The concept of conversion and its historical development

Conversion in modern linguistics is defined as "the way of word formation without the use of word-building affixes. It is a kind of transposition at which the transition of a word from one part of speech to another happens so, that nominative form of a word from one part of speech is used without any material changes as representative of the other parts of speech. Some authors use the terms as “affixless” or root word formation. In the derivative and original conversion following changes occur:

- There is a derivative word semantics change in comparison with the original basis; for example, the adjective, turning into a noun, no longer designate an object tag and begins to express the subject;

- Changes the compatibility of derivative words; so, the noun can be used in any position in the sentence, and, going into the class of adjectives, it is used only before a noun;

- the paradigm of the word changes; passing word takes all the grammatical features of the new part of speech; for example, a noun, moving into the category of adjectives stops changing on cases, numbers and category of possession as adjectives. On this issue A.I. Smirnitsky writes: "Conversion is, this kind of derivation (word derivation), in which the word-formation means is only the very paradigm of the word." O.S. Akhmanova in determining the nature of the conversion advances and grounds the concept of paradigm. She writes: "Conversion - is the formation of new words by passing the base to another paradigm of inflection."

The phenomenon of conversion came to the attention of grammarians relatively early. English grammarian John Greenwood noted that many nouns and some adjectives (and sometimes other parts of speech), using instead of the verbs become verbs. For example, a noun from a verb house arises to house, from nouns  fish and oil - verbs to fish, to oil. He was one of the first English grammarians who drew attention to the syntactic feature of this phenomenon. Attention to the affixless (conditionally) way of word formation was highlighted the works of George Buchanan and John Ward, following John Greenwood. The work of another English grammarian William Heyzlitta raises the question of the direction of Derivatives - one of the most complicated even in modern linguistics for the first time in English grammar.

"Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether substantive occurred from the verb or vice versa. In general, however, it can be assumed - he writes - that substantives, expressing the action come from the verb ", and those who express "things or objects", can be seen as "the roots of verbs related to these objects ". Thus, he also puts in the forefront the semantic criterion for determination of the derivative. At the same time, comparing the verbs to love, to sleep with nouns love and sleep, W. Heyzlitt emphasizes that they are different, "not in content, but in form and manner of expression."

The last quarter of the nineteenth century represents an important milestone in the development of the doctrine of the conversion of the English grammatical tradition. A significant contribution to its development was made by well-known British linguist G. Sweet. It is believed that he first coined the term conversion in English grammar. Conversion of G. Suita is two-forked. On the one hand, he did not reject the idea of ​​syntactic multifunctional words, on the other hand, the conversion was treated by him as syntactic and morphological derivation process. It begins and ends with syntax morphology. Such an approach to the conversion gets further widespread.

Conversion, according to G. Suita has similarities to the derivation, although not always a new lexical unit arises as a result of conversion. He believes that the use of the word in the functions of other parts of speech is not ground to consider it as belonging to the other parts of speech. So, the word silk in the phrase silk thread is counted by Mr. Sweet as a noun. The converted word, the grammarian emphasizes, must acquire formal features (inflection, etc.) of that part of the speech, to which it has passed. "The question of what part of speech the word belongs, - he writes - is, therefore, a matter of form, not meaning."


Mr. Sweet introduces the concept of partial conversion for the first time among the English grammarians, the essence of which he sees in the fact that the word is characterized by formal indicators of two parts of speech. Analyzing the sentence The good are happy, he concludes that the word good, on the one hand, functions as a noun, using a definite article, on the other hand, - as an adjective, as it has no plural suffix. With regard to the word Goods in the phrase goods and chattels, it is a case of full conversion of the adjective into a noun.

An important conclusion is represented by G. Suita that in the conversion index of the converted word is its grammatical form. It considers not only the syntax compatibility with other words, but (as done later by Smirnitsky A.I.) also the paradigm of derivative words. The grammarian draws attention to the fact that although the converted Word retains the original value, however, in the future there is a semantic difference between the two.

Based on the experience of previous generations of linguists, Mr. Sweet has compiled a wealth of materials that has been accumulated in the English grammatical tradition on the issue of conversion.


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