Derivation (morphology)

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Derivation refers to a part of morphology that is characterized by relatively concrete morphological meanings, potential semantic irregularity, restrictions in applicability, and so on. It contrasts with inflection, which tends to show more abstract meanings, regularity, and unrestricted applicability.

Derivation is a one of the major types of morphological operation by which new words are formed by adding an affix to a base.



Derivation has a number of other senses:


from the English verb institute it is possible to form the noun institution by suffixation of -ion. From this, one can form the adjective institutional by adding the suffix -al, and to this word one can add the verbalizing suffix -ize yielding institutionalize. Derivation typically, but not necessarily, induces a change in lexical category. Traditionally derivation is distinguished from inflection (the second type of major morphological operation). Although it is not possible to draw a sharp line dividing the two types of operation, there are at least two differences: (i) inflection is never category changing, while derivation typically is, and (ii) inflection is usually peripheral to derivation. Some linguists (e.g. Aronoff (1976), Anderson (1982), Perlmutter (1988)) assume that derivation and inflection belong to different components of the grammar. Others (e.g. Halle (1973), Kiparsky (1982)) assume that derivation and inflection are reflexes of one and the same operation, namely affixation.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Anderson, S.R. 1982. Where's Morphology?, Linguistic Inquiry 13, pp. 571-612, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Aronoff, M. 1976. Word Formation in Generative Grammar, MIT-press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Halle, M. 1973. Prolegomena to a Theory of Word-Formation, Linguistic Inquiry 4, pp. 451-464
  • Kiparsky, P. 1982. From Cyclic Phonology to Lexical Phonology, in: Hulst, H. van der and N. Smith (eds.) The Structure of Phonological Representations (I), pp.131-175
  • Perlmutter, D. 1988. The Split-morphology Hypothesis: evidence from Yiddish, in: Hammond, M. and M. Noonan (eds.) Theoretical Morphology: Approaches in Modern Linguistics, Orlando, Academic Press.

Other languages

German Derivation (de), Ableitung