From Word-Formation Rules to Creating Paradigms

Why Errors Occur in Children’s Production of Complex Words

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

21 Pages



I. Introduction

II. Analyzing complex words
A. The internal structure of words
B. Main types of word-formation
C. Establishing word-formation rules

III. Children's creation of complex words
A. Comprehension vs. production
B. Word-learning strategies
C. Children's use of word-formation processes
1. Acquiring structure principles and compositionality
2. Using derivation and compounding
D. Setting up paradigms
1. Factors in construction of paradigms: transparency of meaning, simplicity of form, productivity

IV. Analysis of errors
A. Conventionality and contrast
B. Generating errors: why children create illegitimate forms

V. Conclusions

I. Introduction

In the language acquisition process, children acquire words by simultaneously trying to comprehend how language functions and expressing forms which they have learned for meanings they wish to convey.

Children are very skillful at identifying words in the stream of sounds, attributing meaning to them, segmenting them into smaller parts, and detecting rules of word structure. When they create words themselves, they use everything they have learned at different stages of acquisition, by following the rules they have discovered in language.

As children learn more words, they are able to identify patterns and certain regularities in the lexicon. They make use of these patterns and build paradigms, i.e. they use the same templates to connect words which are related in form and meaning. By creating forms for specific meanings, they coin words which fit into an already existing paradigm. Paradigms reflect a certain regularity within language, and at the same time, reveal children’s need to organize and compress the huge amount of words that they encounter.

Despite children’s skillfulness in learning language and their ability to analyze the structure of language and its regularities, despite their mastery in creating innovative complex words that follow principles of word-formation, not all the words children produce are legitimate forms. The purpose of this paper is to identify the reasons why errors occur in children’s production of complex words.

The second part of the paper will deal with a theoretical analysis of complex words, from the internal structure of words to main types of word-formation like derivation and compounding, and finally, will focus on establishing rules of word-building that children identify in language and also use in their word production.

The following section will treat children’s use of complex words, the word-formation processes they favor, the types of words they find easier to create, as well as the principles that they follow in their word creation. This part will close with a thematization of paradigms.

The fourth part will analyze errors, and will concentrate on elucidating the purpose of this paper, namely, the question referring to the source of error production in children’s creation of complex words. As will be revealed later in the paper, many of the illegitimate forms that children create are a result of non-permissible generalizations which reflect the regulating role of paradigms. Additionally, some of the errors deal with specific stages in children’s language development, and lie also in an inconsistency of the structure of the English language itself.

II. Analyzing complex words

A. The internal structure of words

Words possess an internal structure, which consists of small units of meaning called morphemes. New words are created by combining different morphemes in a meaningful way. Within a word, morphemes cannot be linked randomly, but rather have to be be placed where they fit.

Every morpheme comprises a phonetic form, a morph (from the Greek word μορφή for “shape” or “form”) and a meaning. To exemplify this definition, I. Plag, argues that, for example, “the morpheme un - (as in unhappy) is an entity that consists of the content or meaning on the one hand, and the sounds or letters which express this meaning on the other hand. It is a unit of form and meaning, a sign" (20). The notion of sign can be understood in Saussurean terms as arbitrarily connecting a form to a meaning. A linguistic sign is defined in Saussure's structuralism as the union of the signified (a concept) and the signifier (a phonic element). Saussure claims that there is no internal relationship between the succession of sounds of the phonic element and the concept, but that the relationship and union of the two elements is merely arbitrary (79). Saussure's theory can be applied to morphemes as well, so that for example, the morpheme less- in the adjective “senseless” arbitrarily links the morph "[l∂s]" to the meaning "without". Certain forms are linked to certain meanings in a purely conventional way, which varies from language to language.

In a complex word, morphemes that are combined with each other result in a more complex sign. The internal structure of words consists of a root and one or more affixes. The root is the most important morpheme of a word, the core of it, to which other morphemes can be attached. Affixes are morphemes that fall into two categories, namely, prefixes, when they are attached at the beginning of a word, and suffixes, when they are added at the end of a word. Roots can also be of two kinds, i.e. free morphemes and bound roots. A free morpheme is a root which belongs to a lexical category such as nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives: child- in “childhood”, now- in “nowadays”, big- in “bigness” etc. On the other hand, bound roots are not self-standing words and cannot occur independently, but rather always appear in connection with other morphemes: sanct - in “sanctuary”, -loc - in “dislocate”, frag - in “fragility” etc. Due to their clear meaning, self-standing morphemes are easier to identify than bound morphemes. A general term that refers to both bound roots and self-standing words is called base ”.

The internal structure of words can be represented either by labeled brackets or by tree diagrams. The information displayed in this way shows the hierarchical nature of morphological structure more clearly. The noun “players” can be represented as follows: [[play]V er]N s]N

illustration not visible in this excerpt

F. Katamba argues that in dealing with lexical items, tree diagrams which exhibit the internal structure of words can be used in the same way they are used for phrase structure rules, where syntactic rules can be used to create a large number of new sentences. This means that the rules that explain word structure can be used as “general rules for generating” new lexical items with similar structures (78).

B. Main types of word-formation

Most English words are complex words, because they consist of more than one morpheme. The main word-building processes are derivation and compounding, and deal exclusively with the production of lexical words.

Derivation is used to form new lexical items to word classes like nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. These lexical categories are open classes, and thus permit word creation, whereas categories like pronouns, articles, and prepositions are closed classes, and very unlikely to allow innovative forms.

One of the most common methods of word-building is affixation. Affixation is a word-formation strategy, which includes prefixation and suffixation.

Prefixes can be added to bases of more than one word class. Although there are exceptions, the majority of prefixes are class-maintaining, in that they change the meaning of the resulting words, but not the word class. In contrast, while suffixes change the word class, the meaning remains approximately the same. Affixes can be grouped in different ways, i.e. on the basis of the word class they are attached to or the word class they create, their meaning, or their phonological properties and their effect on the stress within the word.

Prefixes are used with a noun base as in archbishop, stepmother, malfunction, with a verb base as in deactivate, decapitate, or with an adjective base as in amoral, untypical, impolite etc .


Excerpt out of 21 pages


From Word-Formation Rules to Creating Paradigms
Why Errors Occur in Children’s Production of Complex Words
Technical University of Braunschweig  (Englisches Seminar)
Language Acquisition: Vocabulary and Modality
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
553 KB
word structure, word-formation, structure principles, compositionality, derivation, compounding, productivity, conventionality, contrast, errors
Quote paper
Gabriela Bara (Author), 2007, From Word-Formation Rules to Creating Paradigms, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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