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Adjectival Derivation (anent short- and long-lived)

Adjectives can be derived from other parts of speech in a number of ways, including simple suffixation (e.g., adjective > adjectival). Interestingly, the adjectival suffix can itself be derived from another part of speech, as is the case where the past participle suffix {-(e)d} is added to a noun (e.g., red-breasted < red-breast).

There are two common compound adjectives that utilize the word life as their deriving base, viz. short-lived and long-lived, that are often mispronounced, a mistake abetted by the ambiguity of the orthography. Since the element -lived coincides in spelling with the past tense form, this triggers the pronunciation of the second element of the compound adjectives in question as [lɪvd] instead of the correct [laɪvd].

The usurpation of the noun life as the deriving base by the participial form with –ed in this mistaken pronunciation is of interest because it may also betoken an unconscious reconstrual by speakers who favor it that rests on the difference between a denominal and a deverbal sense for such adjectives. The derivation from a nominal base (i.e., life) that underlies the traditional normative pronunciation implies that the compound adjective in question is giving expression to one sense in the ramified range of meanings that the noun subsumes––notably, with an enhanced reference to the qualitative meaning of duration. By contrast, when understood as being derived from a verbal base and pronounced to coincide with the past tense of live, the sense of the compound adjective backgrounds the meaning of duration and focuses instead on the endpoint of the action involved in the verb.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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