Denominal adjectives as mixed categories

Andrew Spencer, Irina Nikolaeva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Many languages have morphological devices to turn a noun into an adjective. Often this morphology is genuinely derivational in that it adds semantic content such as ‘similar-to-N’ (similitudinal), ‘located-on/in’ (locational) and so on. In other cases the denominal adjective expresses no more than a pragmatically determined relationship, as in preposition-al phrase (see the synonymous preposition phrase), often called ‘relational adjectives’. In many languages relational adjectives are noun-to-adjective transpositions, that is, adjectival forms (‘representations’) of nominals. In some languages and constructions they retain some of the noun-related properties of the base. For example, the base can be modified by an attribute as though it were still a syntactically represented noun, giving rise to what we will call ‘syntagmatic category mixing’. We also find instances of ‘paradigmatic category mixing’ in which the derived adjectival form retains some of the inflectional morphology (case and/or number and/ or possessive) of its base noun, as in a number of Uralic and Altaic languages. We address this kind of categorial mixing within the descriptive framework for lexical relatedness proposed in Spencer (2013). A true transposition has a complex ‘semantic function’ (sf) role, consisting of the semantic function role of the derived category overlaid over that of the base. We explain how the complex semantic structure role of noun-to-adjective transpositions maps onto c-structure nodes, using the syntactic framework of Lexical Functional Grammar.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-99
Number of pages21
JournalWord Structure
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Lexical Functional Grammar
  • denominal adjective
  • mixed category
  • semantic function role
  • transposition


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