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Derivation (linguistics)

In linguistics, derivation is the process of creating new lexemes from other lexemes, for example by adding a derivational affix.

Derivational affixes usually apply to words of one syntactic category and change them into words of another syntactic category. For example, the English derivational suffix -ly changes adjectives into adverbs (slow > slowly).

Some examples of English derivational suffixes:

  • A/N -ness (slow > slowness)
  • A/V -ize (modern > modernize)
  • N/A -al (recreation > recreational)
  • N/V -fy (glory > glorify)
  • V/A -able (drink > drinkable)
  • V/N -ance (deliver > deliverance)

Derivational affixes do not necessarily modify the syntactic category, they can also modify the meaning (c.f. the derivational prefix un- which applies to adjectives, healthy > unhealthy). In many cases, they change both (modernize, "to make modern").

Note that derivational affixes are bound morphemes. In that, derivation differs from compounding, where free morphemes are combined. It also differs from inflection in that inflection does not change a word's syntactic category and does not create new lexemes, but new word forms[?].

For other processes of word formation[?], cf. conversion and compounding.

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