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French property nouns based on toponyms or ethnic adjectives

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Abstract

We examine a case of base variation related to property noun formation, viz.<i>-it&#233;</i>-suffixed French nouns expressing the character proper both to those who belong/are related to a place (town, country&#8230;) and/or to the place itself (henceforth Ethnic Property Nouns (EPNs)). The study is based on a web-extracted corpus and shows that speakers largely coin EPNs either from toponyms (<sc>portugal</sc> > <sc>portugalit&#233;</sc> &#8216;Portugal-ness&#8217; = &#8216;Portugueseness&#8217;), from related ethnic adjectives (afrique &#8216;Africa&#8217; > africain &#8216;African&#8217; > africanit&#233; &#8216;Africanness&#8217;) or from both (belgique &#8216;Belgium&#8216; > belgicit&#233; &#8216;Belgium-ness&#8217;; belge &#8216;Belgian&#8217; > belgit&#233; &#8216;Belgianness&#8217;). The examples show that these base variations are unrelated to meaning but rather correlate with four formal competing constraints: one of them, i.e. what we call &#8216;lexical pressure&#8217;, can explain the form of the output. We then describe a survey experiment, which corroborates our analysis. Finally, the scope of our conclusions goes beyond French EPNs, as they apply to other word formation rules in many languages.

References

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