French property nouns based on toponyms or ethnic adjectives
We examine a case of base variation related to property noun formation, viz.<i>-ité</i>-suffixed French nouns expressing the character proper both to those who belong/are related to a place (town, country…) 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>portugalité</sc> ‘Portugal-ness’ = ‘Portugueseness’), from related ethnic adjectives (afrique ‘Africa’ > africain ‘African’ > africanité ‘Africanness’) or from both (belgique ‘Belgium‘ > belgicité ‘Belgium-ness’; belge ‘Belgian’ > belgité ‘Belgianness’). 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 ‘lexical pressure’, 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.