Neoclassical Compound Formation: Their morphological & sociolinguistic status in various European languages

Simeon Tsolakidis



Word-building from Greek and Latin combining forms and affixes has been quite productive throughout the centuries in many European languages. Since several institutions of social life and other cultural activities originated or were developed in ancient Greece, words expressing these human activities were created in Greek, both classical and Hellenistic, and passed into Latin, whence, together with terms for typical Latin institutions, such as the law or the organization of the state, passed into the modern languages. 

The original sources created a tradition, so that today science continues to draw heavily upon the two classical languages in order to respond to new needs. It goes without saying that modern civilization, having assimilated its initial formative elements, creates new “Latin-like” and particularly “Greek-like” words, which neither existed nor could have existed in antiquity, when science and technology were comparatively restricted (Petrounias 2010). On the other hand, this explains the interlinguistic convergence across modern languages in technical and scientific terms, which are generally adapted to the morphological systems of each language and are represented by internationalisms such as English biology, French biologie, German Biologie, Spanish biología, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian biologia, Modern Greek (MG) βιολογία [violoʹʝia]. Generally, especially since the 20th century, neo-classical formations and mainly compounds have greatly contributed to the designation and categorization of concepts and objects in science and technology, but have also spread beyond specialized vocabulary to denote familiar objects in the every-day language (Pulcini & Milani 2017), e.g. English telephone, French téléphone, German Telefon, Romanian telefon, Spanish teléfono, Italian telefono, Portuguese telefone, MG τηλέφωνο [tiʹlefono].

The aim of the present presentation is to highlight and discuss the similarities and the differences of the neoclassical compound formations (NCF) concerning: 1) their morphological features and status in various European languages (cf. Ralli 2013; Villalva 2020), and 2) the sociolinguistic aspect of NCFs and the language attitudes related to MG NCFs in comparison to other European languages.

Concerning (1) we will discuss the morphological processes taking places for the formation of NCFs, and in the frame of (2) we will focus on the ways in which NCFs are presented in the etymological part of reference lexicographical works, examining how these etymological descriptions reflect (or not) the language attitudes of MG speakers towards the potential influence of Greek language on the lexicon of other European languages and the notion of “crossed-borrowing” (cf. Petrounias 1995).


Petrounias E. 1995. “Loan translations and the etymologies of Modern Greek”. In: G. Drachman et al. (eds.), Greek Linguistics ’95, vol. II. Graz: Neugebauer, 791-801.

Petrounias E. 2010. “Internationalisms based on Ancient Greek lexical items”. Studies in Greek Linguistics 30, 503-515 (http://www.ins.web.auth.gr/images/MEG_PLIRI/MEG_30_503_515.pdf)

Pulcini V. & Milani M. 2017. “Neo-classical combining forms in English loanwords”. ESP Across Cultures 14, 175-196 (https://iris.unito.it/handle/2318/1670833#.X51gKmgzbIU)

Ralli A. 2013. Compounding in Modern Greek. Dordrecht: Springer.

Villalva A. (2020). “Borrowed compounds, borrowed compounding – Portuguese data”. In: P. ten Hacken & R. Panocová (eds.), The interaction of borrowing and word formation. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 49-66.


neoclassic, morphology, sociolinguistics, European languages, affixation, Latin, Greek, word formation


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