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Kornelia Choroleeva


Abstract: The paper outlines the cognitive prerequisites for lexical blending and the main points in Conceptual Integration theory, emphasizing its applicability to the analysis of lexical blending. The examples chosen for the purposes of the present paper are blend nouns denoting people. We support the view that most newly formed lexical blends are the result of conceptual integration accompanied by the desire to achieve cognitive economy, memorability, and a direct route to the new, more complex, concepts.

Keywords: lexical blending, conceptual integration, cognitive economy, chunking, creativity, compositionality, recombinance, emergentness, on-line construction and processing of meaning



In general, the formation of lexical blends amounts to the combination of two or more source lexemes, usually (though not always) accompanied by the reduction of at least one of them. If no reduction is observable, then the source lexemes exhibit orthographic or phonic overlap at the point of fusion. Since from a morphological point of view the derived words show a great variety of patterns, blending has puzzled a number of linguists trying to provide a unified definition and a comprehensive structural description of this word-formation process (Bauer 1983, Danks 2003, Plag 2003, Lehrer 2007, etc.). Blends have also been analysed from a semantic (Pencheva 2004, Fischer 1998, Mattielo 2013, etc.) and phonological (Bat-El, Cohen 2012, Arndt-Lappe, Plag 2013, etc.) standpoint, again with the objective to provide a thorough explanation as to why and how they are formed.


Cognitive Prerequisites for Lexical Blending

We believe that the essence of blend formation lies not only in the economy of expression provided by lexical blends, because the same amount of information can be expressed by corresponding compounds, but also in their cognitive economy. Cognitive economy has been postulated by E. Rosch as one of the principles of categorization, defined as follows: "the task of category systems is to provide maximum information with the least cognitive effort" (Rosch 1978: 28).

The cognitive economy principle is intertwined with the so-called chunking, extensively studied by language acquisition theorists and psychologists, which can be described as "the capacity of language to come up with a single word for the same content" (Fauconnier, Turner 2002: 386). The notion of chunking was first proposed by Miller with respect to short-term memory research (Miller 1956). A chunk "is a unit of memory organization, formed by bringing together a set of already formed chunks in memory and welding them together into a larger unit" (in Ellis 2001: 24). Chunking, which operates at both concrete and abstract levels, testifies to the hierarchical organization of memory. The more chunks are repeated, the better they are remembered. According to Miller, chunking has several important effects on learning: it helps people remember more; it is a means of accessing information which is stored in their memory; it increases the manageable amount of information (in Bodie et al. 2006: 122). Both formally and cognitively, chunking is in line with the main tenets of conceptual blending/integration theory as formulated by Fauconnier and Turner since "[f]orms are mental elements and they can be blended just like any mental elements" (Fauconnier, Turner 2002: 365).

The analysis of lexical blends should take into account conceptual integration theory because blending as a word-formation process illustrates the creativity in everyday language use as exemplified by the gap-bridging between conceptual domains via the selective combination of some of their elements in order to produce a new, cognitively manageable, chunk of language with a new emergent structure. The important point to be made here is that this view does not uphold the traditional distinction between creativity and productivity/predictability according to which only predictable language forms are worth studying. Creativity is here envisaged in a more general fashion to embrace all instances of language use because they resort to the mental operation known as cognitive fluidity underlying the above-mentioned bridging of the gaps between conceptual domains.

Conceptual integration is also able to account for both compositional and non-compositional construction of meaning, thus doing away with the stricter view of the compositionality of linguistic expressions as predictable from the truth-conditional properties of their constituent parts as well as with the looser view of compositionality as permitting elements from contexts to be included in the computation of the truth conditions. This is because these two views cannot explain the variety of meaning constructions people produce (see, for instance, Coulson 2001 on "creative" compounds and Bagasheva 2009 on exocentric compounds1).

If we envisage compositionality as a scale whose low end and high end correspond to forms which are, respectively, more predictable and more opaque in terms of form or function, then we should also acknowledge the gradability of emergentness. Recombination, or the combination of discrete units in alternative arrangements, and emergentness are the interrelated properties of recombinance, a dynamic cognitive mechanism defined as "the assembling of discrete units into a new higher-level unit with its own identity" (Talmy, in Lampert, Lampert 2010: 42). Emergentness captures the fact that the higher-level unit has its own identity which is predictable neither from the arrangement or identities of its components, nor from the new unit perceived as a gestalt. Hence, emergentness turns out to be the prerequisite for Goldberg’s constructions: "[a]ny linguistic pattern is recognized as a construction as long as some aspect of its form or function is not strictly predictable from its component parts or from other constructions recognized to exist" (Goldberg 2006: 5). In Talmy’s system of recombinance and from a formal point of view, lexical blends would count as morphological idioms. Semantically, however, they would demonstrate varying degrees of emergentness. According to Martina and Günther Lampert, at the higher end of the emergentness scale we find cases like emoticon < emotion + icon, whereas some blend words such as smog < smoke + fog exhibit phoneme-to-morpheme recombinance recalling formations like slurry, slop, slug2, etc. (Lampert, Lampert 2010).

The application of conceptual integration theory to the analysis of lexical blending is justified from the point of view of both the production and perception of linguistic forms which involve on-line construction and processing of meaning. We emphasize this point contra (Ungerer, Schmid 2006) who assert that conceptual integration theory is only superficially applicable to the analysis of all instances of word-formative blending because some English blend words are long-established in language and are not perceived as blends by the speaker or hearer. The way words such as brunch and smog are perceived by speakers of English is a matter of research (including the way their perception has evolved) but their appearance in language testifies to the appearance of some cognitive necessity of naming embodied in cognitive economy, chunking, creativity, and on-line construction of meaning. It seems that the authors’ statement concerns blends which language users perceive as morphologically opaque and unanalyzable but the users’ perception of such words needs further investigation in order to prove that no on-line processing of meaning is going on. Moreover, such "dictionary" words in English are negligible in number when compared to the blend words sprouting in all spheres of knowledge and life where the on-line construction and processing of meaning is more strikingly visible enabling conceptual integration to reveal its explanatory potential, to use Ungerer and Schmid’s words.

To outline the main points of conceptual integration theory, conceptual blends appear in networks of mental spaces where the minimal network consists of four mental spaces: two input spaces, one generic space, and one blended space (Fauconnier and Turner 2002). The blended space is produced via connections between the inputs, or cross-space mapping, of vital relations of various types. The inputs can often be blends themselves and out of the same inputs people can create many different blends. The generic space contains what is common for the inputs, if commonality can be established at all. The emergent structure of the blend is determined by three major processes: composition, completion, and elaboration. The composition of the elements from the inputs is responsible for the occurrence of components in the blend that are not present in the inputs. Completion marks the point of integration of the inputs and endows the blend with additional structure. Elaboration means running the blend dynamically and it can proceed indefinitely and in many different directions (Fauconnier and Turner 2002). Due to these three processes, the inputs are compressed, their conceptual complexity reduced so that the new emergent structure becomes comprehensible attaining the so-called human scale. Fauconnier and Turner point out that the creativity of conceptual integration is attributable to the open-ended character of completion and elaboration (Fauconnier and Turner 2002).


Blend Nouns Denoting People

In order to illustrate the applicability of conceptual integration theory to lexical blending analysis, we have chosen examples of blend nouns denoting people. Structurally, the blends collected by us can be subdivided into six major groups: 1) Common Noun + Common Noun, e.g. netizen < internet + citizen/denizen; 2) Adjective + Common Noun, e.g. neweeter < new + tweeter; 3) Adjective + Proper Noun + Common Noun, e.g. sweeple < sweet + Twitter + people; 4) Proper Noun + Proper Noun, e.g. Obamney < Obama + Romney; 5) Proper Noun + Common Noun, e.g. Yahooligans < Yahoo + hooligans; 6) pronoun + Common Noun, e.g. himbo < him + bimbo.

Our first example will be bridezilla < bride + Godzilla meaning "a bride-to-be who, while planning her wedding, becomes exceptionally selfish, greedy, and obnoxious" (The Latest 2014). It is worth mentioning that the source word Godzilla is of Japanese origin and is a blend word as well, stemming from the Japanese Gojira < gorira (gorilla) + kujira (whale) obviously denoting a hybrid beast, a meaning which was eventually modified since the traditional film does not depict Godzilla as having whale characteristics. Both input spaces happen to be entrenched in long-term memory since they can be immediately activated due to our individual and cultural experience with and knowledge of brides and weddings on the one hand and Godzilla monsters on the other, the latter being based on the world-famous film of the same name, popular within and outside Western culture. The following table outlines the elements of the two inputs and the blend for bridezilla.


Input 1 (BRIDE)

Input 2 (GODZILLA)

Blended Space (BRIDEZILLA)




Human being


Both person and animal




In love

Of gigantic size




Engaged to be married

Engaged to be married or newlywed


Planning the wedding

Planning the wedding



Dressed in white

Coming from the sea

Causing fear


Physically strong


Causing admiration



Will get married in church




Causing fear



With radioactive breath

Stressed out








Most elements from Input 1 have no counterparts in Input 2 and elements from both inputs are selectively projected into the blend. The most general type of vital relation (VR), or link, between the inputs is that of change coupled with a cross-space mapping of identity. Brides are not identical with Godzillas but in the blend they are compressed into uniqueness: bridezillas are both brides-to-be and Godzillas and the two different identities are fused in the blend, fusion being a type of projection. Analogy, too, is compressed into identity and uniqueness in the blend. The cross-space mapping of identity brings about a change of category, too: brides belong to the category of human beings whereas Godzillas belong to the category of animals. The VR of cause and effect also obtains since planning the wedding (the cause) results in the acquisition of the property "obnoxious" (the effect) and, hence, in a change of personality traits and (possibly) appearance, both cause and effect being presented simultaneously to us in the blend. In this way, we perceive a tighter connection between cause and effect because it is intensified in the blended space. The blended space is also characterized by a more evident force-dynamic structure due to the element of violence inherited from Input 2.

The generic spaces of the two inputs have nothing in common: that of "bride" is "wedding" while that of "Godzilla" is "prehistoric animal" or "fictitious hybrid animal". We can perceive a conceptual clash between the two inputs, which is often the case with metaphoric language use. Metaphorically, one can say "This bride is a Godzilla", thus transferring important elements from one input (the source input), that of "Godzilla", into the blend in order to understand the target input, that of "bride".

The organizing frames of the inputs can be represented in terms of attributes adopting concrete values, the latter referring to an aspect of at least some members of the category (see Barsalou 1992). The organizing frame of "bride", which is connected to that of "bridegroom", is thus characterized by the core attributes "gender", "age", "appearance", "personality", etc. specified by values among which some will fill the frame by default (e.g. female for gender) when referring to the prototypical bride. Values are concepts as well and they can also function as attributes with even more specific values. In conceptual integration, some default values may be lost, which contributes to the creativity of the blend. Frames represent exemplars, e.g. bride-1, bride-2, etc., "which are co-occurring sets of attribute values" (Barsalou 1992: 45). When a new exemplar is encountered, its values are incorporated in the frame (see the diagram below). Consider, for instance, the following text: "The world's first legal gay marriage ceremony took place in the Netherlands on Apr. 1, 2001, just after midnight. The four couples, one female and three male, were married in a televised ceremony officiated by the mayor of Amsterdam" (Should Gay 2015). It introduces two new exemplars into the "bride" frame: bride-2 is female but marries a woman, not a man, and bride-3 is male who marries another man.

The conceptual integration manifested by bridezilla may also be perceived as conceptual approximation and interrelationship between the organizing frames of bride and Godzilla resulting in a novel concept with its own organizing frame. The appearance of the concept of bridezilla probably introduces a new exemplar into the "bride" frame, that of the Godzilla bride or bride-4.

A subgroup of blend words denoting people are those formed by combining personal names. Some eponymous blend words, derived from the same sources, are used synonymously, e.g.: Obamney, Obomney, Baromney, Mittrack, Obamitt, Oromney, Robama (< Mitt Romney + Barack Obama) (Zimmer, Carson 2012), differing with respect to the order of the elements and the degree of reduction of the source names. Such names are comparable to the words designating hybrid plants and animals (e.g.: tangelo < tangerine + pomelo, labradoodle < labrador + poodle) and devices such as modem < modulator + demodulator and transponder < transmitter + responder in that the two components of the new word enter into coordinative, not attributive, relations since both function as semantic heads. Such eponymous blends are obviously created in order to emphasize the equality in certain respects between the two people denoted. They are very much culturally determined and their processing necessitates the presence of relevant background knowledge. For instance, to understand Obamney, we need to know at least that Mitt Romney was the Republicans’ nominee for President of the United States defeated by the Democrat Barack Obama in the 2012 general election. The diagram below lists some of the elements of the two inputs and the generic space for the above-mentioned blend words derived from the names of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

In this case, the two inputs share a generic space at a higher level of abstraction which contains what they have in common. The inputs also possess more specific structure. We can say that in the blended space the role of politician is preserved but the values attached to it in the two inputs, Democrat or Republican, are fused into uniqueness. "Democrat" and "Republican" themselves function as roles for the values "Barack Obama" and "Mitt Romney" which are fused as well. This is because the VR of identity is compressed into uniqueness in the blend. Fauconnier points out that roles are elements of mental spaces as well but unlike other elements their identity (or value) can change whereas one particular property (e.g.: "president" in "The president changes every four years") stays the same (Fauconnier 1994: 41). Moreover, the values attached to a role, e.g.: the value Obama linked to the role of president, as a whole do not determine the role itself, i.e. the name does not determine the role. It is not the same to say "The president changes every four years" and "Reagan changes every four years" (Fauconnier 1994: 67). Also, it will not be the same to say "Obama supports wireless wiretapping" and "Obamney supports wireless wiretapping". The second example of the pair foregrounds the component of evaluation, i.e. disapproval. Therefore, the mentally projected communicative situation is different in the two utterances, which determines the differences in register.

In the two inputs, the elements "Democrat", "Republican", "Won the presidential campaign", and "Lost the presidential campaign" are essential for the construction of the mental space linked with Obama and that having to do with Romney. In the blend, however, these elements are merged to suggest a "hybrid" politician whose political denomination is irrelevant as long as s/he promotes policies considered detrimental to society. All other elements of Input 1 have counterparts in Input 2 projected in the blended space. As compared to the input of "bride" above, the two inputs in this example may exhibit greater variation of their elements because the construction of the mental spaces of "Obama" and "Romney" requires more specialized background knowledge, though still culturally determined. The variation in the inputs will produce variation in the emergent structure of the blend (although we know that new emergent structure can appear out of the same inputs as well). Hence, we can predict that the structuring of Obamney, for instance, may be more variable from individual to individual than that of bridezilla. In addition, since individuals will differ in the degree to which they possess the relevant background knowledge necessary for processing Obamney, they will also differ with respect to the concreteness of the elements structuring the input spaces. Going back to the diagram above, the last five elements of the inputs may be replaced by the single element "Promotes policies which are bad for society" in the blend.


Concluding Remarks

Turner and Fauconnier emphasize the following: "This pressure to achieve formal organization to express conceptual blending is general. We see it at work across a range of constructions, from morphemes to sentences." (Turner and Fauconnier 1995: 14). The integration of form may be achieved on several levels, as in "the tunnel under the English channel" > "the Channel tunnel" > "Chunnel". This illustrates a constant urge to construct chunks and load them with as much information as possible. The fact that corresponding integrated forms may be missing in other languages demonstrates that integration is opportunistic (Turner and Fauconnier 1995: 15), which does not, however, mean that it is peripheral. The appearance of such integrated forms is brought about by the necessity to refer directly to the new conceptual spaces which they construct and make the new, more complex, concepts cognitively manageable.

We also believe that with lexical blending the cognitive necessity of naming is partly attributable to the desire to tone down the great asymmetry between the conceptual content and the linguistic content. As V. Evans points out, the schematicity of the linguistic content is not comparable to the richness of the perceptually grounded conceptual content (Evans 2009). Linguistic content encodes knowledge by means of parameterization, the introduction of parameters in a category via abstraction and reduction of perceptual experience to "highly impoverished" parameters. Lexical blending actually introduces new parameters in the linguistic content, thus making it less schematic and abstract.




1. Bagasheva makes the point that all types of compounds are due to conceptual blending, endocentric ones being based on simplex networks whereas exocentric ones on double-scope networks (Bagasheva 2009: 418-419). [back]

2. The latter are examples of sound symbolism via phonaesthesia, the phonaestheme [sl] suggesting meanings in the area of slipperiness and sliminess. [back]




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© Kornelia Choroleeva
© Електронно списание LiterNet, 06.05.2015, № 5 (186)