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Word formation

Word formation in Dutch mainly takes place by means of two types of processes, compounding and derivation. In compounding, two or more words are combined into a compound word. Derivation mostly consists of the addition of a prefix or a suffix to a base word. A third process is conversion in which a word changes its grammatical category without visual marking. For instance, the noun fiets bike can also be used as a verb fiets cycle.

New words can also be the result of other processes: e.g. borrowing (e.g. wijn wine Latin, see Etymologiebank; and computer computer from English), acronyms (e.g. NAVO NATO from Noord-Atlantische Verdrags-Organisatie) initialisms (e.g. bh bra from bustehouder), clippings (e.g. lab lab from laboratorium and ordi common from ordinair), blends, a combination of stumps of two words (e.g.botel floating hotel from boot boat and hotel hotel), and various truncation processes that may combine the truncation of a base word with the addition of a morpheme, such as -o in Brabo person from Brabant and -jo in klojo nasty person from klootzak scrotum, nasty person.

[+]Derivation and composition

The lexicon of Dutch is not fixed: new words enter the language regularly if the language community needs them, e.g. to name newly-introduced inventions or new ideas. Word formation in Dutch mainly takes place by means of two types of processes, compounding, as exemplified in atoombom atom-bomb nuclear bomb (since ca. 1945) and derivation, as in leiderschap leader-AFF leadership which was first signalled in a dictionary in 1950 (Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie 1995). In compounding, two or more words are combined into a compound word. Derivation mostly consists of the addition of a prefix or a suffix to a base word.

[+]Special cases

There is one case of word formation in which an affix consists of a prefix part and a suffix part, the discontinuous circumfix ge…te, as in geboomte trees derived from boom tree. Past participles, a case of inflection, may also be formed by means of a combination of a prefix (ge-) and a suffix (-t/-d). An additional, non-morphological source of complex words is the change of lexicalized word sequences into words. This process is known as univerbation. Examples of such lexicalizations are:

a. blootshoofds
b. onverrichterzake
in vain
c. tegelijkertijd
at the same time, simultaneously
d. terwijl
during, whereas
e. tevreden

For instance, tegelijkertijd is originally a PP, consisting of the preposition te, the inflected adjective gelijker same, and the noun tijd time.

Secondly, complex words of lexical categories (N, V, A, Adv) can develop into words of non-lexical categories such as conjunctions and prepositions, the process referred to as grammaticalization:

a. gedurende
b. gezien
because of
c. hoewel

The preposition gedurende derives from the present participle of the no longer existing verb geduren to last, gezien is the past participle of the verb zien to see, and hoewel is a combination of the words hoe how and wel well. Similarly, Dutch acquired a number of complex prepositions, like achteraan at the back of and rondom around through the reinterpretation of preposition sequences as complex prepositions:

a. achteraan de wagen
[[achter](P) [[aan](P) de wagen](PP)](PP)
[[achteraan](P) de wagen](PP)
at the back of the cart
b. rondom de mensen
[[rond](P) [[om](P) de mensen](PP)](PP)
[[rondom](P) de mensen](PP)
around the people

Borrowing is also a source of new (simplex or complex) words. In the course of history, Dutch borrowed lots of words from languages such as Greek, Latin and French, and English. Many of these words have the appearance of complex words since their roots, morphemes such as oper-, duc- and not- occur in sets of formally related words. The roots themselves, however, may not have been borrowed as words. This applies to the following words with a complex appearance:

a. noteer
note (V)
b. notatie
a. opereer
b. operatie
a. produceer
b. productie

Language users may expand this pattern to new cases, for instance by substituting the suffix -eer for the suffix -atie, a pattern of word formation that has become productive in Dutch. This type of word formation is called paradigmatic word formation.

When such roots have also been borrowed as words, they may have two or more different shapes. This is the case for word pairs like:

a. Calvijn
b. calvinist
a. filter
filter (N)
b. filtreer
filter (V)
a. orkest
b. orkestreer

Thus, non-native words exhibit a range of allomorphy patterns.

  • Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie1995Het Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (WNT)
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