Phil Maguire, Edward J. Wisniewski, Gert Storms
June 14, 2010
Studies of modifier-noun compounds have indicated that they tend to follow regular semantic patterns (e.g., Downing, Language 53: 810–842, 1977; Warren, Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis. Gothenburg Studies in English Goteborg 41: 1–266, 1978). The results of several psycholinguistic studies have supported the hypothesis that people rely on statistical knowledge about how nouns tend to be used in combination in order to facilitate the interpretation of novel compounds (e.g., Gagné & Shoben, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 23: 71–87, 1997; Maguire, Maguire & Cater, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 36: 288–297, 2010; Storms & Wisniewski, Memory and Cognition 33: 852–861, 2005). We conducted a series of corpus analyses in order to establish the salience and reliability of semantic patterns in English compounds. These analyses demonstrated that similar concepts tend to appear in combination with similar sets of nouns. In addition, categorizing combinations according to the semantic category of the modifier and head revealed consistent regularities in productivity reflecting the likelihood of plausible relationships. These findings support the idea that statistical knowledge about semantic patterns in compounding can be used to facilitate the interpretation of novel compounds. The implications for existing theories and models of conceptual combination are discussed.