Episodic-ee in English: A thematic role constraint on new word formation

Chris Barker

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This article offers a detailed analysis of the English suffix -ee (employee, escapee, refugee, etc.) based on fifteen hundred naturally occurring tokens of some five hundred word types. The data suggest that formation of nouns in -ee is moderately but genuinely productive, and that analyses based on the syntactic argument structure of the stem verb are unsatisfactory. Instead, formation of -ee nouns systematically adheres to three essentially semantic constraints: first, the referent of an -ee noun must be sentient; second, the denotation of an -ee noun must be episodically linked (as defined below) to the denotation of its stem; and third, a use of an -ee noun entails a relative lack of volitional control on the part of its referent. I argue that these semantic constraints taken together amount to a special-purpose thematic role that actively constrains productive use of derivational morphology.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)695-727
    Number of pages33
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Dec 1998

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Language and Linguistics
    • Linguistics and Language


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