Back to top

Zero-derivation and conversion in Estonian

The article discusses noun and verb conversion in Estonian. Unlike in analytical languages, such as English, Estonian conversion is not about homonyms, as in Estonian nouns and verbs take different inflectional paradigms. In addition, Estonian word stems may have different phonological shapes, neither need the stem allomorphs of a stem-sharing noun and verb be similar. The existence of mono-vowel derivative suffixes (-u, -i, -e) poses an additional problem of how to differentiate between a vowel suffix and a stem vowel.
     The first part of the article explains the boundaries of suffixal derivation and conversion in stem-sharing nouns and verbs. The second part analyses the semantic relations of stem-sharing nouns and verbs, pointing out that from the semantic point of view the conversion of Estonian nouns and verbs is zero-derivation. This is an oriented process, where the base word and the derivative can be distinguished, while the latter is semantically motivated by the former. In view of the semantic relations of the base word and the derivative, zero-derivation is also parallel with suffixal derivation as they both express the same categorical meanings.
     Due to the English loanwords that have recently entered Estonian in considerable numbers the Estonian system of zero-derivation has begun to change. The noun and verb stems borrowed in parallel have been adopted into use directly in the borrowed meaning and shape, without adapting the borrowed verb stems to the Estonian system of suffixal derivation. The noun and verb stems borrowed as neologisms lack the systemic semantic relations inherent in Estonian derivation. Thus, in parallel with zero-derivation, Estonian has begun to use lexical conversion, which is typical of the Indo-European language system. This is already showing in original Estonian word-making.