Arabic Grammar – 140

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Denominal nouns

Derivation in linguistics means creating a new word from one existing word (creating a new word from two or more words is called compounding or composition, which is rare in Arabic). An example of derivation in English is the creation of the abstract noun childhood from the concrete noun child (an example of compounding is breakfast which comes from the two words break and fast).

A deverbal (or deverbative) derivative is a word derived from a verb. A denominal (or denominative) derivative is a word derived from a noun.

Most commonly, derivation happens by affixation, i.e. adding affixes to the original word stem. An affix can be a suffix, a prefix, or an infix. Another way for derivation is reduplication, which means repeating the original stem or a part of it. All of these ways are used in Arabic derivation, but Arabic also makes extensive use of a nasty method which may be called stem modification. In this method non-radical sounds of the original stem are changed.

While stem modification is very common in Arabic, both in derivation and inflection, it does not happen always. Some types of derivatives are made simply by adding an affix.

A derivation method is productive if speakers of the language can naturally use it to create new words. An example in English is the derivation of actor nouns from verbs by adding the suffix –er, like eater from eat and hitter from hit. Languages typically have words derived in ways that are no longer productive. For example, English speakers know that freedom, boredom, kingdom, etc. must be derived from free, bore, king, etc., but no one will naturally try to make up a new word by adding a suffix –dom, so this suffix is unproductive.

Important affixes in Arabic denominal nouns

Important affixes used in Arabic for deriving nouns from nouns are:

  • –a⋅t
  • –aw/–ay
  • ȃn
  • ȃw
  • ʔa–
  • iy = –ȋ
  • ȋy = –iyy
  • ay–

Recognizing affixes

An important requirement for mastering Arabic grammar is to be able to correctly identify affixed consonants and not confuse them with radicals.

Important principles are the following:

1. Affixes do not exist in triconsonantal words

With the exception of the suffix –a⋅t, affixes can exist only in words with more than three consonants. If a word has only three consonants, they are considered to belong to the root. For example, in *ʕaṣawun > ʕaṣaṋ {عَصًا} “a stick” the root is considered to be ʕṣw, even if we know that the original root is ʕṣ.

In what follows we will survey some of the most important denominal derivatives in Arabic.


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