In this presentation, I will approach the concept of compound from a terminological perspective. My aim is to present a definition that is at the same time motivated by the properties that are deemed essential and applicable as a means of determining for each relevant expression whether it is a compound or not.
The definition of compounding is a controversial issue. Dictionaries give vague characterizations and in the morphological literature one often finds claims that a precise definition does not exist or is not possible. A major problem in formulating a definition is that a general definition must be applicable to all languages. Many properties that have been proposed as tests for identifying compounds are language-specific. When we look for cross-linguistically applicable properties, however, they tend to be so abstract that it is hard to apply them to a large number of cases.
In order to solve this problem, I will propose a two-step method with language-specific constructions as an intermediate level. As a starting point, I will discuss a number of prototypical examples of compounds in English and derive some general properties that make them different from other types of morphology and from syntax. This leads to a number of conditions that can be used in a definition. In the selection of conditions, I take the way compounds are used as names for new concepts as the crucial factor. Then I will discuss a number of less typical cases in English and in other languages to show how this definition can be used to yield a coherent, well-motivated set of items as compounds. In the discussion of the less typical cases, I will also illustrate how the two-step method can be used in practice.
As with any terminological definition, the evaluation of the definition of compound I propose depends on the purpose one has in defining the concept. In theories in which compounds do not have any special status, it is not necessary to delimit compounding. My definition is guided by the idea that compounds are formed to name concepts in a particular way. This naming strategy therefore takes a central position in the definition.