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Italian Compound Nouns With a Nominal Base

Nomi Composti Con Base Nominale


Italian compound nouns of the type terraferma (dry land), cartapecora (parchment), or mezzogiorno (midday, noon) are referred to as compound nouns with a nominal base (nomi composti con base nominale). Namely, the implied phrase of the compound has a nominal predicate (the sentence contains a copulative verb, most commonly essere): La terra è ferma » terraferma. In Italian, four types of compound nouns with a nominal base are recognized:

1. Noun + Adjective / Nome + Aggettivo: terraferma (dry land), filospinato (barbed wire), cassaforte (strongbox), camposanto (cemetery, graveyard), fabbroferraio (blacksmith). Compounds with Italian elements are often found in the reverse order Adjective + Noun; altopiano (plateau), biancospino (hawthorn), malafede (bad faith), mezzogiorno (midday, noon), bassorilievo (bas relief), while the erudite forms are always in the reverse order: neocapitalismo (neocapitalism), aeroporto (airport), monocolore (monochrome), equivalenza (equivalence).

2. Noun + Noun / Nome + Nome: cartamoneta (paper money), calzamaglia (tights). This type is similar to the previous one, because the second noun functions almost like an adjective. In fact, in compounds of the Italian form (cartamoneta and calzamaglia), the second noun functions as a determinant relative to the first noun. The elements -moneta and -maglia "determine" (or define) the elements carta- and calza-; they clarify the type of paper and knit. In compounds of the erudite form, such as astronautica (astronautics) or cardiochirurgia (heart surgery), the reverse is the case. It is the first noun that serves as a determining factor for the second noun; the elements astro- and cardio-, therefore, clarify the type of navigation and surgery.

3. Those similar to piedipiatti (patrolman) and pellerossa (redskin). It is a somewhat unusual type because it presupposes a point of reference both external and distinct with respect to the different elements of the compound noun: X ha i piedi che sono piatti » il piedipiatti; X ha la pelle che è rossa » il pellerossa.

Comparing the compounds pellerossa and filospinato clarifies the difference between the two types:

pellerossa = uno che ha pelle rossa
filospinato = — filo spinato

In the compounds of the Italian form the determinant (-piatti and -rossa) follows the determined (piedi-, pelle-); in compounds of the erudite form there is also the reverse order (determinant + determined): filiform: 'che ha forma di filo' (spidery writing); microcefalo: 'che ha la testa piccola' (microcephalic).

4. Compounds of the type cassapanca (chest) (noun + noun) and agrodolce (sweet-and-sour) (adjective + adjective). The compound noun comes not from one but from two coordinated nominal predicates: Qualcosa è una cassa ed è una panca » cassapanca; Qualcosa è agro ed è dolce » agrodolce.

What difference is there between calzamaglia (type 2) and cassapanca (type 4)? In both cases the compound is of the type noun + noun, but the second noun in calzamaglia functions almost like an adjective. The distinction between determinant (-maglia) and determined element (calza-) made in type 2 cannot be made for type 4, in which the two elements of the compound are on the same plane and effect each other (the cassapanca is, so to speak, a cassa that is also a panca and a panca that is also a cassa).

These kinds of compound nouns are used to describe objects or people that have two purposes or two functions: casalbergo (house hotel), cacciabombardiere (fighter-bomber). As for pairs of coordinated adjectives some of the more familiar arise from Italian soccer team nicknames: bianconero 'of the Juventus soccer team,' giallorosso 'of the Roma soccer team,' biancoceleste 'of the Lazio soccer team.' In addition, recall the formation of erudite elements from the language of medicine, such as cardiovascolare (cardiovascular) and gastrointestinale (gastrointestinal).

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