Piotr Twardzisz is an associate professor in the Institute of Applied Linguistics, University of Warsaw, Poland. His research interests focus on ESP, EAP, specialist languages, figurative language, word-formation, semantics and corpus linguistics. His recent books are The Language of Interstate Relations. In Search of Personification (2013, Palgrave) and Defining ‘Eastern Europe’. A Semantic Inquiry into Political Terminology (2018, Palgrave).
This article scrutinizes nouns with the suffix -ism derived from a homogeneous category of derivational bases. The influence of extralinguistic factors on the interpretation of -ism nouns is undeniable. Relevant examples of pragmatic motivation are presented and briefly discussed. However, it is argued here that the derivational process in question can be largely reduced thanks to local construction schemas of a dual—phonological and semantic—nature. Such templates grasp enough semantic nuance in a fairly straightforward way. The results are used to demonstrate that numerous novel and low-frequency -ism formations are sanctioned by construction schemas at different levels of specificity. Such schemas are readily available for other, analogical formations, without any need for superfluous specification of semantic and formal detail. The argument is made for the need to simplify sanctioning word-formation templates for certain types of suffixal patterns (abbreviated here to namisms and surnamisms). Three degrees of decomposability of -ism nouns and their sanctioning schemas are postulated. The observations made shed some light on our understanding of the production and subsequent use of -ism nouns.