Thursday, August 16, 2007

big size(d) question

Over on the ETJ list, Joshua Myerson wrote to ask about the differences between pairs such as short sleeve(d) and large size(d).

It's an interesting question and I'm not sure exactly how to approach it. Here are some other examples:

  • long leg(ged)
  • large size(d)
  • oval shape(d)
  • broad shoulder(ed)
  • pencil neck(ed)
  • open neck(ed)
  • small frame(d)
  • small size(d)
  • flat bottom(ed)
  • low ceiling(ed)
  • different colour(ed)
  • middle age(d)
  • double strand(ed)
  • white stripe(d)
  • high power(ed)
  • light colour(ed)
  • good size(d)
  • dark hair(ed)

Note that these are often interchangeable (e.g., low-ceiling(ed) house) with no difference in meaning. But consider the difference between a dark hair gene and a dark haired gene.

While it's commonly thought that only adjectives modify nouns, nouns can also modify nouns (e.g., faculty office), Thus, we can look at the group in which the second constituent is a noun as noun phrases (NPs) that modify other NPs. This isn't problematic.

The -ed group, though is rather harder to deal with. The -ed word may be an adjective or a verb. Either way, it's being modified by an adjective which is something I wasn't aware could happen. In something like long legged, we can use pronunciation to help us decide that leg' ed (two syllables) is an adjective where legged (one syllable) is a verb. This approach is rather limited though.

Another thing to noticed is that while some would be fine without the adjective (e.g., _ power(ed) tools) others make little sense at all without the adjective (e.g. *a _ bottom(ed) boat), though the -ed forms tend to work better here (e.g., a _ sized shirt vs. *a _ size shirt).



The Ridger, FCD said...

FWIW, for me all of these need the -ed to "sound right" as normal modifiers - that is, your example of "a low ceiling house" only works if "low ceiling" is functioning like a brand name or something. It can't mean "a house with low ceilings", and I'm fairly certain I have never heard it used at all.

I guess I parse them as "-ED = with", and the version without -ED (as your dark-hair gene vs dark-haired gene) is a label of some sort...

It's interesting. I haven't ever thought about that construction this way.

Brett said...

Yet all of them are attested. There's likely a dialectal/ideolectal thing happening.