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Public defense: The typology and semantics of binominal lexemes: Noun-noun compounds and their functional equivalents

Master Steve Pepper at Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies will defend his thesis for the degree of PhD: The typology and semantics of binominal lexemes: Noun-noun compounds and their functional equivalents.

Bildet kan inneholde: murstein, murverk.

The dissertation establishes ‘binominal lexeme’ as a comparative concept and discusses its cross-linguistic typology and semantics. Informally, a binominal lexeme is a noun-noun compound or functional equivalent; more precisely, it is a lexical item that consists primarily of two thing-morphs between which there exists an unstated semantic relation.

Examples of binominals include Mandarin Chinese 铁路 (tiělù) [iron road], French chemin de fer [way of iron] and Russian железная дорога (železnaja doroga) [iron:adjz road]. All of these combine a word denoting ‘iron’ and a word denoting ‘road’ or ‘way’ to denote the meaning railway. In each case, the unstated semantic relation is one of composition: a railway is conceptualized as a road that is composed (or made) of iron. However, three different morphosyntactic strategies are employed: compounding, prepositional phrase and relational adjective. This study explores the range of such strategies used by a worldwide sample of 106 languages to express a set of 100 meanings from various semantic domains, resulting in a classification consisting of nine different morphosyntactic types.

The semantic relations found in the data are also explored and a classification called the Hatcher-Bourque system is developed that operates at two levels of granularity, together with a tool for classifying binominals, the Bourquifier. The classification is extended to other subfields of language, including metonymy and lexical semantics, and beyond language to the domain of knowledge representation, resulting in a proposal for a general model of associative relations called the PHAB model.

The many findings of the research include universals concerning the recruitment of anchoring nominal modification strategies, a method for comparing non-binary typologies, the non-universality (despite its predominance) of compounding, and a scale of frequencies for semantic relations which may provide insights into the associative nature of human thought.

Download the thesis

Steve Pepper successfully defended his thesis on November 11, 2020.

Trial lecture

Published November 9, 2020. 


Evaluation committee

Chair of defense


  • Professor Åshild Næss, Institutt for lingvistiske og nordiske studier, UiO
  • Professor Rolf Theil, Institutt for lingvistiske og nordiske studier, UiO


Tags: Public defense, artificial intelligence, language, linguistics
Published Oct. 30, 2020 5:34 PM - Last modified Feb. 5, 2021 3:09 PM