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DERIVATIONAL AND FUNCTIONAL AFFIXES

Lexicology is primarily concerned with derivational affixes, the other group being the domain of grammarians. The derivational affixes in fact, as well as the whole problem of word-formation, form a boundary area between lexicology and grammar and are therefore studied in both.

Language being a system in which the elements of vocabulary and grammar are closely interrelated, our study of affixes cannot be complete without some discussion of the similarity and difference between derivational and functional morphemes.

The similarity is obvious as they are so often homonymous (for the most important cases of homonymy between derivational and functional affixes see p. 18). Otherwise the two groups are essentially different because they render different types of meaning.

Functional affixes serve to convey grammatical meaning. They build different forms of one and the same word. A word form, or the form of a word, is defined as one of the different aspects a word may take as a result of inflection. Complete sets of all the various forms of a word when considered as inflectional patterns, such as declensions or conjugations, are termed paradigms. A paradigm has been defined in grammar as the system of grammatical forms characteristic of a word, e. g. near, nearer, nearest; son, sons, sons, sons (see1 p. 23).

Derivational affixes serve to supply the stem with components of lexical and lexico-grammatical meaning, and thus form4different words. One and the same lexico-grammatical meaning of the affix is sometimes accompanied by different combinations of various lexical meanings. Thus, the lexico-grammatical meaning supplied by the suffix -y consists in the ability to express the qualitative idea peculiar to adjectives and creates adjectives from noun stems. The lexical meanings of the same suffix are somewhat variegated: full of, as in bushy or cloudy, composed of, as in stony, having the quality of, as in slangy, resembling, as in baggy, covered with, as in hairy and some more. This suffix sometimes conveys emotional components of meaning. E.g.:


My school reports used to say: Not amenable to discipline; too fond of organising, which was only a kind way of saying: Bossy. (M. Dickens) Bossy not only means having the quality of a boss or behaving like a boss; it is also a derogatory word.

This fundamental difference in meaning and function of the two groups of affixes results in an interesting relationship: the presence of a derivational affix does not prevent a word from being equivalent to another word, in which this suffix is absent, so that they can be substituted for one another in context. The presence of a functional affix changes the distributional properties of a word so much that it can never be substituted for a simple word without violating grammatical standard. To see this point consider the following familiar quotation from Shakespeare:

Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.

Here no one-morpheme word can be substituted for the words cowards, times or deaths because the absence of a plural mark will make the sentence ungrammatical. The words containing derivational affixes can be substituted by morphologically different words, so that the derivative valiant can be substituted by a root word like brave. In a statement like I wash my hands of the whole affair (Du Maurier) the word affair may be replaced by the derivative business or by the simple word thing because their distributional properties are the same. It is, however, impossible to replace it by a word containing a functional affix (affairs or things), as this would require a change in the rest of the sentence.

The American structuralists B. Bloch and G. Trager formulate this point as follows: A suffixal derivative is a two-morpheme word which is grammatically equivalent to (can be substituted for) any simple word in all the constructions where it occurs."1

This rule is not to be taken as an absolutely rigid one because the word building potential and productivity of stems depend on several factors. Thus, no further addition of suffixes is possible after -ness, -ity, -dom, -ship and -hood.

A derivative is mostly capable of further derivation and is therefore homonymous to a stem. Foolish, for instance, is derived from the stem fool- and is homonymous to the stem foolish- occurring in the words foolishness and foolishly. Inflected words cease to be homonymous to stems. No further derivation is possible from the word form fools, where the stem fool- is followed by the functional affix -s. Inflected words are neither structurally nor functionally equivalent to the morphologically simple words belonging to the same part of speech. Things is different from business functionally, because these two words cannot occur in identical contexts, and structurally, because of the different character of their immediate constituents and different word-forming possibilities.

1 See: Bloch B. and Trager G. Outline of Linguistic Analysis. Baltimore, 1942 P. 84.


After having devoted special attention to the difference in semantic characteristics of various kinds of morphemes we notice that they are different positionally. A functional affix marks the word boundary, it can only follow the affix of derivation and come last, so that no further derivation is possible for a stem to which a functional affix is added. That is why functional affixes are called by E. Nida the outer formatives as contrasted to the inner formatives which is equivalent to our term derivational affixes.

It might be argued that the outer position of functional affixes is disproved by such examples as the disableds, the unwanteds. It must be noted, however, that in these words -ed is not a functional affix, it receives derivational force so that the disableds is not a form of the verb to disable, but a new word a collective noun.

A word containing no outer formatives is, so to say, open, because it is homonymous to a stem and further derivational affixes may be added to it. Once we add an outer formative, no further derivation is possible. The form may be regarded as closed.

The semantic, functional and positional difference that has already been stated is supported by statistical properties and difference in valency (combining possibilities). Of the three main types of morphemes, namely roots, derivational affixes and functional affixes (formatives), the roots are by far the most numerous. There are many thousand roots in the English language; the derivational affixes, when listed, do not go beyond a few scores. The list given in Chamberss Twentieth Century Dictionary takes up five pages and a half, comprising all the detailed explanations of their origin and meaning, and even then the actual living suffixes are much fewer. As to the functional affixes there are hardly more than ten of them. Regular English verbs, for instance, have only four forms: play, plays, played, playing, as compared to the German verbs which have as many as sixteen.

The valency of these three groups of morphemes is naturally in inverse proportion to their number. Functional affixes can be appended, with a few exceptions, to any element belonging to the part of speech they serve. The regular correlation of singular and plural forms of nouns can serve to illustrate this point. Thus, heart : : hearts; boy : : boys, etc. The relics of archaic forms, such as child : : children, or foreign plurals like criterion : : criteria are very few in comparison with these.

Derivational affixes do not combine so freely and regularly. The suffix -en occurring in golden and leaden cannot be added to the root steel-. Nevertheless, as they serve to mark certain groups of words, their correlations are never isolated and always contain more than two oppositions, e. g. boy : : boyish, child : : childish, book : : bookish, gold : : golden, lead : : leaden, wood : : wooden. The valency of roots is of a very different order and the oppositions may be sometimes isolated. It is for instance difficult to find another pair with the root heart and the same relationship as in heart : : sweetheart.

Knowing the plural functional suffix -s we know how the countable nouns are inflected. The probability of a mistake is not great.


With derivational affixes the situation is much more intricate. Knowing, for instance, the complete list of affixes of feminisation, i.e. formation of feminine nouns from the stems of masculine ones by adding a characteristic suffix, we shall be able to recognise a new word if we know the root. This knowledge, however, will not enable us to construct words acceptable for English vocabulary, because derivational affixes are attached to their particular stems in a haphazard and unpredictable manner. Why, for instance, is it impossible to call a lady-guest a guestess on the pattern of host : : hostess? Note also: lion : : lioness, tiger : : tigress, but bear : : she-bear, elephant : : she-elephant, wolf : : she-wolf; very often the correlation is assured by suppletion, therefore we have boar : : sow, buck : : doe, bull : : cow, cock : : hen, ram : : ewe.

Similarly in toponymy: the inhabitant of London is called a Londoner, the inhabitant of Moscow is a Muscovite, of Vienna a Viennese, of Athens an Athenian.

On the whole this state of things is more or less common to many languages; but English has stricter constraints in this respect than, for example, Russian; indeed the range of possibilities in English is very narrow. Russian not only possesses a greater number of diminutive affixes but can add many of them to the same stem: , , , , , . Nothing of the kind is possible for the English noun stem boy. With the noun stem girl the diminutive -ie can be added but not -ette, -let, -kin / -kins. The same holds true even if the corresponding noun stems have much in common: a short lecture is a lecturette but a small picture is never called a picturette. The probability that a given stem will combine with a given affix is thus not easily established.

To sum up: derivational and functional morphemes may happen to be identical in sound form, but they are substantially different in meaning, function, valency, statistical characteristics and structural properties.

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