Motivation of the Word
The term motivation is used to denote the relationship existing between the phonemic or morphemic composition and structural pattern of the word on the one hand, and its meaning on the other. There are three main types of motivation: phonetical motivation,morphological motivation, and semantic motivation.
When there is a certain similarity between the sounds that make up the word and those referred to by the sense, the motivation is phonetical. Examples are:
bang, buzz, cuckoo, giggle, gurgle, hiss, purr,whistle,etc. Here the sounds of a word are imitative of sounds in nature because what is referred to is a sound or at least, produces a characteristic sound(cuckoo).
Within the English vocabulary there are different words, all sound imitative, meaning‘quick, foolish, indistinct talk’: babble, chatter, gabble, prattle.In this last group echoic creationscombine phonological and morphological motivation because they contain verbal suffixes -le and -er forming frequentative verbs.
The morphological motivation may be quite regular. Thus, the prefix ex – means ‘former’ when added to human nouns: ex-filmstar, ex-president, ex-wife.Alongside with these cases there is a more general use of ex-: in borrowed words it is unstressed and motivation is faded (expect,export,etc.).The derived word re-think is motivated in as much as its morphological structure suggests the idea of thinking again. Re-is one of the most common prefixes of the English language, it means ‘again’ and ‘back’ and is added to verbal stems or abstract deverbal noun stems, as in rebuild, reclaim, resell,resettlement. Here again these newer formations should be compared with older borrowings from Latin and French where re- is now unstressed, and the motivation faded. Compare re-cover ‘cover again’ and recover ‘get better’. In short: morphological motivation is especially obvious in newly coined words, or at least words created in the present century. Сf. detainee, manoeuvrable, prefabricated, racialist, self- propelling, vitaminise,etc. In older words, root words and morphemes motivation is established etymologically, if at all.
In deciding whether a word of long standing in the language is morphologically motivated according to present-day patterns or not, one should be very careful. Similarity in sound form does not always correspond to similarity in morphological pattern. Agential suffix -er is affixable to any verb, so that
V+-er means ‘one who V-s’ or ‘something that V-s’: writer, receiver, bomber, rocker, knocker. Yet, although the verb numb exists in English, number is not ‘one who numbs’ but is derived from OFr nombre borrowed into English and completely assimilated.
The third type of motivation is called semantic motivation. It is based on the co-existence of direct and figurative meanings of the same word within the same synchronous system. Mouth continues to denote a part of the human face, and at the same time it can metaphorically apply to any opening or outlet: the mouth of a river, of a cave, of a furnace. Jacket is a short coat and also a protective cover for a book, a phonograph record or an electric wire. Thus, eyewash ‘a lotion for the eyes’ or headache‘pain in the head’, or watchdog ‘a dog kept for watching property’ are all morphologically motivated. If, on the other hand, they are usedmetaphorically as ‘something said or done to deceive a person so that he thinks that what he sees is good,though in fact it is not’, ‘anything or anyone very annoying’and ‘a watchful human guardian’,
respectively, then the motivation is semantic.