The form and productivity of the Maltese morphological diminutive


This paper examines the productivity and form of the morphological diminutive in Maltese. Maltese has lexical items and grammatical properties stemming from both Semitic and Indo-European roots; previous research has shown that there are different levels of productivity for Semitic and Indo-European morphology, which varies even among speakers. In addition, both the Semitic and Indo-European morphological diminutive may take several different forms in Maltese. The goals of this research are to determine whether native speakers of Maltese can use a morphological diminutive (like wuggie) rather than a lexical diminutive (like little wug); if they can, whether a default form exists for the morphological diminutive, and if so, whether the default form is Indo-European or Semitic in nature. A novel word elicitation task was used to test how speakers use the diminutive, and the results may be explained using a variety of different theoretical frameworks allowing for a hierarchical selection of a diminutive allomorph.

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  1. 1.

    These templates are referred to generically as wazan (pl. awzaan) in Arabic grammars, pedagogical literature, and by Arabic linguists, or binyan in some Hebrew literature (seen in (2)) (McCarthy and Prince 1990). In this form, the root \(\sqrt{}\)fʔl is treated as a placeholder for the three root consonants in a template, similar to the CV skeleton above.

  2. 2.

    All Maltese examples are given in standard orthography. <q> indicates a glottal stop, <ċ> indicates a voiceless palato-alveolar affricate, <ġ> indicates a voiced palato-alveolar affricate, <ż> indicates a voiced alveolar fricative, <z> indicates a voiceless alveolar affricate, and <x> indicates a palatal fricative.

  3. 3.

    As an anonymous reviewer points out, tqajba is no longer widely used, and may not be used in everyday speech by the younger speakers who took part in Experiment 2.

  4. 4.

    The maximal model was computed as follows: glmer(ResponseTypeWordType * Dominance + (1 | subject) + (1 | item) + (1 | image), data = data). Stepwise model comparison was performed to arrive at the best fitting model, which is coded as the following: glmer(ResponseTypeWordType + (1 | subject) + (1 | item) + (1 | image), data = data). p-values were then computed using the anova function and comparing the best fitting model to a depleted model with WordType removed.


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This work was funded by grants from the University of Arizona Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Institute and the University of Arizona Graduate and Professional Students Council. The author wishes to thank the following individuals for their comments and expertise: Lauren M. Ackerman, William Cotter, Ray Fabri, Kenneth I. Forster, Luke Galea, Heidi Harley, Ingo Plag, Adam Ussishkin, Andrew Wedel, Samantha Wray, two anonymous reviewers, and the Institute of Linguistics at the University of Malta.

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Correspondence to Shiloh Drake.

Appendix: Stimuli used in the novel word elicitation task

Appendix: Stimuli used in the novel word elicitation task

Practice nonsense words:

brieq (Semitic)

korfa (Indo-European)

Practice real words:

ġobon / ġbejna (‘cheese / cheeselet’, Semitic)

festa / festina (‘party / little party’, Indo-European)

kuċċarun / kuċċarina (‘ladle / teaspoon’, Indo-European)

triq / trejqet (‘street / alley’, Semitic)

Semitic nonsense words:





















Indo-European nonsense words:





















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Drake, S. The form and productivity of the Maltese morphological diminutive. Morphology 28, 297–323 (2018).

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  • Root-and-pattern morphology
  • Maltese
  • Novel word elicitation task
  • Diminutive