to illustrate how metonymy can be blocked by affixation or compounding. He first gives an in-depth cross-linguistic analysis of nouns denoting meat of animals, fish, and parts of animals in order to show varous strategies languages use. In some languages, metonymy is avoided either by adding new lexemes (as in English beef, veal, pork, mutton, as opposed to turkey, chicken) or by derivation (teletina, govedina). This analysis is followed by a cross-linguistic analysis of metonymic uses of nouns denoting different kinds of metal  (material for an object made of the material) which shows how some derivation and compounding processes block metonymy in some languages, while this metonymy is freely used in others. While some word-formation processes can block metonymy, the opposite is also possible. In the end, Chapter 7 briefly summarizes the conclusions of the previous chapters.

The central hypothesis of the book is that conceptual metonymy and word formation do not work in unison, and that one does not automatically trigger the other. Word-formation and metonymy do interact with each other, but they are different phenomena. The author supports his arguments using data, mainly from the English language. The English data is complemented with data findings from Slavic, Romance, Germanic, Uralic, and other languages. In this way, the predominantly English-oriented study is enriched by a cross-linguistic perspective. The findings and the ideas expressed in this book challenge some established standpoints found in linguistic literature about word formation processes and metonymies.

For readers relatively new to the topic, the book has a very valuable chapter about metonymy. It presents the definitions of metonymy, and its types and functions found in the most recent cognitive-linguistic studies. The readers who are informed about the developments in this field will find interesting new perspectives, as the author challenges the widely accepted definitions of metonymy. He believes that the existing definitions do not properly cover its complex nature. He even questions the ideas about the existence of metonymic mappings and what counts as metonymy.

Descriptions of meanings and uses of words resulting from lexical processes are meticulous, precise and detailed, and they  include different varieties and regional dialects of English. The in-depth semantic analysis of word formation in English is enriched with cross-linguistic perspective.

The study of the role of metonymy in developing new meaning of words and borrowing process uses both historical data and latest development in word formation. The author discusses a lot of theoretical and methodological issues regarding definition and categorization of word-formation processes, presenting many approaches, and gives critical evaluation of some prominent writers.

To conclude, the book is a systematic and well-developed account about the interaction of metonymy and word-formation. It provides a solid theoretical framework and new insights into the problem, and opens a number of questions challenging some established and widely accepted views. I believe that linguists interested in metonymy and grammar will find this book an inspiring literature for their future research.

Prof. Adisa Imamović, Ph. D.
Professor of English Linguistics, University of Tuzla

To purchase Metonymy and Word-Formation: Their Interactions and Complementation by Mario Brdar directly from Cambridge Scholars, please click here.



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