Cognitive Psychology and Creating New Words

By Peter J. Hills, Michael Pake

Part of Cognitive Psychology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cognitive psychology can provide insight in how people create new words. Language is a human form of communication ‒ it’s highly complex, creative, spontaneous and constantly changing. When people create new words, they usually do so in a consistent way such that new words fit with the grammatical structure. The following rules and findings apply to how new words and phrases (see figure for how to generate new insults!) are created:

  • Inflectional morphology: In English, adding an ‘-s’ to the end of a word automatically makes it plural, even if the word is new or has never been pluralised before: for example, the made-up animal ‘wug’ would be pluralised to ‘wugs’.

  • Derivational morphology: When words are created taking the name of someone or something and using that to describe something similar: for example ‘Corbynistas’ to represent followers of the politician Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Combining words: Two words can be linked together that have never previously been linked together in order to form a new concept: for example ‘keyboard’ is the combination of ‘key’ and ‘board’.

  • Creating new open-class words: Open-class words are nouns, verbs and adjectives, which people can easily create when the need arises. For example, ‘tweeting’ is a new word created from the social media device Twitter.

  • Creating new closed-class words: Closed-class words are functional words, such as articles and pronouns. People can’t easily add new ones to language: for example, ‘Peh’ as a singular but gender-neutral form of ‘he’ or ‘she’.

    Insult generator for 10 million insults.

    Insult generator for 10 million insults.