Wednesday, August 8, 2007

English Derivation

Language consists of two aspects namely form and meaning. In relation to meaning, the smallest meaningful unit in language is morpheme. Morpheme is defined as the smallest meaningful unit of a language (Lim Kiat Boey, 1975 : 37). Words are made up of morphemes. The word teachers, for example, consists of three meaningful units or morphemes, teach, –er, and –s. The morpheme teach forming the word teachers has the lexical meaning; the morpheme –er means the doer of teaching; the morpheme –s has plural meaning. We can identify the meaning of the morpheme teach although it stands alone but we cannot identify the meaning of morphemes –er and –s in isolation. We can identify the meaning of the morpheme –er and –s after they combine to the morpheme teach. The morphemes which can meaningfully stand alone are called free morphemes while the morphemes such as –er and –s, which cannot meaningfully stand alone are called bound morphemes. Bound morphemes must be attached to free morphemes. Bound morphemes are also called affixes which can be classified into prefix, infix, and suffix. English only has two kinds of bound morphemes namely prefixes and suffixes. There are not infixes in English. Bound morphemes are classified into two namely derivational and inflectional morphemes. This article tries to discuss derivational morphemes. These morphemes are complicated so that understanding what derivational morphemes are is important.
As mentioned above, bound morphemes consist of inflectional and derivational morphemes. Inflectional morphemes are those which do not create new meaning. These morphemes never change the syntactic category of the words or morphemes to which they are attached (Bauer, 1988: 12). They only refine and give extra grammatical information about the already existing meaning of words which they are attached to. The word books, for example, consists of a free morpheme book and an inflectional morpheme –s. The bound morpheme –s does not change the syntactic category of the morpheme book. The bound morpheme –s does not change the lexical meaning of book. It only gives grammatical meaning which shows that the word books is plural. Book is a noun and books is still a noun.
Different from the word books which contains the bound morpheme –s which does not create new meaning of the word book, the word happiness contains a bound morpheme –ness which creates new meaning of the word happy. The bound morpheme like –ness is called derivational morpheme. A derivational morpheme is the morpheme which produces a new lexeme from a base (Bauer, 1988: 12). Sari (1988: 82) says that derivational morphemes are bound morphemes which derive (create) new words by either changing the meaning or the part of speech or both. In the word happiness, the bound morpheme –ness creates a new word by changing both the meaning and the part of speech. Happy is an adjective but the derived word happiness is a noun. Some derivational morphemes create new meaning but do not change the syntactic category or part of speech. The word unhappy, for example, consists of the base happy and the derivational morpheme (prefix) un-. Happy is an adjective and the derived word unhappy is also an adjective.
In English, derivational morphemes can be prefixes or suffixes. All prefixes in English are derivational. All prefixes in English modify the meaning although they do not modify the syntactic category. For examples, the derivational prefix in- in inefficient, un- in undo, re- in rewrite, dis- in dislike and a- in amoral modify the positive meaning to the negative meaning but do not change the syntactic category of the derived words; efficient is an adjective and the derived word inefficient is also an adjective; do is a verb and the derived word undo is also a verb; write is a verb and the derived word rewrite is also a verb; moral is an adjective and the derived word amoral is also and adjective. All the derivational prefixes explained above have the meaning ‘not’. Most derivational suffixes change both the syntactic category and the meaning. Only a few of them do not change the syntactic category. The derivational suffixes which change the syntactic category can be noun-forming suffixes, verb-forming suffixes, adjective-forming suffixes, and adverb-forming suffixes.


Bauer, Laurie. 1983. English Word Formation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bauer, Laurie. 1988. Introducing Linguistic Morphology. Edinburgh : Edinburgh
University Press.

Fromkin, Victoria A. 1990. An Introduction to Language. Sydney: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich Group (Australia) Pty Limited.

Hornby, AS. 1986. Oxford Advanced Dictionary of Current English. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Lim Kiat Boey. 1975. An Introduction to Linguistics for the Language Teacher.
Singapore: Singapore University Press.

Sari, Nirmala. 1988. An Introduction to Linguistics. Jakarta: Departemen Pendidikan dan

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