Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Examining Iranian Learners' Productive Knowledge of English Derivatives

Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Examining Iranian Learners' Productive Knowledge of English Derivatives

Article excerpt


The present study, which was a partial replication of Schmitt and Zimmerman's (2002) study, was an attempt to put Iranian EFL learners' productive knowledge of derivational morphology under close scrutiny. To this end, a test consisting of 8 prompt words, along with a series of four contextualized sentences for each prompt word, was administered to a total of 39 EFL learners studying at intermediate and advanced levels of language proficiency at a language institute in Shiraz, Iran. The results indicated that the participants showed partial productive knowledge of English derivatives, especially of adjectives and adverbs. Also, error analysis of the elicited responses revealed that Iranian EFL learners were likely to confuse words from different classes, especially adjectives with nouns and verbs or nouns with adjectives and verbs, the fact that pointed to their limited knowledge of the syntactic aspect of derivational morphology. The findings from error analysis further implied that the participants were not fully aware of the distributional restrictions on English derivatives, emphasizing the idea that distributional knowledge develops later than relational and syntactic knowledge.

Key words: derivational morphology, productive derivational knowledge, aspects of knowledge of derivational morphology, word classes, word formation.

1. Introduction

Dealing with new words is perhaps one of the most perplexing aspects of SLA. What adds to its complexity lies in the sophisticated nature of words themselves. As Plag (2003) puts it, "the word as a linguistic unit deserves some attention because it is not as straightforward as one might except" (p. 4).

In the early stages of learning to read, the majority of the new words learners encounter in print have already appeared in their oral vocabularies; thus, decoding strategies alone suffice to convey their meaning (Nagy, Diakidoy, & Anderson, 1993). However, as students proceed to upper grades, the number of new words they encounter increases, so decoding strategies alone are not adequate to get the meaning across, and learners' knowledge of morphology_ "their ability to gain information about the meaning, pronunciation, and part of speech of new words from their prefixes, roots, and suffixes"_ comes into play to express meaning (Nagy, Diakidoy, & Anderson, 1993, p. 156).

In order to come to a better understanding of different aspects of knowledge of morphology, a distinction must be made between inflectional and derivational suffixes. Plag (2003) has enumerated the differences between inflections and derivations:

"Derivation encodes lexical meaning, is not syntactically relevant, can occur inside derivation, often changes the part of speech, is often semantically opaque, is often restricted in its productivity, [and] is not restricted to suffixation, [while] inflection encodes grammatical categories, is syntactically relevant, occurs outside all derivation, does not change part of speech, is rarely semantically opaque, is fully productive, [and is] always suffixational (in English)" (p. 17).

Inflections and derivations are likely to impose varying degrees of learning burdens on the learners (Schmitt & Zimmerman, 2002). The rule-governed nature of inflections is likely to facilitate learning. On the other hand, such distinct rules are not always present in the formation of derivations (Schmitt & Zimmerman, 2002). Derivational suffixes are believed to be acquired later than inflectional suffixes due to their relative abstractness, frequent appearance in formal written language, and a change they cause in the part of speech of a word (Nagy, Diakidoy, & Anderson, 1993).

This study, therefore, aims at investigating derivational Suffixes as they represent the most abstract and complicated aspect for morphology that language learners have to acquire (Nagy, Diakidoy, & Anderson, 1993).

According to Tyler and Nagy (1989), a comprehensive knowledge of derivational morphology involves 3 aspects: relational, syntactic, and distributional knowledge. …

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