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Derivation is the formation of new lexemes by means of affixation, i.e. the attachment of bound morphemes to the stem forms of lexemes. The word classes that can be extended by derivation are the open or lexical classes of a language: nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Dutch makes use of both prefixation and suffixation (but not of infixation). Moreover, Dutch has one circumfix, a combination of a prefix and a suffix, with a collective meaning, ge...te, as in geboomte trees. The simultaneous use of a prefix and a suffix can also be found in participia praeverbalia such as behaard hairy from haar hair. In addition, Dutch also uses conversion to derive new lexemes.

Derivation can change the word class of the input lexeme. The inputs for a particular derivational process are often members of one particular lexical category (N, V, or A), and so are the outputs. In some instances of derivation, input word and output word differ only in lexical subcategory. For example, intransitive verbs can become transitive verbs. The processes available in Dutch are:

Table 1
Input > Output Type of change Source Derived word
A > N Suffixation schoonbeautiful schoonheidschoon-heidbeauty
Conversion katholiekcatholic katholiekcatholic (person
V > N Suffixation spreekspeak sprekersprek-erspeaker
Prefixation praattalk gepraatge-praattalking, chit-chat
Conversion valfall valfall
N > N Suffixation moedermother moederschapmoeder-schapmotherhood
Prefixation mensman, human being onmenson-mensbrute, beast
N > A Suffixation meestermaster meesterlijkmeester-lijkmasterly
V > A Suffixation leesread leesbaarlees-baarreadable
A > A Suffixation blauwblue blauwigblauw-igblueish
Prefixation gewoonusual, common ongewoonon-gewoonunusual
N > V Suffixation analyseanalysis analyseeranalys-eeranalyze
Prefixation huishouse verhuisver-huismove
Conversion fietsbicycle fietscycle
A > V Suffixation kalmcalm kalmeerkalm-eercalm down
Prefixation bleekpale verbleekver-bleekturn pale
Conversion zuiverpure zuiverpurify
V > V Suffixation krabscratch krabbelkrabb-elscratch
Prefixation rijdride berijdbe-rijdride
There is a tendency for prefixation to be category-neutral (there are four exceptions: be-, ver-, ont- and ge-), whereas suffixation is often category-changing.

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This asymmetry between prefixation and suffixation has led some scholars of Dutch morphology to adopt the so-called Righthand Head Rule (RHR), proposed for English by (Williams 1981), as a principle that is also valid for Dutch. This rule says that the rightmost constituent of a complex word is the head of that word, and hence determines the syntactic (sub)category of the complex word. For instance, the word leesbaarreadable is an adjective thanks to its head, the suffix –baar. As suffixes are the rightmost elements in a structure, they are predicted to be category-determining, while prefixes are not. Category determination does not necessarily mean category change. There are suffixes, for  example, that create nouns from nouns. However, the suffix will determine the syntactic subcategory of its output, in particular gender. For instance, nouns with a diminutive suffix are neuter, whatever the gender of their base, as shown by the pair (de) moeder(the) mother - (het) moedertjemother-DIMlittle mother, dear mother. Depending on one’s theory of syntax and morphology, the notion 'head' can be more or less useful. In the analysis of compounds, the most syntax-like kind of word formation, it has the advantage that many properties of the whole compound can be predicted from the properties of one of its constituents. After all, the head constituent also occurs as an independent word and has independent properties such as gender (for nouns) or valency (for verbs). If affixes, however, are treated as heads, the theory has to equip them with categorial properties. See (Bauer 1990) for a critical discussion of the notion 'head' in morphology.

Dutch presents some counterevidence to the RHR: the nominalizing prefix ge- and a number of verbalizing prefixes have category-changing power. What remains true, however, is that in Dutch all suffixes (but not all prefixes) are category-determining. The relevance of the RHR for Dutch is defended by (Trommelen and Zonneveld 1986). They are, however, forced, to introduce certain ad hoc rules in order to cope with the cases of category-changing prefixation. Another attempt to save the RHR as a generalization for Dutch is (Neeleman 1993)which also deals with the class of category-changing prefixes.

Adverbs are special: they can only be outputs, not inputs of derivation. They can be derived from adjectives by means of suffixation, for instance hogelijk highly from hoog high. Exceptions are strakjessoon and eventjes for a moment which are derived without meaning change from the adverbs straks and even.

Some derivational processes can be used simultaneously in the formation of polycomplex words. For instance, the prefix on- and the suffix –baar appear together in the adjective onuitstaanbaar insufferable that has no positive counterpart *uitstaanbaar. This does not mean that there is a circumfix *on...baar, however, because this pattern can be obtained by the combination of two independent word formation processes (Booij 2010).

  • Bauer, Laurie1990Be-heading the WordJournal of Linguistics261-31
  • Booij, Geert2010Construction morphologyOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
  • Neeleman, Ad & Schipper, Joleen1993Verbal prefixation in Dutch: thematic evidence for conversionBooij, Geert & Van Marle, Jaap (eds.)Yearbook of Morphology 1992Kluwer57-92
  • Trommelen, Mieke & Zonneveld, Wim1986Dutch morphology: evidence for the right-hand head ruleLinguistic Inquiry17147-170
  • Williams, Edwin1981On the notions `lexically related' and `head of a word'Linguistic Inquiry12254-274
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