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Review of  Edinburgh Handbook of Evaluative Morphology

Reviewer: Stefan Hartmann
Book Title: Edinburgh Handbook of Evaluative Morphology
Book Author: Nicola Grandi Livia Kortvelyessy
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Language Family(ies): Austro-Asiatic
Japanese Family
Latin Subgroup
Issue Number: 27.911

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The Edinburgh Handbook of Evaluative Morphology, edited by Nicola Grandi and Livia Körtvélyessy, gives an overview of Evaluative Morphology (EM hereafter), i.e. morphological patterns that serve evaluative functions in quantitative and/or qualitative terms, including “diminution or augmentation, endearment or contempt” (Stump 1993: 1). The editors take a decidedly typological approach: all contributors to the first, more theoretically-oriented part of the volume collect examples from many different languages. Part II of the volume comprises descriptive chapters taking stock of evaluative morphology in 52 individual languages from 26 language families.

Chapter 1 of the first part, the editors’ Introduction entitled “Why evaluative morphology?”, starts out with a critical appraisal of the criteria for EM proposed by Scalise (1984: 133f.), who sees EM as a “third morphology” in-between inflection and derivation. Like inflectional patterns, EM patterns, according to Scalise, leave both the syntactic category and the subcategorization frame of the base unchanged. At the same time, like derivational patterns, they change the semantics of the base word, and they allow for the consecutive application of more than one rule of the same type (e.g. multiple diminution in the case of Italian “fuocherellino” ‘fire-DIM-DIM/nice little fire’). However, Grandi and Körtvélyessy point out that “the idea of this third morphology is language-bound, and - consequently - that it cannot be viewed as a universal feature of human languages.” (p. 4) In the remainder of the chapter, the editors review the controversial discussion on the place of EM within morphology as well as the research on EM conducted in the wake of Scalise’s monograph. They mention numerous classes of morphological constructions that have been identified in the literature as instances of EM, including diminution and augmentation in quality and/or quantity, age variation, approximation, intensification, endearment, hypocorism, expression of social position, contempt, and prototypicality (p. 9f.). Defining the scope of EM, Grandi and Körtvélyessy put forward two criteria to identify evaluative morphological patterns: first, on the functional level, the pattern must assign a value that is different from the standard or default; second, on the formal level, the evaluative construction must include a) a linguistic form expressing, as a lexically autonomous unit, the standard value, and b) an “evaluative mark” (p. 13), i.e. a linguistic element specifically devoted to expressing the semantic shift. In addition, the introductory chapter offers an overview of the individual chapters in part I of the book as well as a list of languages mentioned in the volume.

Chapter 2, by Victor M. Prieto, deals with “The Semantics of Evaluative Morphology”. Within the framework of cognitive semantics, Prieto argues that the semantics of evaluatives is grounded in the physical property of size and size perception, which he illustrates with the example of diminutives and augmentatives, starting from the radial category model of diminutives proposed by Jurafsky (1996). Rather than having full-fledged “meaning” on their own, evaluatives, in his view, prompt meaning construction processes: they “activate frames, promote mappings, and encourage the blending of information from different domains.” (p. 30)

In Chapter 3, Lavinia Merlini Barbaresi discusses the relationship between “Evaluative Morphology and Pragmatics”. Drawing on the theoretical model of morphopragmatics developed by Dressler and Merlini Barbaresi (1994), she conceives of meaning as “having both semantic and pragmatic invariant features.” (p. 35) As such, the semantics of evaluatives encompasses morphopragmatic meanings such as “fictive evaluation” - in the sense that “the norms of the real world are suspended” (p. 39) - and non-seriousness in the sense of “lowered formality” (p. 36).

Chapter 4, by Pavol Štekauer, gives an overview of “Word-Formation Processes in Evaluative Morphology”. Striving to “provide a concise typological overview that indicates the main tendencies as well as intriguing peculiarities of evaluative formation” (p. 47), he demonstrates that cross-linguistically, EM employs a wide range of word-formation processes. Among these processes, affixation is clearly the dominant one for EM, while compounding does not play a significant role in evaluative formation. In addition, he shows that EM is a characteristic feature of Standard Average European languages and of Slavic languages in particular.

In Chapter 5, entitled “Evaluative Morphology and Language Universals”, Livia Körtvélyessy first identifies three language universals in the Universals Archive ( referring to EM patterns. Then she briefly reviews three relevant contributions on EM and language universals: Jurafsky’s (e.g. 1996) work on diminutives, Beard’s (1995) framework of Lexeme-Morpheme Base Morphology in which he argues that expressive derivations “reflect at least five functions universally: the Diminutive, Augmentative, Pejorative, Affectionate, and Honorific” (Beard 1995: 67), and Körtvélyessy’s (2012) extensive study of EM in 200 languages. In line with Štekauer’s observation mentioned above, she arrives at the conclusion that EM is not a language universal but rather an areal phenomenon.

In Chapter 6, Nicola Grandi discusses “The Place of Evaluation within Morphology”. Again drawing on Scalise’s criteria for EM, he shows that EM patterns differ considerably across languages; all in all, however, he arrives at the conclusion that EM shares more features with derivation than with inflection and that “the supposed analogies between inflection and evaluative affixation are often deceptive” (p. 89).

Chapter 7, also written by Grandi, deals with “Evaluative Morphology and Number/Gender”. He shows that cross-linguistically, diminutives tend to have neuter gender in tripartite sex-based gender systems while they tend to maintain the gender of the base in two-part sex-based gender systems. For augmentatives, he shows a systematic interaction with masculine gender in the Indo-European languages. In terms of number, he demonstrates that in some African languages, the evaluative meaning and the number value can merge in a single affix and that in various languages diminutives form unexpected plurals. In addition, he points out that there is a cross-linguistic correlation between diminutives and singulatives on the one hand and augmentatives and collectives on the other.

Chapter 8, by Lucia M. Tovena, deals with “Evaluative Morphology and Aspect/Actionality”. Focusing on EM in the domain of verbs in Romance languages, she shows that the application of evaluative affixes to telic bases results in the loss of telicity, which goes in tandem with event-internal pluractionality. This modification of aspect and actionality is linked up with the general function of EM to quantitatively alter a gradable property of the referent of the expression it modifies.

Chapter 9, by Livio Gaeta, discusses “Evaluative Morphology and Sociolinguistic Variation”. Gaeta reviews a multitude of studies showing the interaction between EM and different sociolinguistic variables such as gender, age, and register. For instance, he mentions that for some languages, it has been shown that female speakers employ more EM than do male speakers and that diminutives are used particularly frequently in child-directed speech. Regarding the sociopragmatic dimension, he argues that EM plays a particular role in languages with full-fledged honorific systems.

In Chapter 10, Wolfgang U. Dressler and Katharina Korecky-Kröll address the topic of “Evaluative Morphology and Language Acquisition”. Particularly focusing on diminutives, they argue that in early child language, where diminutive patterns tend to emerge simultaneously with inflectional and compound patterns, the meanings of diminutives are invariably pragmatic in nature, expressing “endearment, intimacy, warm feelings of affection, love and kindness” (p. 139). Consequently, they see the pragmatic meanings of diminutives as more basic than the semantic ones.

In Chapter 11, Katrin Mutz discusses “Evaluative Morphology in a Diachronic Perspective”. Focusing on diminutives and augmentatives, she discusses the role of grammaticalization and refunctionalization in the emergence of these patterns in different languages. For example, she shows that diminutives have emerged through grammaticalization in many African and Asian languages, e.g. Vietnamese “bàn con” ‘small table’ < “con” ‘child’. In many Indo-European languages, by contrast, diminutive affixes have been recruited from other derivational domains, e.g. the diminutive suffix “-aster” < derivational suffix “-aster”, e.g. “patr-aster” ‘stepfather’. In addition, she discusses pathways of semantic and functional change in diminutive affixes and etymological aspects of augmentative affixes.

Chapter 12, by Giulia Petitta, Alessio Di Renzo and Isabella Chiari, discusses “Evaluative Morphology in Sign Languages”. They first introduce basic notions of morphology in signed languages such as the distinction between simultaneous and sequential morphology. In sequential morphology, signs are concatenated, while in simultaneous morphology, a particular aspect of the sign itself is altered. Focusing on augmentation and diminution in Italian Sign Language, they distinguish manual sequential, manual simultaneous, non-manual, and reduplicative strategies to encode evaluation. For example, diminution and augmentation can be expressed by adding a specific handshape indicating size (often accompanied by non-manual signs) or by reducing or enlarging the handshape of the sign, the distance between the hands, or the movement. Non-manual strategies attested across different signed languages include “puffing cheeks out for augmentatives and sucking cheeks in for diminutives” (p. 164).

Chapter 13 on “Evaluative Morphology in Pidgins and Creoles”, by Barbara Turchetta, then concludes the first part of the volume. She first addresses the question if EM is attested at all in pidgins and creoles. Given their tendency towards isolating patterns, she argues that in terms of EM, pidgins and creoles mainly rely on reduplication. However, she also points out that pidgins and creoles can change rapidly and “develop quite impressively in grammar” (p. 177). This can lead, for example, to the grammaticalization of derivation patterns such as the agentive-augmentative/iterative Jamaican Creole suffix “-sha”, which probably goes back to “she”, e.g. “laafiisha” ‘a person who laughs a lot’.

The second part of the volume starts with an introduction by Livia Körtvélyessy outlining the rationale behind the choice of the 52 languages covered in the descriptive chapters. The individual languages described in Part II are: Basque (Xavier Artiagoitia), Catalan (Elisenda Bernal), Georgian (Manana Topadze Gäumann), Hungarian (Ferenc Kiefer & Boglárka Németh), Israeli Hebrew (Noam Faust), Ket (Edward J. Vajda), Latvian (Andra Kalnača), Luxembourgish (Peter Gilles), Modern Greek (Dimitra Melissaropoulou), Nivkh (Ekaterina Gruzdeva), Persian (Negar Davari Ardakani & Mahdiye Arvin), Slovak (Renáta Gregová), Swedish (Arne Olafsson), Tatar (Fatma Şahan Güney), Telugu (Pingali Sailaja), Udihe (Maria Tolskaya); Apma (Cindy Schneider), Chinese (Giorgio Francesco Arcodia), Lisu (David Bradley), Muna (René van den Berg), Tagalog (Carl Rubino), Tibetan (Camille Simon & Nathan W. Hill), Yami (D. Victoria Rau & Hui-Huan Ann Chang), Dalabon (Maïa Ponsonnet & Nicholas Evans), Iatmul (Gerd Jendraschek), Jingulu (Rob Pensalfini), Kaurna (Rob Amery), Rembarrnga (Adam Saulwick), Warlpiri (Margit Bowler), Yukuta, Kayardild, and Lardil (Erich Round), Berber (Nicola Grandi), Classical and Moroccan Arabic (Nora Arbaoui), Ewe (Yvonne Agbetsoamedo & Paul Kofi Agbedor), Kɔnni (Michael Cahill), Sɛlɛɛ (Yvonne Agbetsoamedo & Francesca Di Garbo), Shona (Rose-Marie Déchaine, Raphaël Girard, Calisto Mudzingwa & Martina Wiltschko), Somali (Nicola Lampitelli), Zulu (Andrew van der Spuy & Lwazi Mjiyako), Cabécar (Guillermo Gonzáles Campos), Choctaw (Marcia Haag), Dena’ina (Olga Lovick), Huautla Mazatec (Jean Léo Léonard), Huave (Maurizio Gnerre), Inuktitut (Richard Compton), Plains Cree (Arok Wolvengrey), Slavey (Dene) and other Athabaskan languages (Olga Lovick & Keren Rice), Jaqaru (Olga Birioukova & M.J. Hardman), Kwaza (Hein van der Voort), Lule (Raoul Zamponi & Willem J. de Reuse), Toba (Paola Cúneo), Wichí (Verónica Nercesian), Yurakaré (Rik van Gijn).


Three decades have passed since Scalise (1984) introduced the term “Evaluative Morphology” to the morphological discussion. His proposal has sparked the interest of morphologists across different frameworks. Grandi and Körtvélyessy’s Handbook represents the first attempt to bring together a broad variety of theoretical and descriptive contributions on EM in a comprehensive and authoritative volume. The fact that despite (or perhaps because of) the widespread interest in the topic no agreed-upon criteria for EM have been identified so far makes the editors’ achievement all the more impressive. They have succeeded in compiling a highly informative, well-structured and well-written volume that will be the standard reference work for anyone interested in EM for the years to come.
One critical remark that could be put forward is that the theoretical part as well as some chapters in the descriptive part focus a little bit too much on diminutives and augmentatives. On the one hand, this is understandable given that these categories are seen as prototypical instantiations of EM. On the other hand, a closer look at more peripheral examples, such as ameliorative and pejorative morphological patterns that do not derive from augmentatives and diminutives, might prove even more insightful for delineating the scope of EM. Most importantly, the diachronic dynamics of evaluative semantics potentially become much clearer in cases that do not involve diminution or augmentation. While the semantic pathway from quantitative to qualitative augmentation or diminution is quite straightforward, things are more complex when contextually conditioned pragmatic meanings become part of a pattern’s semantics. For instance, Dammel (2011) shows that the German agentive suffix “-ler” gradually assumed a pejorative meaning which then, however, was largely lost again. Importantly, the observation that a linguistic construction can gradually assume evaluative meaning has been made for specific idiomatic patterns on the syntactic level as well. For example, Bybee (2010: 28f.) discusses the case of “What’s X doing Y”, e.g. “What’s that fly doing in my soup?”, which has come to systematically express disapproval. As such, one question that might deserve more attention in future work is how EM relates to evaluative patterns in other domains.

Speaking of future work, the Handbook also makes it perfectly clear that much of EM is still uncharted territory, both in terms of description and in terms of theory. As such, the Handbook does not only provide a highly welcome overview of what has been done so far but will hopefully also draw more attention to the domain of EM and instigate further studies on the evaluative potential of morphological patterns.


Beard, Robert (1995): Lexeme-Morpheme Base Morphology. A General Theory of Inflection and Word Formation. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Dammel, Antje (2011): Wie kommt es zu rumstudierenden Hinterbänklern und anderen Sonderlingen? Pfade zu pejorativen Wortbildungsbedeutungen im Deutschen. In: Jörg Riecke (ed.): Historische Semantik. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter.

Dressler, Wolfgang U. & Lavinia Merlini Barbaresi (1994): Morphopragmatics. Diminutives and intensifiers in Italian, German and other languages. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter.
Jurafsky, Daniel (1996): Universal Tendencies in the Semantics of the Diminutive. In: Language 72 (3), 533–578.

Körtvélyessi, Livia (2012): Evaluative morphology from a cross-linguistic perspective. Habilitation Thesis, Eötvös Lorand University Budapest.

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

Stump, Gregory (1993): How peculiar is evaluative morphology? In: Journal of Linguistics 29, 1–36.
Stefan Hartmann is currently a research assistant at the University of Mainz, Germany. His research interests include historical and corpus linguistics, Cognitive Linguistics, morphology and morphological change, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and language evolution research.

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