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§ 12. Derivational Types of Words

According to their derivational structure words fall into two large classes: simple, non-derived words or simplexes and derivatives or complexes. Complexes are classified according to the type of the underlying derivational pattern into: derived and compound words. Derived words fall into affixational words, which in their turn must be classified into suffixal and prefixal derivatives, and conversions. Each derivational type of words is unequally represented in different parts of speech.

Comparing the role each of these structural type of words plays in the language we can easily perceive that the clue to the correct understanding of their comparative value lies in a careful consideration of 1) the importance of each type in the existing word-stock and 2) their frequency value in actual speech. Of the two factors frequency is by far the most important. According to the available word counts in different parts of speech, we find that derived words numerically constitute the largest class of words in the existing word-stock, derived nouns comprise approximately 67% of the total number and adjectives about 86%, whereas


compound nouns make about 15% and adjectives only about 4%. Simple words come to 18% in nouns, i.e. a trifle more than the number of compound words; in adjectives simple words come to approximately 12%.1 But if we now consider the frequency value of these types of words in actual speech, we cannot fail to see that simple words occupy a predominant place in English. According to recent frequency counts, about 60% of the total number of nouns and 62% of the total number of adjectives in current use are simple words. Of the total number of adjectives and nouns, derived words comprise about 38% and 37% respectively while compound words comprise an insignificant 2% in nouns and 0.2% in adjectives.2 Thus it is the simple, non-derived words that constitute the foundation and the backbone of the vocabulary and that are of paramount importance in speech. It should also be mentioned that non-derived words are characterised by a high degree of collocability and a complex variety of meanings in contrast with words of other structural types whose semantic structures are much poorer. Simple words also serve as basic parent forms motivating all types of derived and compound words. At the same time it should be pointed out that new words that appear in the vocabulary are mostly words of derived and compound structure.

§ 13. Historical Changeability of Word-Structure

Neither the morphemic nor the derivational structure of the word remains the same but is subject to various changes in the course of time. Changes in the phonetic and semantic structure and in the stress pattern of polymorphic words may bring about a number of changes in the morphemic and derivational structure. Certain morphemes may become fused together or may be lost altogether. As a result of this process, known as the process of simplification, radical changes in the structure of the word may take place: root-morphemes may turn into affixational or semi-affixational morphemes, polymorphic words may become monomorphic, compound words may be transformed into derived or even simple words. There is no doubt, for instance, that the Modern English derived noun friendship goes back to the Old English compound frēōndscipe in which the component scipe was a root-morpheme and a stem of the independently functioning word. The present-day English suffixes -hood, -dom, -like are also known to have developed from root-morphemes. The noun husband is a simple monomorphic word in Modern English, whereas in Old English it was a compound word consisting of two bases built on two stems hus-bond-a.

Sometimes the spelling of some Modern English words as compared with their sound-form reflects the changes these words have undergone. The Modern English word cupboard judging by its sound-form ['kAbэd] is a monomorphic non-motivated simple word. Yet its spelling betrays its earlier history. It consisted of two bases represented by two monomorphic stems [kAр] and [bo:d] and was pronounced ['kAp,bod]; it signified

1 Though no figures for verbs are available we have every reason to believe that they present a similar relation.

2 We may presume that a similar if not a more striking difference is true of verbs, adverbs and all form words.


'a board to put cups on’; nowadays, however, having been structurally transformed into a simple word, it denotes neither cup nor board as may be seen from the phrases like* boot cupboard, a clothes cupboard. A similar course of development is observed in the words blackguard ['blæg-a:d] traced to ['blæk,ga:d], handkerchief ['hæŋkэt∫if] that once was ['hænd,kэ:t∫if], etc.

In the process of historical development some word-structures underwent reinterpretation without radical changes in their phonemic shape; there are cases when simple root-words came to be understood as derived consisting of two ICs represented by two individual items, e.g. beggar, chauffeur, editor. The reinterpretation of such words led to the formation of simple verbs like to edit, to beg, etc.

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