(Shakespeare's) Word Coinage

The works of William Shakespeare as well as the King James Bible (1611) are said to have been most influential in the development of the English language during the final decades of the Renaissance.

Shakespeare’s sphere of influence can be particularly traced back to the enrichment of the English word-stock and often his uses are the earliest written occurrence of particular words. For example, the term “obscene” was first recorded in Shakespeare’s Richard II (IV.i.l. 2098) (cf. Crystal 2003, 62). Similar to his contemporaries, he borrowed words from other languages to create a new vocabulary, so that terms like “assassination”, “courtship” or “remorseless” came into being (cf. Jucker 2000, 51). Even if he was not the first to apply it, the fact cannot be rejected that via the usage in a play he furthered the word’s popularity and, at the same time, its circulation.

Shakespeare employed three basic types of word-formation. To begin with, words entering the language or already existing English words were modified by means of affixation.

By adding an affix to a base, the word class may be changed, which is typical of suffixation: the example of “ceremoniously” shows that the suffix -ly was simply added to an adjective and thereby an adverb is created.

Additionally, conversion (zero-derivation) became possible as a consequence of the loss of inflectional endings. In this type of word-formation, nouns may function as verbs and thus, they change their original word class (for example “champion” or “muddy” can be used as verbs as well).

The use of hyphenated compounds is another way Shakespeare created new words. Here a word is composed out of two or more bases (for example “giant-world”) (cf. Crystal 2003, 62-63 / Nevalainen 2006, 59).