Degrammaticalization, a word I stumbled across on this blog today, is the process through which grammatical affixes become independent words.

A good example is ish, which started off as a suffix on words like longish, shortish, etc. Then became an enclitic – an affix that can be detached from the words it would normally be attached to, and stuck on to other words – and finally started to be used on its own. More examples of degrammaticalization include esque, ism, pro, con, anti, ette.

In Esperanto, quite a few affixes can be used as independent words. The suffix -ig, for example, indicates the cause or bringing about of action or state, e.g. blankigi, to whiten, from blanka, white. When used on its own as the verb igi, it means ‘to cause’. This appears to be a kind of deliberate, planned degrammaticalization.

Can you think of any other examples of degrammaticalization in English or other languages?

Free the bound morphemes!

11 thoughts on “Degrammaticalization

  1. Thanks! The very coolest possible examples would be from highly inflected languages and finding inflectional morphology coming unhinged (so to speak).

  2. In the Connacht and Ulster dialects of Irish, the 1st pl. pres. verbal suffix “-mid” has been, through analogy, detached and used as an independent pronoun, “muid”. This did not occur in the Munster dialects, which preserve the earlier pronoun “sinn”, this also being the official standard usage. Would this count as degrammaticalization?

  3. I haven’t heard -ish used separately.
    “Free the bound morphemes” LOL! That ought to be a bumper sticker.

  4. Tadhg – that certainly sounds like degrammaticalization. I thought it was the other way round though – i.e. that muid started off as an independent word then became a suffix.

    Do you know if táim become tá mé in a similiar way?

  5. Wow…I’ve been monitoring ‘-ish’ for quite a while now. I had actually never heard it as a free morpheme until I heard my girlfriend use it. I soon figured out it was quite prevalent throughout the town she lives in (South Lake Tahoe, CA, USA; a town of about 23,000 people). I never heard it in San Francisco. Afterwards, I started using it, then I heard one of my coworkers using it. I never expected it to show up in the old world yet (but, then again, the coworker WAS English. Maybe she used it in conversation when calling back home…)

    BTW, I’m being quite tongue-in-cheek here; I recognize the possibility for multigenesis.

    Do we have any instances of its use in print or recording? Googling, I’ve found some dictionary references, but none in any semblance of regular usage.

  6. I’m native of spanish… and I had never heard “-ismo” as a individual word. Of course, “ismo” is a portion of land that connect a island to mainland but “-ismo” as a ending using alone, never.

    Can anyone provide a sample of this uses in spanish? I cannot think an example of degrammaticalization in my language.

  7. A portion of land that connects an island to the mainland is an “istmo”, not an “ismo”.

    I think “ismo” is really degrammaticallized, but uses would be mostly ironic or for comical effect. You could joke “Pedro es un experto en marxismo, leninismo, fascismo y toda clase de ismos”. No Spanish speaker would have the least trouble understanding that.

  8. Here’s the example Ivan Garcerant wanted.

    In a creative writing exercise in English we had to come up with names for things to be used in a story and for “religion” my friend came up with “ismism”. I just had to share this.

  9. That’s true! “itsmo” not “ismo”, sorry it’s my bad.

    Lektu is right, “…y toda clase de ismos” it’s full understandable. However the word “-ismo” is used more like a kind of demostrative (in order to make a reference to the last group of words) not by a word with a mean itself that can be related with the function of “-ismo” in their original words.

    In fact, also it’s well undestanding any list of words that ends or begins with a common chunk of letters.

    “Ella sabe leer el futuro con quiromancia, con cartomancia, con cualquier mancia pues…” but without the list of references, nobody will know that “-mancia” is a ending with a mean. We uses a complete different word in this situation “adivinación” o “practica de predecir”. See more in

    Anyway, thank for the example.

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