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Review of  The Oxford Handbook of Derivational Morphology

Reviewer: Alexandra Galani
Book Title: The Oxford Handbook of Derivational Morphology
Book Author: Rochelle Lieber Pavol Štekauer
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 26.5516

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


“The Oxford Handbook of Derivational Morphology”, edited by Rochelle Lieber and Pavol Štekauer, is a collection of forty-one chapters on issues related to derivational morphology. It includes list of figures, tables, abbreviations, contributors, references, language, name and subject indexes. In what follows, I briefly summarise each chapter’s content. Chapter titles and authors are given as numbered headings below.


1. Introduction: The scope of the handbook, by Rochelle Lieber and Pavol Štekauer
The editors sketch the main reasons for which derivational morphology should be seen as a separate field of study and briefly summarise the phenomena discussed in the volume.

2. Delineating derivation and inflection, by Pius ten Hacken
ten Hacken discusses the difficulty of distinguishing inflection from derivation and refers to the treatments, the criteria and the problems caused by this distinction. Examples from English, French, Polish and German are offered.

3. Delineating derivation and compounding, by Susan Olsen
Olsen examines the differences between derivation and compounding by looking at the status of lexemes and affixes and their historical development. Bound roots, unique morphemes, neoclassical and synthetic compounds as well as processes such as conversions, back-formation, analogy, blending and reduplication are briefly discussed.

4. Theoretical approaches to derivation, by Rochelle Lieber
Lieber briefly presents the main points of the fundamental theoretical approaches on derivation in the literature. She re-imagines the Saussurean concept of “sign” and applies it to the derivation of complex words: what is mapped is both the sensory-motor (Saussure’s “signifier/sound image”) and the conceptual part (Saussure’s “signified/concept”).

5. Productivity, blocking and lexicalization, by Mark Aronoff and Mark Lindsay
Aronoff and Lindsay suggest that productivity is best seen as a scalar phenomenon and review three statistical methods used in literature: Baayen’s (1992, 1993) “hapax legomena”, electronic corpuses (e.g. OED) and virtual corpora available through the world wide web.

6. Methodological issues in studying derivation, by Rochelle Liber
Lieber summarises various methods used in the study of derivational morphology: natural data, dictionaries, traditional grammars, data from less studied languages, corpora-based data, psycholinguistic data. The most interesting results come from combinatorial approaches (e.g. theory-corpora and psycholinguistic results).

7. Experimental and psycholinguistic approaches, by Harald Baayen
Experimental methods and materials used in research on the processing and representation of derived words (e.g. lexical decision task, priming experimental treatment, eye-tracking systems) are presented. Theories on the organisation of the mental lexicon (theories based on the dictionary metaphor and those which do not support the existence of a mental lexicon) are reviewed.

8. Concatenative derivation, by Laurie Bauer
Bower deals with the concatenative nature of derivational morphology by looking at lexemes, neoclassical word formation, affixes (zero, unique, affixoids, continuous, discontinuous) and affix ordering.

9. Infixation, by Juliette Blevins
Infixation in languages such as Hoava, English, Yurok, Arara and Thai is discussed. Reference is made to the phonology-morphology interaction and the semantics of derivational infixes. Derivational infixes can be borrowed via language contact even in cases of unrelated languages.

10. Conversion, by Salvador Valera
Valera deals with conversation and the conditions that govern it (formal identity and word-class change). He suggests that the formal, functional and semantic features of conversion should be described precisely in each and every language involved.

11. Non-concatenative derivation: Reduplication, by Sharon Inkelas
Inkelas discusses reduplication patterns cross linguistically. Reduplication serves several functions (e.g. inflection, derivation, quantification, augmentation, concomitant of affixation, repair). The relation between affix ordering and the semantics of reduplicated morphemes are discussed.

12. Other processes, by Stuart Davis and Natsuko Tsujumura
The authors offer a typological discussion of non-concatenative morphology which is divided into templatic and a-templatic. Templatic morphology is further divided into a template being the exponent of a category and a template seen as a subcategorisation requirement on a concatenative affix. They show how morphology-as-pieces and construction-based approaches deal with non-concatenative derivation.

13. Allomorphy, by Mary Paster
There are different types of allomorphy in derivational affixes: phonological, morphosyntactic, lexical. In terms of suppletive allomorphy, selection and replacement as well as the problem of the directionality of conditioning (inside-out or outside-in approaches) are investigated.

14. Nominal derivation, by Artemis Alexiadou
Participant nominalisations, deverbal nominals and de-adjectival nominalisations are discussed. Participant and action/state are lexical nominalisations. Polysemy is a property of participant nominalisation affixes. Alexiadou looks at the different types of –er nominalisations and subject and object –er nominals before sketching analyses around polysemy (e.g. syntactic, lexical semantics, cognitive). Finally, –ee, event, result and de-adjectival nominalisations are looked at.

15. Verbal derivation, by Andrew Koontz-Garboden
The author discusses verbal derivation and the theoretical approaches around it: lexicalist-based approaches and non-lexicalist ones (root-based) especially in relation to the causative/inchoative alternation. He suggests that cross-linguistic investigation is necessary to further test the predictions the two approaches make regarding derivational morphology.

16. Adjectival and adverbial derivation, by Antonio Fábregas
Fábregas offers a comprehensive discussion on the classification of derived adjectives and adverbs. He distinguishes between verbal and adjectival participles. The latter are further divided into resultant and target. There are three classes of deverbal adjectives: dispositional, potential and modal passive. Denominal adjectives are divided into qualitative (similative, qualitative possessive, activity, active denominal, characteristics state) and relational (demonyms, relational possessive). Numerals are divided into ordinals and partitives. He also shows what onomasiological, lexicalist-based theories and constructionist approaches have to say about adjectives. Gradability, the derivation of synthetic comparatives and superlatives and adverbial derivation conclude the chapter.

17. Evaluative derivation, by Lívia Körtvélyessy
Körtvélyessy examines the nature of evaluative morphology cross linguistically and how it is treated in various accounts: Scalise (1984), Stump (1993) and Bauer (2004) look at the inflectional versus derivational nature of evaluative morphology; Jurafsky (1996) at its semantics; Dokulil (1962) and Horecký (1964) support an onomasiological approach. Reference is also made to recent accounts (Grandi (2005), Körtvélyessy (2012)) prior to the discussion of evaluative morphological markers in various languages (e.g. languages in Africa, Australia, America, Oceania, Eurasia). The chapter concludes with a short discussion of the phonological changes which may occur in evaluative morphology.

18. Derivation and function words, by Gregory Stump
Stump examines whether function words participate in derivation and concludes that words behave differently cross-linguistically. Certain function words (e.g. proforms, adpositions, verb particles, auxiliaries, numerals) are more frequently involved in derivations than others (e.g. determiners, conjunctions, complementisers). Derived function words may derive from a content word, another function word by affixation or cross-formation.

19. Polysemy in derivation, by Franz Rainer
Rainer refers to the properties of polysemy in derivation. He critically sketches the structuralist approach to polysemy and observes polysemic patterns cross-linguistically. Polysemy in word formation should be further investigated from a synchronic and diachronic view taking into account findings from psycholinguistic studies.

20. Derivational paradigms, by Pavol Štekauer
Štekauer first compares and contrasts derivational paradigms to inflectional ones before moving onto the theoretical approaches to them (e.g. system-based treatments). The chapter concludes with some remarks on the characteristics of derivational paradigms.

21. Affix ordering in derivation, by Paulina Saarinen and Jennifer Hay
Saarinen and Hay look at the factors which influence derivational affixes’ ordering cross-linguistically: affix-driven, base-driven selectional as well as phonological and semantic restrictions. Fixed affix order, free variation, acyclicity in affix ordering as well as recursive patterns are highlighted.

22. Derivation and historical change, by Carola Trips
Trips discusses the development of affixation in Old, Middle and Early Modern English. She looks at the prefix be- to discuss affix preservation and semantic shift, the affixes –hood, -dom and –ship to discuss affix development from compounds to suffixes as well as the suffix –able to discuss language contact as a factor which leads to affixation.

23. Derivation in a social context, by Lívia Körtvélyessy and Pavol Štekauer
Körtvélyessy and Štekauer discuss the sociolinguistic factors which may influence derivation as far as word formation and interpretation are concerned. This is an area which has not received great attention in the literature and the authors discuss relevant studies.

24. Acquisition of derivational morphology, by Eve V. Clark
The acquisition of derivational affixes by children is investigated. Clark shows that children use conversion, they first acquire suffixes (diminutive, agentive, instrumental) and then prefixes. Simplicity of forms and transparency of meaning are factors which further influence the acquisition of derivational morphology.


25. Indo-European, by Pingali Sailaja
Sailaja refers to the most common processes involved in word formation (compounding, reduplication, conversion, derivation through affixation), to the derived categories (nominalisations, adjectives derived from nouns and verbs, prefixes deriving nouns, category-changing affixes) and evaluative morphology in Indo-European languages.

26. Uralic, by Ferenc Kiefer and Johanna Laakso
The derivational processes involved in the Uralic languages focusing on Finnish, Mordvin, Mari, Permic, Hungarian and Nenets are sketched. In this family, derivation is predominantly suffixing, multifunctional suffixes are not infrequent, deverbal suffixes are more varied then demonimal and reduplication is not typical.

27. Altaic, by Irina Nikolaeva
The derivational processes in the Altaic language family and more specifically category-changing and category-preserving suffixation, prefixation, conversion, compounding and reduplication are looked at prior to a sketch of proprietive adjectives (fully adjectival proprietives, proprietive adjectives with nominal properties).

28. Yeniseian, by Edward J. Vajda
Vajda offers a brief discussion on the typology of word formation in Yeniseian focussing on nominalisations, templatic derivation and infinitival forms.

29. Mon-Khmer, by Mark J. Alves
The author discusses the derivational processes in Mon-Khmer: causative, stative, prenominal, desiderative/inclined, negation, existential/locative, involuntary prefixes, nominalising affixes, aspectual prefixes and infixes, reduplication and compounding.

30. Austronesian, by Robert Blust
Blust presents derivational processes in the Austronesian language family: voice/“focus” morphology, subtractive morphology, suprasegmental affixes, compounding and reduplication (full, CV, CVC, Ca, infixal suffixal reduplication, triplication).

31. Niger-Congo, by Denis Creissels
Creissels first offers short notes as to which languages belong in the Niger-Congo phylum and he then sketches the derivational processes which appear in the major lexical categories: verb-to-verb derivation, noun-to-noun derivation and verb-to-noun derivation.

32. Afroasiatic, by Erin Shay
A discussion on the language families which belong in the Afroasiatic phylum is first offered. Noun (e.g. verb-to-noun, noun-to-noun), verb (e.g. noun-to-verb, ideophones-to-verb), adjective derivation (nouns-to-adjectives, verbs-to-adjectives) and adverb derivation are sketched. Derivational processes in Chadic languages (e.g. prefixation, suffixation, reduplication) concludes the chapter.

33. Nilo-Saharan, by Gerrit J. Dimmendaal
Different derivational processes occur in the Nilo-Saharan phylum: tonal changes, compounding, verb-to-noun or adjective-to-noun derivation by prefixation, prefixation in verbs affecting valency, vocal prefixation, vowel harmony, mora counting, derivation with and without category shift, noun-to-noun derivation through prefixation or suffixation.

34. Sino-Tibetan, by Karen Steffen Chung, Nathan W. Hill and Jackson T.-S. Sun
Chung first discusses the morphosyntactic features in Chinese (morpheme/word order, inseparability, word-internal grammatical relations, syllable count) prior to sketching reduplication in nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, onomatopoeia), prefixation in verbs and nouns, suffixation in nouns, agentives, individuation and verbs, circumfixes and infixes, conversion and incorporation. Hill discusses the derivational processes in Tibetan (voicing alternation, reduplication, compounding, affixation, inherited prefixes and ghost affixes). Sun looks at Rgyalrong which show derivational processes affecting nominal and verbal stem formation, affixation, reduplication, apophony, category-preserving and category-changing derivation and ideophones.

35. Pama-Nyungan, by Jane Simpson
The derivational processes involved in the Pama-Nyungan family include compounding, reduplication, suffixation, verb-to-noun and other elements (e.g. preverb/coverb) derivation, noun-to-noun derivation.

36. Athabaskan, by Keren Rice
Nominalisation is the most productive derivational process in category-determining morphology in Athabaskan. In verbal morphology, the same form functions derivationally or can be part of the root. Noun class markers and homophony are characteristic of the family.

37. Eskimo-Aleut, by Alana Johns
In Inuit, an Eskimo-Aleut language, there are category-changing processes (e.g. verb-to-noun, noun-to-verb, postbases which alter the verbal root’s valency either by changing the arguments’ syntactic structure or morphologically by adding arguments to the verbal root). There are also noun and verb modifying postbases which do not change the category.

38. Uto-Aztecan, by Gabriella Caballero
Semantic, morphotactic and phonological evidence shows that there are instrumental prefixes, denominal verbalising morphology and argument-changing morphology (e.g. valence stem allomorphy, change of state predicates, causative and applicative suffixation) in Raramuri, an Uto-Aztecan language.

39. Mataguayan, by Verónica Nercesian
Nercesian discusses the Mataguayan language family although she focuses on Wichi due to data availability. Suffixation is the most productive derivational process, where multiple suffixation is noticed on verbal and nominal bases. Prefixation, prefixation-suffixation, conversion and reduplication are also present. In the family, there are agent, patient, action, instrumental and locative nouns. Evaluative morphology is also present and there is also a class called the vegetable class. Derivation is used in intransitive and transitive verbs.

40. Areal tendencies in derivation, by Bernd Heine
Derivational processes which are the result of language contact are discussed in this chapter. Features or forms may be replicated and grammaticalisation is the main process.

41. Universals in derivation, by Rochelle Lieber and Pavol Štekauer
This chapter looks at the methodological problems researchers face when seeking to find universals, whether these are typological or word-formation related (e.g. sampling, terminology, influence of theoretical analysis, boundaries between derivation and inflection, productivity). The authors discuss proposals in the literature as far as universals in derivation are concerned. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how these proposals relate to the material presented in this book.


A wide range of topics related to derivational morphology are covered in the volume. There is rich cross-linguistic evidence (e.g. English, German, the Romance languages, Tuscarora, Mohawk, Mokilese, Chukchi, Warlpiri, Tamil, Margi, Japanese, Khmer, Diyari, Mokilese, Indonesian, Kolami). The second part of the book which focuses on derivational phenomena in different language families makes the theoretical discussion even more interesting and easier to digest. The chapters which highlight issues for further research make the volume a useful tool to young researchers. The chapters are well-organised and referenced. All chapters sketch the richness of derivational phenomena cross-linguistically. The discussion of the merits and the problems theoretical accounts face when investigating complex derivational phenomena is, generally speaking, reader-friendly. There are only a few formatting/typo mistakes and/or omissions (e.g. chapter 2, page 15: SLH/WLH is not in the abbreviations; chapter 15, page 273, section 15.4: ''The contrast between root-based andWYSIWYG'' no space appears between ''and'' and ''WYSIWYG''; chapter 16: the first word does not appear in capitals). The book will be of great interest to researchers in morphology and advanced students in linguistics. It can also be used as a reference book.


Baayen, R. H. (1992). “Quantitative aspects of morphological productivity”. In G. E. Booij and J. van Marle (eds), Yearbook of Morphology 1991, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 109-149.

Baayen, R. H. (1993). “On frequency, transparency, and productivity”. In Booij, G. E. and van Marle, J. (eds), Yearbook of Morphology 1992, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 181-208.

Bauer, L. (2004). “The function of word-formation and the inflection-derivation distinction”. In H. Aertsen, M. Hannay and R. Lyall (eds.), Words in their Places: A Festschrift for J. Lachlan Mackenzie. Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit, 283-292.

Dokulil, M. (1962). Tvoření slov v češtině I: Teorie odvozování slov. Prague: Nakladatelství Československé akademie věd.

Grandi, N. (2005). “Sardinian evaluative morphology in typological perspective”. In I. Putzu (ed.), Sardianian in Typological Perspective. Bochum: Dr. Brockmeyer University Press, 188-209.

Horecký, J. (1964). Morfematická štruktúra slovenčiny. Bratislava: Vydavateľstvo Slovenskej akademie vied.

Jurafsky, D. (1996). “Universal Tendencies in the Semantics of the Diminutive”. Language, 72 (3): 533-578.

Körtvélyessy, L. (2012). Evaluative morphology from cross-linguistic perspective. Budapest: Habilitationsschrift. ELTE.

Scalise, S. (1984). Generative Morphology. Dordrecht: Foris.

Stump, G. (1993). “How peculiar is evaluative morphology?” Journal of Linguistics 29: 1-36.
Alexandra Galani is a permanent member of the academic staff at the University of Ioannina. Her main research interests are in morphology, its interfaces and language acquisition.

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ISBN-13: 9780199641642
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