Dumsor and Dumsor-Based Neologisms

A Constructionist Account of Their Structure and Formation

Clement Kwamina Insaidoo Appah and Gladys Nyarko Ansah


Words are of two kinds—simplex and complex words. Whereas both are important parts of the mental lexicon, the latter are of special interest to psycholinguists and morphologists because their internal structure may be seen as a window into how morphological knowledge is encoded in the mind (Gagné & Spalding, 2006; Jackendoff, 2010; Pinker, 1999). During a period of protracted unplanned power outages in Ghana, a complex word was formed to denote the phenomenon: dumsor, a nominal compound formed from two Akan verbs—dum, “to turn off” and s, “to turn on” (anglicized as sor). Consistent with the nature of new words to trigger the formation of other words to expand their morphological family, dumsor grew a large family of dumsor-based neologisms to refer to related situations, entities and concepts, most of which were jocular and turned out to be ephemeral in equal measure. Appah and Anderson (2019) established the existence of the words, providing the socio-linguistic background and motivation for their formation. Building on that, this paper presents a systematic account of the structure and formation of the neologisms, which are grouped and discussed according to the processes by which they are formed. The identified word-formation processes are affixation, blending, compounding, conversion and reduplication, showing that even in light-hearted settings, people’s linguistic behavior in relation to word-formation remains generally consistent. It is observed that, although dumsor is of Akan origin, all but one of the affixes employed for dumsor-based derivations are of English origin. This is not unexpected, given that English is the de facto official language of Ghana and a lingua franca for many who use Facebook, the source of the data for this study. We provide Construction Morphology modeling of the structure and meaning of the words.

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