I have a friend studying a language from the pacific islands, and she found an affix that when added to a noun makes a verb and when added to a verb makes a noun. What would you call such a thing, and how might one find it in the literature?

  • 1
    A nominalizer (noun-forming); a verbalizing affix (verb-forming).
    – Alex B.
    Jan 26 '13 at 2:20
  • 3
    It's not always clear what's a noun and what's a verb in Austronesian languages. And a great deal depends on the constructions involved.
    – jlawler
    Jan 26 '13 at 3:48
  • Just to clarify, is this a single affix that provides both functions? Do you know if it can be applied multiple times? Jan 28 '13 at 4:35
  • It provides both functions, but in one case an additional morpheme is added.
    – sventechie
    Jan 29 '13 at 16:27
  • 1
    I'm interested to know which Pacific Island language that is. :) Jan 29 '13 at 17:30


I would suggest calling this/these affix(es) either a nominalising affix or a verbalising affix, depending on its context. (See Additional Information below.)


These terms are already present in literature as seen below:

  1. Morphological Productivity (Cambridge; Google Books) gives examples of nominalisation affixes in English:

    -ment, -tion, -ity

    ... and examples of "verbifying/verbalising" affixes:

    -ate, -ise

  2. Wikipedia: Nominalisation

    (see link for contents; gives lots of linguistic examples)

Additional Information

Languages do map different morphological processes to sometimes the same phone. For example in English, we have -s, which is called either a plural(-ising) affix or a possessive affix, depending on its context, because it will either turn a singular word plural or it will signify possession of a noun. Therefore, approaching this problem as a native-English speaker, I stick true to the aforementioned suggestions.

However, jlawler mentions above:

It's not always clear what's a noun and what's a verb in Austronesian languages.

With this new information in mind, perhaps a native speaker of an Austronesian language does not necessarily differentiate nouns/verbs as I do. This difference might then promote your friend to call this paradigm something specific to Austronesian languages. If such a term does not exist in specific literature, then typically your friend can simply coin an appropriate term.

  • 1
    Perhaps a grammaticalizer (since class change is sometimes called grammaticalization). The idea is a single word for it, since it is the same morpheme and cannot co-occur with itself.
    – sventechie
    Jan 29 '13 at 16:34

Thanks for the answers and comments! My friend is going with the term derivational affix (abbreviation DER) as used by Karen Ashley (who works on the Sa'a language of the Solomon Islands). Seems a bit vague, but I guess it was necessary to show it is the same morpheme performing both functions. I'll try to release more info when the paper is published. :-)

  • 1
    well the same phenomenon could be seen in Turkic languages when same suffix is used to make Noun from verb and verb from noun. And it can be applied just ones.
    – Dariya
    Jan 30 '13 at 0:52
  • 1
    Well derivation affix is more general and covers many kinds of affix unlike your specific two given properties of n->v and v->n. It's even less specific than Sean's answers. Maybe nominalising and verbalising affix? Jan 30 '13 at 3:25
  • @Dariya Do you happen to know what term is used for that suffix in the analysis of Turkic languages?
    – sventechie
    Jan 31 '13 at 20:24
  • generally they are analysed as two different derivational homophonic suffixes. one as nominalising and other as verbalising as others have already said.
    – Dariya
    Feb 3 '13 at 19:44
  • @Dariya That is unfortunate. It sounds to me like linguists are afraid to rock the boat. It appears to be happening cross-linguistically that the same morpheme can perform "opposite" functions, but English and other European languages have prejudiced us against the possibility.
    – sventechie
    Feb 4 '13 at 21:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.