Language is embiggened by words that don’t exist: the case of a circumfix
- Číslo 1 
PublisherUniverzita Karlova, Filozofická fakulta
parasynthesis, circumfix, en-Adj-en pattern, conjectural forms, Web search experiment
The paper deals with parasynthetic formations combining the prefix en- and the suffix -en, which are sometimes regarded as an example of a circumfix in English. The aim is to find more instances of this pattern than the usual three or four mentioned in the literature (enlighten, embolden, enliven, and embiggen). After searching three corpora of several billion words without much success, an experiment was made to search the Web for hypothetical verb tokens constructed from monosyllabic adjectives on the pattern provided by the four initial verbs. The search confirmed that more than a hundred such verbs occur on the Web. The discovery of so many en-Adj-en verbs unacknowledged in standard reference books is attributed to the effect of big data on the Web; it is assumed that the en-Adj-en pattern is the type of process whose function is primarily pragmatic, occasion-specific and discourse-oriented, rather than lexical (i.e. concept labelling). As a result, although the pattern is available for active use, these formations, after having served their purpose, rarely get beyond the nonce-word stage, let alone enter the lexicon.