Linguistics 105 * Words and Sounds
Lecture Number Ten
Word Formation: Lexical Derivation

  1. Competence and Performance

    1. Language versus Language Use.

      In addition to the rules of grammar, there are rules for using grammar. We use rules of grammar to form the Imperative Mood, Passive Voice, and relative clauses. Additionally, however, speakers of English also know when to use the Imperative and when not to use it.

      For example, in polite company we regularly substitute question-style constructions for imperatives, e.g "Would you open the door." When a professor walks addresses his students he is more likely to say "Open your books to page 4," than "Would you please open your books to page 4," although he might make the command softer by saying "Let's open open the book to page 4."

      A further example: when we don't want the subject of an action to be known, we use passive constructions rather than active ones, e.g. The window got broken. 'Interrogative' and 'passive' are grammatical categories but our knowledge of when to use them is pragmatic social knowledge unrelated to grammar.

    2. Competence versus Performance.

      The rules of grammar are representations of knowledge, or COMPETENCE, while the rules for the social and psychological use of language are PERFORMANCE representations. Ferdinand de Saussure distinguished between la langue "language" and le parole "speech". Performance rules are extragrammatical. They are general cognitive processes which operate on grammatical objects but are not grammatical themselves; they are

      1. Conscious, logical
      2. Irregular, grammatically unpredictable
      3. Additions to the lexical stock, rather than extensions of lexical items
        (That is, grammatical rules merely create a functional structure for the lexicon of the language; performance rules provide a pragmatic (or communicative) structure.

  2. Word Formation Competence.

    There are two types of Word Formation Rules (WFR) (aside from merely expanding the lexicon with new words): Lexical Derivation and Compounding .

    Just as phones had distinguishable features that allowed us to group them and think about them in a highly organized fashion, morphemes have a similar "feature matrix." Features of morphemes include such categories as those we spoke about last lecture ([+noun] [+feminine], [+plural] [+definite]; [+transitive] [+perfective] [+past]). The use of morphemes and their functions can be described with these features.

    1. The Four Types of Lexical Derivation

      1. Functional Derivation.

        The feature inventory of a lexical base is the list of features associated with it. These features are markers of the grammatical and semantic categories to which the base belongs, e.g. ^Noun, ^Animate, ^Feminine. Functional lexical derivations insert a grammatical category function, like Subject (baker), Object (drawing), Instrument (can-opener), Location (bakery); among the feature inventory of the lexical base. The relationship of the noun to the verbal lexical base in carver is that of the Subject of a sentence, i.e. a carver is "someone who carves", etc. The relationship in carving is that of the Direct Object, i.e. a carving is "something which is carved" and an employee "someone who is employed". The relationship in writing as in writing paper is that of Purpose, a common function of the Dative case.

        1. Subjective Nominalization (Nominative of Subject)

          (1) Verb Nominal
          carve carv-er
          employ employ-er
          buy buy-er

        2. Objective Nominalization (Accusative of Direct Object)

          (2) Verb Nominal
          carve (a) carv-ing
          employ (an) employ-ee
          buy (a) buy

        3. Purposive Nominalization (Dative of Purpose "for")

          (3) Nominal Gloss
          play-ing cards "cards for playing"
          writ-ing paper "paper for writing"
          wash-ing machine "a machine for washing"

          French derives the same categories, e.g. the Subjectives in (4).

          (4) Verb Nominal Compound
          essuy-er "to wipe" essuy-eur "wiper" essuie-glace "windshield wiper"
          attrap-er "to cheat" attrap-eur "a cheat" attrape-mouches "fly-catcher"
          coup-er "to cut" coup-eur "cutter" coupe-papier "paper-cutter"

          French (5) and German (6) also retain Locative nominalization.

          (5) Verb Nominal
          chenille "caterpillar" chenill-ġre "caterpillar nest"
          fourmi "ant" fourmi-liġre "ant hill"
          bouton "button" boutonn-ġre "button hole"

          (6) Verb Nominal
          back-en "to bake" Bôck-erei "bakery"
          druck-en "to print" Druck-erei "print shop"
          brau-en "to brew" Brau-erei "brewery"

      2. Transposition.

        Sometimes no grammatical function is added to a lexical base but it is simply recategorized, i.e. features of another syntactic category (part of speech: N, V, A) are simply added, e.g. N ĦA, V Ħ N.

        (7) Adjective Noun
        dependable dependabil-ity
        honest honest-y
        still still-ness


        (8) Adjective Adverb
        quick quick-ly
        modest modest-ly
        slow slow-ly

        The nouns in (7) are derived from the underlying adjectives without the addition of any meaning or grammatical function at all. The same is true of the adverbs derived from adjectives in (8). Only their category has been changed.

      3. Category Adjustment.

        Lexical categories are marked and unmarked, e.g. the features "masculine" and "feminine" in the nouns of such languages as French, German, Spanish, and Russian, must have those features fixed as either positive (Marked) or negative (Unmarked). Rules which change the marking of the gender features are "category adjustment rules". These rules do not change the meaning or the category of the lexical base but only restrict the reference to one subcategory or another.

        Table 1: Indo-European Agentive Nouns
        Language Masculine Feminine Gloss


        le lis-eur

        la lis-euse



        el pint-or

        la pint-or-a



        der Lehr-er

        die Lehr-er-in






        Note also in more detail for Spanish:

        Table 2: Spanish Agentive Nouns



        escrit-or "writer (Mas)"

        escrit-ora (Fem)

        escult-or "sculptor (Mas)

        escult-ora (Fem)

        instruct-or "instructor"

        instruct-ora (Fem)

        cant-ad-or "singer (Mas)"

        cant-ad-ora (Fem)

        The Russian base student, contains a feature [Feminine]. It is the unmarked form in the sense that it may refer either to female or male students: Ona (Fem) xoroŒij student (Mas) or Ona (Fem) xoroŒaja student-ka (Fem) "She is a good student". The feminine form, studentka, may refer only to female students and so is "marked"; one may not say: *On (Mas) xoroŒaja studentka (Fem) "He is a good student". Masculine is then the "default" gender when the speaker does not know the sex of the referent or when the sex is irrelevant to the conversation, just as he is the default (unmarked) pronoun in English.

      4. Affective Derivations. Many languages have Diminutives and Augmentatives, Affectionate and Pejorative forms. Often Diminutives double as Affectionate forms and Augmentatives, as Pejoratives. However, this is not always the case. e.g. German Frau 'woman' : Frôu-lein 'miss', Liebe 'love' : Lieb-chen 'darling', Hund 'dog' : Hãnd-chen 'little dog'. Also note archaic Magd 'maid' : Môgd(e)lein or Môd-chen 'girl'.

        Table 3: Italian Diminutives
        Base (Masculine) Diminutive Base (Feminine) Diminutive

        bimb-o 'baby'


        bimb-a 'baby'


        lett-o 'bed'


        scarpa 'shoe'


        birbon-e "rogue"


        casa 'house'



        finestra 'window'


        Augmentatives refer to unusually large objects or refer pejoratively to objects. Italian augmentatives, like German diminutives, change gender.

        Table 4: Italian Augmentatives
        Base Augmentative Gloss



        "big book"



        "big window"



        "big woman (Mas!)"



        "big soup"



        "master, landlord"


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