Noun-noun Compounds

Here's a list of different types of noun-noun compounds. The original research was done by Ivan Derzhanski and then adapted by me for use in my Lojban reference grammar.  Unfortunately, the formatting of the on-line version is unreadable, and it's full of Lojban technical terms.  I've salvaged the content here.  All of these languages put the modifier first and the modified term (the "head") second.

After the English gloss of each compound, there's a list of non-English languages that use it.  If the compound is not used in English, there is a definition as well.  The abbreviations are explained below.  If you don't care about the Lojban, you can ignore it.

1. The head represents an action, and the modifier then represents the object of that action.

pinsi kilbra = pencil sharpener (Hun)
zgike nunctu = music instruction (Hun)
mirli nunkalte = deer hunting (Hun)
finpe nunkalte = fish hunting (Tur, Kor, Udm, Aba 'fishing')
smacu terkavbu = mousetrap (Tur, Kor, Hun, Udm, Aba)
zdani turni = house ruler (Kar 'host')
zerle'a nunte'a = thief fear (Skt 'fear of thieves')
cevni zekri = god crime (Skt 'offense against the gods')

2. The head represents a set, and the modifier the type of the elements contained in that set.

zdani lijgri = house row
selci lamgri = cell block
karda mulgri = card pack (Swe)
rokci derxi = stone heap (Swe)
tadni girzu = student group (Hun)
remna girzu = human-being group (Qab 'group of people')
cpumi'i lijgri = tractor column (Qab)
cevni jenmi = god army (Skt)
cevni prenu = god folk (Skt)

3. Conversely: the head is an element, and the modifier represents a set in which that element is contained. Implicitly, the meaning of the head is restricted from its usual general meaning to the specific meaning appropriate for elements in the given set. Note the opposition between "zdani linji" in the previous group, and "linji zdani" in this one, which shows why this kind of compound is called "asymmetrical".

carvi dirgo = raindrop (Tur, Kor, Hun, Udm, Aba)
linji zdani = row house

4. The modifier specifies an object and the head a component or detail of that object; the compound as a whole refers to the detail, specifying that it is a detail of that whole and not some other.

junla dadysli = clock pendulum (Hun)
purdi vorme = garden door (Qab)
purdi bitmu = garden wall (Que)
moklu skapi = mouth skin (Imb 'lips')
nazbi kevna = nose hole (Imb 'nostril')
karce xislu = automobile wheel (Chi)
jipci pimlu = chicken feather (Chi)
inji rebla = airplane tail (Chi)

5. Conversely: the modifier specifies a characteristic or important detail of the object described by the head; objects described by the compound as a whole are differentiated from other similar objects by this detail.

pixra cukta = picture book
kerfa silka = hair silk (Kar 'velvet')
plise tapla = apple cake (Tur)
dadysli junla = pendulum clock (Hun)

6. The head specifies a general class of object (a genus), and the modifier specifies a sub-class of that class (a species).,

ckunu tricu = pine tree (Hun, Tur, Hop)

7. The head specifies an object of possession, and the modifier may specify the possessor (the possession may be intrinsic or otherwise). In English, these compounds have an explicit possessive element in them: "lion's mane", "child's foot", "noble's cow".

cinfo kerfa = lion mane (Kor, Tur, Hun, Udm, Qab)
verba jamfu = child foot (Swe)
nixli tuple = girl leg (Swe)
cinfo jamfu = lion foot (Que)
danlu skapi = animal skin (Ewe)
ralju zdani = chief house (Ewe)
jmive munje = living world (Skt)
nobli bakni = noble cow (Skt)
nolraitru ralju = king chief (Skt 'emperor')

8. The head specifies a habitat, and the modifier specifies the inhabitant.

lanzu tumla = family land

9. The head specifies a causative agent, and the modifier specifies the effect of that cause.

kalselvi'i gapci = tear gas (Hun)
terbi'a jurme = disease germ (Tur)
fenki litki = crazy liquid (Hop 'whisky')
pinca litki = urine liquid (Hop 'beer')

10. Conversely: the head specifies an effect, and the modifier specifies its cause.

djacu barna = water mark (Chi)

11. The head specifies an instrument, and the modifier specifies the purpose of that instrument.

taxfu dadgreku = garment rack (Chi)
tergu'i ti'otci = lamp shade (Chi)
xirma zdani horse = house (Chi 'stall')
nuzba tanbo = news board (Chi 'bulletin board')

12. More vaguely: the head specifies an instrument, and the modifier specifies the object of the purpose for which that instrument is used.

cpina rokci = pepper stone (Que 'stone for grinding pepper')
jamfu djacu = foot water (Skt 'water for washing the feet')
grana mudri = post wood (Skt 'wood for making a post')
moklu djacu = mouth water (Hun 'water for washing the mouth')
lanme gerku = sheep dog (dog for working sheep)

13. The head specifies a product from some source, and the modifier specifies the source of the product.

moklu djacu = mouth water (Aba, Qab 'saliva')
ractu mapku = rabbit hat (Rus)
jipci sovda = chicken egg (Chi)
sikcurnu silka = silkworm silk (Chi)
mlatu kalci = cat feces (Chi)
bifce lakse = bee wax (Chi 'beeswax')
cribe rectu = bear meat (Tur, Kor, Hun, Udm, Aba)
solxrula grasu = sunflower oil (Tur, Kor, Hun, Udm, Aba)
bifce jisra = bee juice (Hop 'honey')
tatru litki = breast liquid (Hop 'milk')
kanla djacu = eye water (Kor 'tear')

14. Conversely: the head specifies the source of a product, and the modifier specifies the product.

silna jinto = salt well (Chi)
kolme terkakpa = coal mine (Chi)
ctile jinto = oil well (Chi)

15. The head specifies an object, and the modifier specifies the material from which the object is made. This case is especially interesting, because the referent of the head may normally be made from just one kind of material, which is then overridden in the compound.

rokci cinfo = stone lion
snime nanmu = snow man (Hun)
kliti cipni = clay bird
blaci kanla = glass eye (Hun)
blaci kanla = glass eye (Que 'spectacles')
solji sicni = gold coin (Tur)
solji junla = gold watch (Tur, Kor, Hun)
solji djine = gold ring (Udm, Aba, Que)
rokci zdani = stone house (Imb)
mudri zdani = wood house (Ewe 'wooden house')
rokci bitmu = stone wall (Ewe)
solji carce = gold chariot (Skt)
mudri xarci = wood weapon (Skt 'wooden weapon')
cmaro'i dargu = pebble road (Chi)
sudysrasu = cutci straw shoe (Chi)

16. The head specifies a typical object used to measure a quantity and the modifier specifies something measured. The compound as a whole refers to a given quantity of the thing being measured. English does not have compounds of this form, as a rule.

tumla spisa = land piece (Tur 'piece of land')
tcati kabri = tea cup (Kor, Aba 'cup of tea')
nanba spisa = bread piece (Kor 'piece of bread')
bukpu spisa = cloth piece (Udm, Aba 'piece of cloth')
djacu calkyguzme = water calabash (Ewe 'calabash of water')

17. The head specifies an object with certain implicit properties, and the modifier overrides one of those implicit properties.

kensa bloti = spaceship
bakni verba = cattle child (Ewe 'calf')

18. The modifier specifies a whole, and the head specifies a part which normally is associated with a different whole. The compound then refers to a part of the modifier which stands in the same relationship to the whole modifier as the head stands to its typical whole.

kosta degji coat finger (Hun = coat sleeve)
denci genja tooth root (Imb)
tricu stedu tree head (Imb = treetop)

19. The head specifies the producer of a certain product, and the modifier specifies the product. In this way, the compound as a whole distinguishes its referents from other referents of the head which do not produce the product.

silka curnu silkworm (Tur, Hun, Aba)

20. The head specifies an object, and the modifier specifies another object which has a characteristic property. The compound as a whole refers to those referents of the head which possess the property.

sonci manti = soldier ant
ninmu bakni = woman cattle (Imb 'cow')
mamta degji = mother finger (Imb 'thumb')
cifnu degji = baby finger (Imb 'pinky')
pacraistu zdani = hell house (Skt)
fagri dapma = fire curse (Skt 'curse destructive as fire')

21. As a particular case (when the property is that of resemblance): the modifier specifies an object which the referent of the compound resembles.

grutrceraso jbama = cherry bomb
solji kerfa = gold hair (Hun 'golden hair')
kanla djacu e= ye water (Kar 'spring')
bakni rokci = bull stone (Mon 'boulder')

22. The modifier specifies a place, and the head an object characteristically located in or at that place.

ckana boxfo = bed sheet (Chi)
mrostu mojysu'a = tomb monument (Chi 'tombstone')
jubme tergusni = table lamp (Chi)
foldi smacu = field mouse (Chi)
briju ci'ajbu = office desk (Chi)
rirxe xirma = river horse (Chi 'hippopotamus')
xamsi gerku = sea dog (Chi 'seal')
cagyce'u zdani = village house (Skt)

23. Specifically: the head is a place where the modifier is sold or made available to the public.

cidja barja = food bar (Chi 'restaurant')
cukta barja = book bar (Chi 'library')

24. The modifier specifies the locus of application of the head.

kanla velmikce = eye medicine (Chi)
jgalu grasu = nail oil (Chi 'nail polish')
denci pesxu = tooth paste (Chi)

25. The head specifies an implement used in the activity denoted by the modifier.

me.la.pinpan. bolci = Ping-Pong ball (Chi)

26. The head specifies a protective device against the undesirable features of the referent of the modifier.

carvi mapku = rain cap (Chi)
carvi taxfu = rain garment (Chi 'raincoat')
vindu firgai = poison mask (Chi 'gas mask')

27. The head specifies a container characteristically used to hold the referent of the modifier.

cukta vasru = book vessel (Chi 'satchel')
vanju kabri = wine cup (Chi)
spatrkoka lanka = coca basket (Que)
djacu calkyzme = water calabash (Ewe)
rismi dakli = rice bag (Ewe, Chi)
tcati kabri = tea cup (Chi)
ladru botpi = milk bottle (Chi)
rismi patxu = rice pot (Chi)
festi lante = trash can (Chi)
bifce zdani = bee house (Kor 'beehive')
cladakyxa'i = zdani sword house (Kor 'sheath')
manti zdani = ant nest (Gua 'anthill')

28. The modifier specifies the characteristic time of the event specified by the head.

vensa djedi = spring day (Chi)
crisa citsi = summer season (Chi)
cerni bumru = morning fog (Chi)
critu lunra = autumn moon (Chi)
dunra nicte = winter night (Chi)
nicte ckule = night school (Chi)

29. The modifier specifies a source of energy for the referent of the head.

dikca tergusni = electric lamp (Chi)
ratni nejni = atom energy (Chi)
brife molki = windmill (Tur, Kor, Hun, Udm, Aba)

There are some compounds which don't fall into any of the above categories.

ladru denci = milk tooth (Tur, Hun, Udm, Qab)
kanla denci = eye tooth

It is clear that "tooth" is being specified, and that "milk" and "eye" act as modifiers. However, the relationship between "ladru" and "denci" is something like "tooth which one has when one is drinking milk from one's mother", a relationship certainly present nowhere except in this particular concept. As for "kanla denci", the relationship is not only not present on the surface, it is hardly possible to formulate it at all.

Here are some types of compounds where there is no effective difference between the modifier and the head.  In some languages, it is common for these compounds to occur in the opposite order as well.

30. The compound may refer to things which are correctly specified by both components. Some of these instances may also be seen as asymmetrical compounds where the modifier specifies a material.

cipnrstrigi pacru'i = owl demon (Skt)
nolraitru prije = royal sage (Skt)
remna nakni = human-being male (Qab 'man')
remna fetsi = human-being female (Qab 'woman')
sonci tolvri = soldier coward (Que)
panzi nanmu = offspring man (Ewe 'son')
panzi ninmu = offspring woman (Ewe 'daughter')
solji sicni = gold coin (Tur)
solji junla = gold watch (Tur, Kor, Hun)
solji djine = gold ring (Udm, Aba, Que)
rokci zdani = stone house (Imb)
mudri zdani = wooden house (Ewe)
rokci bitmu = stone wall (Ewe)
solji carce = gold chariot (Skt)
mudri xarci = wooden weapon (Skt)
zdani tcadu = home town (Chi)

31. The compound may refer to all things which are specified by either of the compound components.  English does not have compounds of this form, as a rule.

nunji'a nunterji'a = victory defeat (Skt 'victory or defeat')
donri nicte = day night (Skt 'day and night')
lunra tarci = moon stars (Skt 'moon and stars')
patfu mamta = father mother (Imb, Kaz, Chi 'parents')
tuple birka = leg arm (Kaz 'extremity')
nuncti nunpinxe = eating drinking (Udm 'cuisine')
bersa tixnu = son daughter (Chi 'children')

32. Alternatively, the compound may refer to things which are specified by either of the compound components or by some more inclusive class of things which the components typify.

curnu jalra = worm beetle (Mon 'insect')
jalra curnu = beetle worm (Mon 'insect')
kabri palta = cup plate (Kaz 'crockery')
jipci gunse = hen goose (Qab 'housefowl')
xrula tricu = flower tree (Chi 'vegetation')

33. The compound components specify crucial or typical parts of the referent of the compound as a whole.  English does not have compounds of this form, as a rule.

tumla vacri = land air (Fin 'world')
moklu stedu = mouth head (Aba 'face')
sudysrasu cunmi = hay millet (Qab 'agriculture')
gugde ciste = state system (Mon 'politics')
prenu so'imei = people multitude (Mon 'masses')
djacu dertu = water earth (Chi 'climate')

Here are the explanations of the three-letter language-name abbreviations:

Aba = Abazin
Chi = Chinese
Eng = English
Ewe = Ewe
Fin = Finnish
Geo = Georgian
Gua = Guarani
Hop = Hopi
Hun = Hungarian
Imb = Imbabura Quechua
Kar = Karaitic Hebrew
Kaz = Kazakh
Kor = Korean
Mon = Mongolian
Qab = Qabardian
Que = Quechua
Rus = Russian
Skt = Sanskrit
Swe = Swedish
Tur = Turkish
Udm = Udmurt


Rosen Creature said...

I hadnt visited your blog in awhile, but then I saw this:

Thanks, John!

Steve Pepper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.