Inflectional and Derivational Morphemes
Morphology is a branch of linguistics that deals with the study of morphemes. Depending upon their properties, morphemes are classified into various types. Some such classes are Bound and Free morphemes, Null morphemes, Empty morphemes, Portmanteau morphemes, Inflectional and Derivational Morphemes, etc.
This blog post will focus on the concepts of Inflectional and Derivational Morphemes in linguistics in detail with examples. Let us dive in!
Inflectional Morpheme Definition
An inflectional morpheme is generally a bound morpheme which when added to the root or stem of a word does not result into a change in the grammatical category of that word. Grammatical category is nothing but the part of speech of that word. In most cases, inflectional morphemes mark the number, person and gender features ((known as phi features)) on the nouns, and their agreement on verbs, adjectives, etc. in a language.
Inflectional Morpheme Examples
Let us look at an example to understand this better. In English, the number feature on the nouns is marked by the plural -s suffix. This is basically an inflectional morpheme in the language.
table + -s–> tables
pen + s–> pens
cat + -s–> cats
Similarly, we have the person agreement on verbs marked by the third person singular -s inflectional morpheme in English:
You eat bananas.
She eats bananas.
Derivational Morpheme Definition
Let us now shift to Derivational Morphemes in Linguistics. A derivational morpheme can also exist as a bound morpheme like Inflectional Morphemes. However, when it is added to the root or stem of a word, it can result into a change in the part of speech or grammatical category of that word. Of course, this is not to say that it always results into such a change. But in a lot of cases it does. Derivational morphemes exhibit complex patterns of affixation and can be very irregular in a language.
Derivational Morpheme Examples
Let us see a few examples of derivational morphemes in English:
electric + -ity –> electricity
nation + -al –> national
Note that the word “nation” is a noun. However, the addition of the -al suffix makes it “national” which is an adjective or noun modifier. So it can now describe a flower, a song, a bird, etc.
social + -ism —> socialism
Similary, in the above example, the word “social” is an adjective, and addition of the -ism suffix makes it noun.
Major differences between Inflectional and Derivational Morphemes.
I will now list some of the major differences between Inflectional and Derivational Morphemes:
The first key difference:
The addition of an inflectional morpheme to the stem or root of the word NEVER results into a change in the grammatical category or Part-of-Speech of the word. On the other hand, affixation of a derivational morpheme to the stem or root of the word CAN bring about a change in the grammatical category of the word.
Of course, there will be cases when even derivational affixation do not lead to change in grammatical category. But with inflectional morphemes, the possibility is zero.
The second key difference:
Inflectional Morphemes are always added in the end of the affixation process. In other words, they are the final step in affixation. Derivational morphemes are generally the penultimate step. A derivational morpheme cannot be added after addition of an inflectional morpheme. However, an inflectional morpheme can be added after a derivational affix has been added.
The third key difference:
There is generally a fixed, finite set of Inflectional morphemes in a language. Their affixation process is also very regular. However, the set of derivational morphemes in a language can be dynamic and irregular.
The forth key difference:
In terms of the morphological structure of the word, the derivational morphemes are generally closer to the root of the word than the inflectional morphemes. The inflectional morphemes lie more towards the periphery.
The fifth key difference:
Let us come to the last difference between Inflectional and Derivational Morphemes that I would like to mention here. Inflectional morphemes are thought to have a more grammatical or functional role to play in a language. On the other hand, Derivational morphemes have less to do with syntax than to the semantics of language. In a way, derivational affixes change the meaning of the word, unlike inflectional affixes that at max change the category. We can say that the derivational affixes generally have some meaning associated with them. That meaning, however, can be very vague and abstract in many cases, and, hence, difficult to define.
Deriving Words with Inflectional and Derivational Morphemes
Yes, you read it right. Words have derivations too!
A word can have both Inflectional and Derivational Morphemes. It is important to understand which morpheme gets attached before the others. As we know, inflectional morphemes get added after the derivational morphemes. However, in many cases, there can be more than one derivational morpheme in the word.
Let is consider the word categorizations in English. Have you thought of how it is derived? Let us derive it!
category + -ize –> categorize
categorize + -ation –> categorization
categorization + -s –> categorizations
In the above example, the first two affixes are derivational. And the last one is inflectional. Interestingly, there can be even more complex words with many derivational steps.
Sometimes, the way you derive a word changes its meaning completely. Let us look at one example to illustrate this point. Consider the word unlockable in English.
lock + able –> lockable
un- + lockable –> unlockable
un- + lock –> unlock
unlock + able –> unlockable
Although we get the word unlockable as the final output in both the derivations, the meaning is rather different. In the first case, the word means something which is un- lockable or does not have the ability to be lockable. In the second case, it is something is which able to be unlocked. Think about it and you will see the subtleties.
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