2. The word-formation process ‘clipping’
3. Development and usage of clippings
3.1 The “Time Magazine Corpus”
3.2 The “Corpus of Contemporary American English” (COCA)
Morphology is an extensive field of linguistics which deals among other things with different ways of forming neologisms and the shortening of words. The following paper concentrates on the specific word-formation process „clipping“. To be able to give an adequate insight into this field of morphology, certain important aspects will be examined, such as the rules of this word-formation process, the usage of clippings in today’s language and the development of this linguistic phenomenon over the past few decades.
During the preparation for this paper, I became curious about how we use clippings in everyday language and which form, the original or the clipped word, is used more often. Do we say more often “mathematics” or “math”? Is the more common term “advertisement” or “ad”?
Even more interesting is to find out in which context which form is used more often. Are clippings still assumed as more colloquial or could some words already are taken over into Standard English and therefore into the academic world? Are clippings restricted to either spoken or written language?
To answer those questions, I will mainly work with two different corpora of American English, namely the “Time Magazine Corpus” and the “Corpus of Contemporary American English”. These corpora give much information about usage and development of certain words in different contexts. However, it has to be said, that this paper can only give a short introductory overview of the word-formation process ‘clipping’.
In the first part of this paper the word-formation process ‘clipping’ and the different types of ‘clipping’ will be explained. Then a short overview about the two corpora used in this paper will be given. After that, I will first compare six words and their clippings since the 1920s, based on the “Time Magazine Corpus”. The next chapter will be about the comparison of the same words in different contexts from 1990 until today, based on the “Corpus of Contemporary American English”. In the end, a conclusion of the results will be presented.
2. The word-formation process ‘clipping’
As already mentioned in the introduction, ‘clipping’ is a word-formation process, but also the result of the process itself is called ‘clipping’. In general it can be said, that “word formation is concerned with the process that expands the vocabulary of a language, i.e. create new lexemes” (Kortmann 2005: p. 94).
Still, there are differences to be made when talking about word-formation processes. According to Kortmann, there are productive and less productive word-formation processes, which are also called high productive and less productive. The most productive processes are responsible for the majority of neologisms, for example by prefixation like in “ex-minister”. Less productive word-formation processes basically are the various types of shortenings, such as back-formation, blend, acronym and clipping. Nevertheless, also within the group of less productive word-formation processes distinctions can be made. When on one hand, more than one word is affected by the process, the word-formation shall be either blend, initialism, acronyms or alphabetism. When on the other hand only one word is affected, the word-formation process must either be back-formation or clipping (Kortmann 2005: p. 109).
However, these less productive word-formation processes, especially clipping, continuously get more and more important in daily life (Kortmann 2005: p. 95). This is due to the laziness of people on one hand and the increasing familiarity with the particular subject on the other hand (Harley 2006: p. 95). This last aspect is also the main reason why words are clipped and come into more common usage: most speakers do not think it is necessary to use the whole word to identify the topic and to understand the meaning of it. As a result “a more easily and quickly pronounced version of the word is preferred” (Harley 2006: p. 95). This is also a general feature of lower productive word-formation processes: their outcome “is much shorter than their input” (Kortmann 2005: p. 106). This becomes very obvious in the word-formation process “clipping”, for example the clipped form of “advertisement” is “ad” and “demonstration” is often called “demo” nowadays.
The examples given in the text above already give a short idea about what clippings actually are. According to Laurie Bauer (2004: p. 326), “clipping is the process of shortening a word without changing its meaning or its part of speech”. Heidi Harley is even more precise about that. She highlights, that a “multi-syllabic word is reduced in size, usually to one or two syllables” (2006: p.95). She also states, that the outcome of a clipped word with two syllables almost always equates a trochee, which could be called a stress-wise ideal word of English (2006: p. 96). To sum up, clipping is the process of removing some material from a longer word.
The word-formation process clipping follows “specific phonologically determined patterns” (Harley 2006: p.95) and is not necessarily bound to morphological structure. In general, that part of the word, which bears main stress, tends to remain at the end of the word-formation process, for example the word “racoon” becomes “coon”. Here, the initial unstressed syllable is dropped (Harley 2006: p.95). Another feature of clipping is, that normally “a phonological part of the word which is not interpretable as an affix or word is cut off” (Rubba 2004). So it is not possible to keep the “-essor” in “professor” because it cannot be interpreted as a word or suffix. It is the same with “-ther” in “brother”.
However, there are three different types of clippings (compare Kortmann 2005: p. 106; Marchant 1969: p. 93). The first one is called ‘back-clipping’. With this process, the beginning, mostly the first syllable, of a word is kept. This is also the most common and the easiest type of clipping. In the following, some examples of this type are given:
advertisement à ad
demonstration à demo
professor à prof
examination à exam
public house à pub
bicycle à bike
The second type is ‘fore-clipping’, hereby the first part of a word is cut off. Here are some examples for that process:
telephone à phone
racoon à coon
aeroplane à plane
omnibus à bus
Only very rarely, a lexeme is both shortened at the beginning and at the end – which is then called ‘middle-clipping’:
influenza à flu
refrigerator à fridge
pyjamas à jams
detective à tec
The given examples show, that there is a wide range of different types of clippings but that it is also very easy to create a new clipping. Furthermore, this is what happens in everyday life all the time, for example when calling a person with its nickname. Most nicknames are simply clippings, for example Christopher à Chris (Harley 2006: p.96).
Clippings usually do not belong to the standard vocabulary of a language. Moreover, most of them are very colloquial (Kortmann 2005: p. 106). According to Laurie Bauer (2004: p. 326) the process of clipping frequently has “the effect of making [the word] stylistically less formal”. In general, clippings derive from a specific word field or group which is used in a certain environment, for example in school or in medical professions. In school, pupils do not talk about examinations, mathematics or laboratories anymore but instead about exams, math and labs. In medical professions it is all about vets and docs, but not so much about veterans and doctors anymore (Marchand 1969: p. 94). As already mentioned, clippings are rather colloquial. However, some words are so influential that they made their way into standard English, even into some dictionaries, for example “bike” (from “bicycle”) or “gas” (from “gasoline”) (compare Langenscheidt 2003). Even more important is that clippings get more and more into common usage, but this aspect will be discussed in the next chapter.