<i>Tree tigers</i> and <i>tree elephants</i>

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The description of English nominal compounds (ENCs) poses a challenge to linguistic theories because ENCs compress a bewildering array of semantic and conceptual information into a relatively simple syntactic structure. The present contribution reviews linguistic and psycholinguistic efforts to meet this challenge in a variety of ways. It is proposed that a superior explanation is one that treats the semantic and syntactic (and conceptual and prosodic) information as a constructional unity, learned and used as a distinct linguistic entity rather than as a derivative of construction-independent rules and processes. The proposed ENC construction is claimed to have theoretical, functional, and cognitive adequacy, a desideratum of linguistic theories.


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