Mauvais genre


 Generalities about Learned Composition 


 We saw that the first derogation to the Gender Rule was related to derivation, and more precisely to Suffixation. The second derogation is related to another word-formation process which is Compounding or Composition, and more precisely Learned Composition.   



Like in the case of learned suffixes used in the creation of scientific terms, learned composition is an artificial word formation process which juxtaposes... 


 two Latin/Greek roots such as in the words synonyme (syn- + -onyme) or polychrome (poly- + -chrome) or 

one Latin/Greek root together with one full word  like in  biochimie (bio- + chimie), omniprésence (omni- + présence) or multimédia (multi- + média) 

 Both processes are following a "determining-determined" element order which opposes the usual French composition order:

      A microorganisme is an organism (determined) that is very small (determining).

      A métropole is a mother (determining) city (determined) which means Capital city.

Between the two elements of composition an -o- may be inserted for Greek compounds like in cleptomanieor an -i- for Latin compounds like in herbicides. In the case of bilingual compounds,  -o- is often preferred.

Learned compounds have sometimes been directly adopted from Latin or Greek like the word prélude (that plays first > what precedes) or have been created anew like: télescope (that watches far > the device to watch far).

All learned compounds composed of 2 roots put together end with a  final –e disregarding whether they’re masculine or feminine. This is the main difficulty when dealing with them.



The first process (juxtaposition of two Latin or Greek roots) helps in the formation of numerous adjectives that have been easily converted into nouns:

      mammifère « that wears mammals» gave  «an animal that wears mammals ».

      insecticide « that kills insects » gave «a chemical that kills insects».

      homonyme « that has a similar name» gave «a word that has a similar name”.

      palmipède « with webbed legs» gave «an animal with webbed-legs”.

      Like it is the case for any other nouns born from a conversion process (other parts of speech turned into nouns) these artificial compounds are given the masculine gender.



To create nouns in the first place, 2 fashions have been in use: 

1)  juxtaposition of 2 nominal roots, like in bibliothèque f. (livre-armoire), o

2) juxtaposition of a root and a full noun like in bibliobus m. (livre-bus m.).

Gender is then given by the noun on which the compound is based:

 bibliobus is masculine because bus is masculine and bibliothèque is feminine following the gender of -thèque (Latin theca f. from Greek)

In fact, when it comes to gender, these last category of compounds can easily join the popular compounds group.



This page written by Ginette Chamart Copyright ©  2009. All rights reserved.  

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