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Word formation

Morphology is the part of linguistics that studies the internal structure of words. Words are made up of morphemes. These can be divided into free morphemes and bound morphemes. A free morpheme can act as a word by itself, as for example grien green. On the other hand, Frisian has no independent word *ens. This sequence acts as a bound morpheme, in this case as a suffix, i.e. -ens.

Morphology is split up in inflection and word formation. Inflection is the morphological system of making word forms of words. For example, next to grien we also find griene, which has a suffix -e. The form griene will not be felt to be a different word by speakers of Frisian. In contrast, addition of the suffix -ens to grien does result in a new word, i.e. grienens greenness. In this case, the most important effect of the suffix is that it turns the adjective grien into a noun. Hence, -ens is an affix active in the field of word formation. As a practical result of this division, one may find a separate entry grienens in a Frisian dictionary, which is not the case with the form griene.

Word formation in Frisian mainly takes place by means of two types of processes, compounding and derivation. In compounding, or composition, two or more free morphemes are combined into a compound word. A simple example is the two nouns buro desk and stoel chair which can be combined into the compound bureaustoel desk chair, a type of chair that one usually finds occupied by people doing their work at a desk.

The other important way of deriving complex words is derivation. In derivation only one free morpheme is involved. Usually, we see a combination with an affix, i.e. a bound morpheme, as with the suffix -ens above. An example is the negative prefixûn-. Combined with the adjective wier true, we get ûnwier untrue. In turn, this complex adjective may again be input for another word formation process, for example suffixation. Addition of the suffix -ens then leads to ûnwierens falseness. In other words, word formation may lead to nested structures.

Next to prefixation and suffixation there is a third important process that is subsumed here under derivation. It is conversion, in which a free morpheme changes grammatical category without the help of morphological material (some morphologists have proposed a zero affix for such a transition). For instance, the noun grins border can be used as a verb in grinzje border-INF to border. To be clear, the variation of final <s> with <z> is phonological, and the ending -je indicates the infinitival form.

Next to compounding and derivation, some other processes for forming new words occur in Frisian as well, be it on a quite marginal scale. To mention: acronyms, blending and clipping and reduplication. These phenomena are treated in a separate part Minor Patterns.

It is worth mentioning that many new words have also entered the language by way of borrowing. This has occurred for centuries, in particular from Latin and French. This is relevant to morphology as some affixes only combine with words or stems from the Roman stock. The most important source of loan words is Dutch, a fact which is quite understandable since all speakers of Frisian are bilingual nowadays, with Dutch acting as the majority language in Frisian society. As borrowing does not belong to morphology proper, it is not treated in Taalportaal.


For more information on Frisian compounding, derivation, and minor patterns, follow the links below: