The Wikipedia article on compounds claims:

All natural languages have compound nouns.

Is there a specific source to back this up? Or are there in fact languages that don't have compound nouns?

If truly all languages have noun-noun compounds, is there an explanation why they are more common than other types of compounds like verb-noun compounds?

I'm not sure where to look for further information. The Wikipedia article itself says that additional citations are needed.

  • 2
    I suspect it comes down to how you define "compound noun". In a broad sense, the idea that you can build new ways to refer to objects out of existing ways to refer to objects is (generally believed to be) universally true; that comes from the principle of recursion. But that's also not particularly informative.
    – Draconis
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 18:52

1 Answer 1


Compounding is very rare in Semitic, which appears to contradict the claim.

The following is from Orin D. Gensler, 'Morphological Typology of Semitic', in Stefan Weninger (ed.), The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook, pp. 287–288:

Compounding as such is almost unknown in Semitic. There are of course lexicalized or semi-lexicalized collocational combinations of two nouns, but structurally these are normally indistinguishable from the Head-Genitive syntagm of the Construct (see 5.3.), and the two collocated nouns may be interrupted by the definite article (just as with the Construct). Thus in Arabic we have ibn al-sabīl (lit.) ‘son of the road’, i.e. traveler’, with the article al- separating the two combined elements. Only rarely do we find true compounds like Arabic rās-māl-ī (lit.) ‘head-capital-Adj’, i.e. ‘capitalist’. In modern (not Biblical) Hebrew, new compounds are not infrequently coined by blending two roots: for example, from midraḵa ‘sidewalk’ + reḥov ‘street’ the language has created the compound blend midreḥov ‘pedestrian mall’ (lit. sidewalk-street). In the modern Ethiosemitic languages ‘compound verb tenses’ are formed, some of which involve the compounding of a verb form and an auxiliary verb, notably ‘to be’; thus in Amharic təsäbr-alläčč = ‘she will break’ (lit. she.will.break + she.is)

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