Word formation

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In linguistics, word formation is the creation of a new word. Word formation is sometimes contrasted with semantic change, which is a change in a single word's meaning. The boundary between word formation and semantic change can be difficult to define: a new use of an old word can be seen as a new word derived from an old one and identical to it in form. See 'conversion'.


There are a number of methods of word formation.




A blend is a word formed by joining parts of two words after clipping. An example is smog, which comes from smoke and fog, or brunch, which comes from 'breakfast' and 'lunch'.

One subcategory of blending is the reduction of a word to one of its parts, e.g., fax (facsimile), flu (influenza) and bot (robot). Such clipped words may not retain their original meaning. For example, "playing a video game against a bot" is not the same as "playing a video game against a robot".



A calque is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation. For example, the English phrase to lose face is a calque from the Chinese "丟臉/丢脸".

A subcategory of calques is the semantic loan, that is, the extension of the meaning of a word to include new, foreign meanings.


A neologism is a process of forming a new word by coining such as quark.

Subcategories of neologisms include:

  • The eponym, a proper noun that becomes commonly used for an idea it is associated with, usually by changing its part of speech, like Xerox, Orwellian, and Stentorian
  • The loanword, a word borrowed from another language, as cliché is from French
  • An onomatopoeic word, a word which imitates natural sounds, like the bird name cuckoo
  • Formation using phono-semantic matching, that is, matching a foreign word with a phonetically and semantically similar, pre-existing native word or root



  • Hadumod Bussmann (1996), Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics, London: Routledge.
  • Ein internationales Handbuch zur Natur und Struktur von Wörtern und Wortschätzen, [Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 21], Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, vol. 1, pp. 1142-1178.
  • Ghil'ad Zuckermann (2003). Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan. (Palgrave Studies in Language History and Language Change). ISBN 978-1-4039-3869-5.

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