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Derivation in the lexicon: The case of Esperanto

  • Wim Jansen EMAIL logo
From the journal Linguistics


This study takes Functional Discourse Grammar (FDG) as its theoretical framework, and applies to the phenomena under study the FDG terminology, which may differ from what many readers are used to. Esperanto has an agglutinating morphology. Its words are built on stems which are associated with contentive lexemes in a flexible system of parts of speech. The language has an elaborate stock of lexically dependent morphemes (roots in FDG) for lexeme building. Many basic words are stem-root combinations in Esperanto. The roots applied in them also appear in complex structures, and can be reordered and interchanged easily to produce different complex stems. For this reason, derivation is taken to be hosted in the lexicon. The lexicon must contain a highly developed procedural knowledge component, of which the derivation system is assumed to be a part. Some of the suffixable roots have homonymous variants that define grammatical processes. The combinatorial freedom of roots provides for a lexical expansion tool which is easy to handle, but not without complications. Problematic is the (in)transitivity of lexemes destined to verbal encoding, when applied in an environment that is not naturally theirs. This phenomenon is known to be an important source of mistakes among speakers of the language. It is argued that the lexicon of Esperanto speakers contains paired transitive and intransitive representations of the most current lexemes of this category. The study aims at providing support to better understand the mechanisms at work inside the lexicon and at the interface between the lexicon and the grammar of agglutinating languages.


I am grateful to the participants of the FDG Workshop in Vienna (September 2013), in particular to Inge Genee and Evelien Keizer, and to two anonymous reviewers of the manuscript of this article for their highly appreciated comments, suggestions and correction proposals.


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Appendix 1. Input list of prefixable itemsa

PrefixEarly description (by Zamenhof), reference works
bo-Early description: “relation by marriage” (Z: 146).
Reference works: K&W: 504, PIV: 162, We: 588.
dis-Early description: “has the same force as the English dis” (Z: 154).
Reference works: K&W: 479, PIV: 244, We: 590.
ek-Early description: “denotes sudden or momentary action” (Z: 156).
Reference works: K&W: 479, PIV: 270, We: 591.
eks-Early description: “ex-, late” (Z: 157).
Reference works: K&W: 505, PIV: 272, We: 592.
ge-Early description: “of both sexes” (Z: 165).
Reference works: K&W: 505, PIV: 386, We: 592.
mal-Early description: “denotes opposites” (Z: 189).
Reference works: K&W: 505, PIV: 704, We: 594.
mis-Early description: non-existent.
Reference works: K&W: 481, PIV: 747, We: 597.
pra-Early description: “primordial” (Z: 206).
Reference works: K&W: 508, PIV: 908, We: 598.
re-Early description: “again, back” (Z: 210).
Reference works: K&W: 482, PIV: 955, We: 599.

Remark: In contrast with We: 589, the prefixed item ĉef- is not included in this list. The source document Z: 149 translates it as the noun ‘chief’, quite different from the way Z illustrates entries like dis- in combination with different stems they can apply to. K&W: 483 lists ĉef- under their so-called prefixoids, i. e., in FDG terms stems which behave like a root when applied as the first element in a combination with another stem. In such applications, ĉef- does not mean ‘boss’ or ‘chief’, but something like ‘main, principal’. Discussing this in more detail would go far beyond the scope of this article. Because Z: 149 translates ĉef as a noun, and does not treat it as a root, I have not included it in my list.

Appendix 2. Input list of suffixable itemsb

SuffixEarly description (by Zamenhof), reference works
-aĉEarly description: non-existent.
Reference works: K&W: 500, PIV: 46, We: 540.
-adEarly description: “denotes duration of action” (Z: 139).
Reference works: K&W: 438,467; PIV: 46, We: 540.
-aĵEarly description: “made from or possessing the quality of” (Z: 140).
Reference works: K&W: 441, PIV: 58, We: 542.
-anEarly description: “inhabitant, member” (Z: 141).
Reference works: K&W: 450, PIV: 83, We: 544.
-arEarly description: “a collection of objects” (Z: 143).
Reference works: K&W: 451, PIV: 102, We: 545.
-eblEarly description: “able, possible” (Z: 155).
Reference works: K&W: 464, PIV: 263, We: 546.
-ecEarly description: “denotes qualities” (Z: 156).
Reference works: K&W: 444, PIV: 264, We: 548.
-egEarly description: “denotes increase of degree” (Z: 156).
Reference works: K&W: 500, PIV: 268, We: 551.
-ejEarly description: “place where an action occurs” (Z: 156).
Reference works: K&W: 451, PIV: 269, We: 552.
-emEarly description: “inclined to” (Z: 158).
Reference works: K&W: 464, PIV: 283–284, We: 554.
-endEarly description: non-existent.
Reference works: K&W: 465, PIV: 288, We: 556.
-erEarly description: “one of many objects of the same kind” (Z: 158).
Reference works: K&W: 452, PIV: 294, We: 556.
-estrEarly description: “chief, boss” (Z: 159).
Reference works: K&W: 452, PIV: 301–302, We: 557.
-etEarly description: “denotes diminution of degree” (Z: 159).
Reference works: K&W: 501, PIV: 302, We: 557, 558.
-idEarly description: “descendant, young one” (Z: 169).
Reference works: K&W: 453, PIV: 457, We: 559.
-igEarly description: “to cause to be” (Z: 170).
Reference works: K&W: 468, PIV: 459–461, We: 560.
-iĝEarly description: “to become” (Z: 170).
Reference works: K&W: 472, PIV: 461–462, We: 564.
-ilEarly description: “instrument” (Z: 170).
Reference works: K&W: 453, PIV: 463, We: 568.
-inEarly description: “ending of feminine words” (Z: 170).
Reference works: K&W: 454, PIV: 468, We: 571.
-indEarly description: “worth” (Z: 171).
Reference works: K&W: 466, PIV: 469, We: 572.
-ingEarly description: “holder for” (Z: 171).
Reference works: K&W: 456, PIV: 475, We: 573.
-ismEarly description: non-existent.
Reference works: K&W: 456, PIV: 490, We: 574.
-istEarly description: “person occupied with” (Z: 172).
Reference works: K&W: 457, PIV: 491, We: 575.
-ujEarly description: “filled with” (Z: 227).
Reference works: K&W: 458, PIV: 1197, We: 582.
-ulEarly description: “person noted for…” (Z: 227).
Reference works: K&W: 448, PIV: 1197–1198, We: 583.
-umEarly description: “this syllable has no fixed meaning” (Z: 227).
Reference works: K&W: 501, PIV: 1198–1199, We: 586.

Appendix 3. List of abbreviations and glosses used in the text (except for the 39 glosses of the lexeme-building rules listed and explained in Tables 2 and 3)














Functional Discourse Grammar


Future tense












Morphosyntactic Level


1. Noun; 2. Nucleus




Phonological Level




Present tense




Past tense


Phonological word




Representational Level


1. Stem; 2. Subject






Lexeme-building rule

Semantic categories applicable to Esperanto, in alphabetical order:

Second-order Entity, State-of-Affairs


Dependent Property








Third-order Entity, Abstraction








First-order Entity, Individual

Published Online: 2016-8-20
Published in Print: 2016-9-1

©2016 by De Gruyter Mouton

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