The internal structure of complex nominals

As members of the Western branch of Indo-European, Germanic, Romance and Slavonic languages share many common features. Yet they differ greatly with respect to the preferred patterns for the creation of complex nouns, as is shown in Table 17.7 (where N denotes noun, Prep preposition, Gen genitive and ARel relational adjective). This fact, which has already attracted much attention in translation studies (see, e.g., Frevel 2002 on Spanish), is the main reason why the terminological profile of the language of economics and business differs in significant ways between the three families.

Table 17.7: Structure of complex nominal business terms in selected languages















N N(Gen)





N ARel / ARel N










The first stark contrast between Germanic languages, on the one hand, and both Spanish and Polish on the other concerns noun-noun compounding. While this is the central means of term formation in English and German, it is nearly absent from our Spanish and Polish term lists. For Spanish, our only examples are leftheaded two-member compounds like mercado pais ‘country market’, tienda insignia ‘flagship store’, casa/compania matriz ‘parent company’, pais anfitrion ‘host country’, or grupo meta ‘target group’, all of these cases where the modifier shows an apposi- tional relationship to the head noun. For Polish, only two noun-noun compounds with the linking element -o- can be found among our equivalents of business terms from the English list, viz. roboczogodzina ‘working hour’ and franczyzodawca ‘franchisor’ (literally ‘franchise giver’), the latter possibly a loan translation of German Franchisegeber. As can be seen in Table 17.7, the term-formation patterns used by Spanish and Polish to compensate for the absence of noun-noun compounds (of the right-headed variety) display both similarities and differences.

We turn first to terms consisting of a noun and a relational adjective, corresponding to “N ARel / ARel N” in Table 17.7. All four languages use such combinations as a pattern for naming complex nominal concepts, but to varying degrees. The lowest percentage is found in German, a circumstance that can be regarded as the inverse of its preference for noun-noun compounds. In many cases we observe that German has a nominal modifier where English prefers the relational adjective:

Wettbewerbsvorteil vs. competitive advantage Unternehmensstrategie corporate strategy

Tagesgeschaft daily operations

Inlandsabsatz domestic sales

Wirtschaftswachstum economic growth

Auslandsinvestition foreign investment

Industrienation industrial nation

Organisationsprozess organizational process

Nevertheless, German also makes use of combinations of relational adjective + noun. The realization of a specific conceptual combination in actual usage is hard to predict. While for the concept ‘economy’, for example, English consistently uses the relational adjective, economic, German shows a rather unsystematic distribution of

Wirtschaft- ‘economy’ (plus linking element -s) and wirtschaftlich ‘economic’. In many instances these show free variation, but in others there is a strong preference (e.g., for Wirtschaftswachstum over wirtschaftliches Wachstum) or even a near-to absolute preference (e.g., Wirtschaftspolitik vs. *wirtschaftliche Politik) for one of the two theoretical options. Predictability, unfortunately, is no higher in English, at least in many cases. For the concept ‘industry’, the relational adjective is sometimes preferred to the point of exclusivity (e.g., industrial nation vs. *industry nation), while elsewhere the realization as a noun is also tolerated (e.g., industry analyst as well as industrial analyst). In still other cases the two options are exploited for semantic differentiation (e.g., industrial relations ‘relations between employers and employees’ vs. industry relations ‘relations with the industry’).

There can be no doubt that the greater use of relational adjectives in English (16.2%) compared to German (6.5%) is a manifestation of its hybrid Germanic- Romance nature. Most relational adjectives have come into English from Latin and French. It therefore comes as no surprise that the proportion of relational adjectives (25.8%) in Spanish, a Romance language, is even higher than in English. Nevertheless, in all the languages apart from Polish the use of such modifiers is severely limited by the fact that they are available only for a subset of nouns. In Spanish, for example, there is no relational adjective for such common economic concepts as mercado ‘market’, precio ‘price’, producto ‘product’, riesgo ‘risk’, venta ‘sale’, and many more. Polish, by contrast, allows the productive derivation of relational adjectives from almost all nouns. Even recent loanwords tolerate the adjunction of the relational suffix -owy, witness fastfoodowy, outletowy, outsourcingowy and similar examples. Indeed, relational adjectives are the most preferred naming strategy in our Polish term list, making up 43.4% of cases.

Let us now turn to the term-formation strategy consisting in adjoining a modifier in the genitive to a head noun (“N N(Gen)” in Table 17.7). This strategy, of course, is completely absent from Spanish, which lacks any kind of case inflection. English has genitival compounds of the type women’s magazine, but no example is attested in our business list, while this genitival strategy accounts for only 0.6% of our German cases. By contrast, it is highly important in Polish; indeed, it is the second most frequent (28.9%). Often, the genitive and the relational adjective are used side by side, e.g., struktura kapitatu/kapitalowa ‘capital structure’, katalog firmy/firmowy ‘company catalogue’, strategia eksportu/eksportowa ‘export strategy’, proces produkcji/ produkcyjny ‘production process’. Note, though, that what we have said here about Polish does not necessarily extend to other Slavonic languages, which differ markedly in their preferences between relational adjective and genitive (cf. Ohnheiser 2015).

The last strategy from Table 17.7 that we need to comment on is the combination of a head noun and a prepositional phrase (“NPrepN”). This is used in 47.5% of our complex nominal business terms in Spanish. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the preposition used is semantically void de ‘of’: estructura de capital ‘capital structure’, mensaje de publicidad ‘advertising message’, precio de mercado ‘market price’, etc. Yet other, semantically more specific prepositions also occur: credito al con- sumidor ‘consumer credit’ (literally ‘credit to_the consumer’), pais en desarrollo ‘developing country’ (literally ‘country in development’), retorno sobre activos ‘return on assets’, etc. Just like sequences of relational adjective + noun, or noun + genitive in Polish, such multi-word terms have sometimes been classified as phrases, i.e. syntactic entities. Yet it is clear that these patterns serve the same naming function as genuine noun-noun compounds. It therefore seems preferable to regard them as “phrasal names” in the sense of construction morphology (cf. Booij2010, Ch. 7). In the three languages other than Spanish the NPrepN pattern is also used, but to a much lesser extent: occurring very rarely in the German list (e.g., Gewinn vor Steuern ‘profit before tax’), it is slightly more productive in English (e.g., balance of trade; cf. Section 2.5) and Polish (e.g., dostgp do rynku ‘market access’ [literally ‘access to_the market’], pozycja na rynku ‘market position’ [literally ‘position on_the market’).

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