Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Noun Incorporation

My wife brought to my attention a spectacular example of noun incorporation in pop culture: twinfanticipating. Apparently it was used to describe Angelina Jolie, who is currently pregnant with twins. It is, of course, a blend of three words: twin, infant, and anticipating. We couldn't agree on how to pronounce it. I opted for ˌtwɪnfənˈtɪsɪpejtɪŋ, preserving the stress of twin, infant, and anticipating, but using the vowel quality in infant for the second vowel, rather than the vowel quality of anticipating. My wife, on the other hand, insists that it should be ˌtwɪnfænˈtɪsɪpejtɪŋ, with the same conservation of stress, but using the vowel quality of anticipating rather than infant. My argument is that anticipating already has four syllables to itself, so infant should at least get that second syllable, even if it has to share both of them.

As for the word itself, the meaning is fairly obvious: anticipating twin infants. It is also a prime example of true noun incorporation. One of the hallmarks of true noun incorporation is that it decreases the valency of the verb. While non-verbal noun incorporation is debatable (where's the line between true incorporation and compounding, or are they the same?), verbal noun incorporation always includes a decrease in verbal valency, i.e., the number of arguments the verb takes decreases. In this case, the original phrase "anticipating twin infants" has a valency of 2: the anticipator and the twins. However, "twinfanticipating" has a valency of 1: only the anticipator is involved. We see this kind of incorporation all the time in Salishan and Wakashan languages, in which, for example, you could have a verb that refers to buying meat, so that one would say something like "I did some meat-buying this weekend." "Meat" ceases to become a separate argument of the verb and instead becomes incorporated inside the verb as a bound morpheme that contributes meaning to the specificity of the verb. Recently I've heard many English speakers do this as well: "online-shop" instead of "shop online." More interestingly, I was told by a waitress to "overlook" their list of daily specials when I was on my way to a conference a couple months ago (she meant for me to look over the list, not overlook it).


Unknown said...

I think the real reason that I preserve the vowel quality of the word "anticipate" versus "infant", besides that fact that it feels right, is that the action being performed is, primarily, anticipating. That is the verb, and so it makes sense to have that be the focus of the word. Using the vowel quality of the word "infant" degrades the verb in such a way that I almost don't recognize what it is supposed to mean. It doesn't "sound like" the primary verb, and therefore I don't process it the same way. That is to say, Angelina Jolie is anticipating twin infants. Her action is to anticipate. When I hear "twinfanticipating" I still process the word "anticipating" above the others. That is still what Angelina is doing. "Twinf" is merely describing the kind of anticipation. Yes?

Unknown said...

On a side note, it took me so long to comment on this post that now she is no longer "twinfanticipating"
But one might say mom and children are "twinfantastic"

Unknown said...

And at the risk of beating a dead horse, I think it also has to do with the fact that the "t" at the end of "infant" is aspirated, and you can't make that distinction in the middle of this invented word, thus weighting that syllable more toward the pronunciation of "anticipate"