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Inputs and input restrictions

Affixes are specified for the kinds of bases they take. Some affixes take more kinds of bases. An example is the diminutive suffix: Although most of its bases are nominal, it also combines with other kinds of bases (mostly inherited in Afrikaans from Dutch). As a result, the diminutive suffix can also take adjectives and verbs as inputs, and even intransitive prepositions (used as adverbs). Sometimes diminutive bases can even be non-lexical (Van Marle 1981).

Table 1
Input category Base Derived word
N vrou woman vrou·tjie little woman, sweetheart
A lief dear lief·ie sweetheart
V dut to nap dut·jie a little nap
Num een one en·etjie small one
VP uit stap to step out uit·stapp·ie outing
PP onder ons among each other onder·ons·ie a private chat
NP dit en dat this and that dit·jies en dat·jies odds and ends

For many affixes, the nature of possible inputs is restricted by phonological, morphological, lexical, syntactic, semantic, or pragmatic conditions.


The system of inputs and input restrictions for Afrikaans derivation overlaps to a large extent with that of Dutch. The analysis of the Afrikaans system below is therefore based on an adapted version of the Dutch topic.

For a detailed discussion of the variables that restrict derivational processes and the productivity of word formation rules in Afrikaans, see Combrink (1990).

[+]Phonological restrictions

Affixes may impose requirements on the phonological shape of their bases. For instance, the suffix -aar can only be attached to stems ending in a coronal consonant, for example, wandel·aar walker, teken·aar designer, or skakel·aar switch. In other cases, restrictions are of a prosodic nature. For example, the distribution of the two productive plural suffixes -e and -s can be accounted for by the generalisation that -e occurs after a stressed syllable, for example, kanonn·e /kɑˈnɔ.ne/ cannons; -s occurs after an unstressed syllable, for example, kanon·s /ˈkɑ.nɔns/ canons. Alternatively, the condition could be formulated as a restriction on the output rather than on the input: plural nouns should end in a trochee.

[+]Morphological restrictions

An example of a morphological constraint is that suffixed nouns cannot function as inputs for denominal -ig suffixation (Booij and Van Santen 1998: 56):

Table 2
Base Derived adjective
aan·dag attention aan·dagt·ig attentive
af·guns jealousy af·gunst·ig jealous
vyand enemy vyand·ig hostile
held·in [[held](N)[in](CN.F)](N) heroine *heldinnig
skol·ier [[skool](N)[ier](CN.PERS)](N) pupil *skolierig
viol·is [[viool](N)[is](CN.PERS)](N) violinist *violisig
Since monomorphemic nouns ending in schwa do allow for diminutive formation (e.g. tante·tjie aunty), we know that the restriction is morphological rather than phonological. In general, it appears that the suffix -e functions as a closing suffix, barring further derivations.

A more general tendency concerning the morphological complexity of base words is that derivational processes are not recursive, that is, they do not apply to their own outputs. For instance, we do not find adjectives like *groen·erig·erig green·ish·ish. An exception is the occasional doubling of a prefix or suffix for intensification, as in hiper·hiper·groot hyper-hyper big, or ert·jie·tjie very small pea. One might reason that the restriction is semantic rather than formal, since it is not clear what kind of meaningful use a word like *groen·erig·erig green·ish·ish would have.

[+]Semantic restrictions

The negative prefix on- usually fails to attach to different sets of adjectives, for instance colour adjectives or adjectives with a lexicalised antonym, such as ryk rich > *on·ryk, and dom stupid > *on·dom, and adjectives in -loos : *on·asem·loos not breathless, *on·sin·loos not meaningless. The latter is a subset of the adjectives with a negative meaning, therefore we do not have to assume a specific morphological restriction for the failure of on- to attach to adjectives ending in -loos. Note, however, that this does not follow from a general semantic incompatibility of the negative meaning of the prefix on- with negative expressions: A phrase like nie on·hand·ig nie not clumsy, with a combination of two negative elements, is unproblematic. See also on·aan·trek·lik unhandsome that occurs with nie, as in My buurman is nie on·aan·trek·lik nie My neighbour is not unhandsome. Moreover, each adjective can often be transformed into its contradictory counterpart by means of the negative prefix on-, or by the prefix non- if it is a non-native adjective.

[+]Syntactic restrictions

The classic example of a syntactic restriction on derivation is that the deverbal suffix -baar usually attaches to transitive verbs, e.g. in a novel form such as skype·baar skypeable. (There are a few exceptions, such as werk·baar workable, and dans·baar danceable). This restriction is obviously directly related to the passive meaning contribution of this suffix, viz. [being able to be SEM(V)·ed], a meaning that can only be applied to a base verb that is transitive.

[+]Pragmatic restrictions

Pragmatic restrictions pertain to improbable rather than impossible words. Generally, a complex word will not be coined if there is no use for it. For instance, the diminutive of gevaar danger > gevaar·tjie is not a concept that we will often need, and hence such a word will not be readily coined, though it is a possible diminutive.


Van Santen (1992) also advocates the distinction between the notions 'possible word' and 'probable word'. The formal and semantic restrictions discussed so far seem to be absolute restrictions. If they are indeed absolute, they form part of the definition of the notion 'possible complex word'. However, as argued by Mackenzie (1985), restrictions may also be violable. This means that in that case they define the prototypical cases of a word formation type only. For instance, Mackenzie observed that deverbal ge- nominalisation applies preferably to simplex verbs (as in ge·huil crying), but that base verbs with a particle or a prefix are not absolutely impossible. This also means that the words of the different subsets will differ as to the probability of their use.

  • Booij, Geert & Santen, Ariane van1998Morfologie. De woordstructuur van het NederlandsAmsterdamAmsterdam University Press
  • Combrink, J.G.H1990Afrikaanse morfologie: capita exemplaria.Academica
  • Mackenzie, Lachlan1985GenominaliseerValentie in Functionele Grammatica. Interdisciplinair Tijdschrift voor Taal- en Tekstwetenschap5177-198
  • Marle, Jaap van1981Over de dynamiek van morfologische categorieënForum der Letteren2251-63
  • Santen, Ariane van1992Produktiviteit in taal en taalgebruikLeidenUniversity of Leiden
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