1. A process through which one WORD, PHRASE, or SENTENCE is formed from another: passive sentences (They were met by a friend) are often said to derive from active sentences (A friend met them).
2. A process by which the forms and meanings of words change over centuries: English nice derives from Latin nescius.
3. A process by which more complex words are formed from less complex words: purification from purify from pure. Although information about the history of words may help in analysing their current forms, there is no necessary link between a word's ETYMOLOGY and its current form and meaning: although pure has a close formal and semantic link with its ancestor, Latin purus, the tie makes no difference to how pure is used in English; present-day nice (meaning ‘pleasant’ and sometimes ‘precise’) has no obvious association in form, meaning, or function with its ancestor nescius (which meant ‘ignorant’).
Etymological derivationThe term derivation itself derives from an analogy between language and a river (Latin rivus), in which later forms flow from earlier forms: pure from purus, nice from nescius. It has traditionally been assumed that Modern English flows from Old English, that elements in English flow from languages which were earlier and more prestigious (Greek and Latin) or had power and prestige at the time when English was developing (Latin and French), that Latin, Greek, and the Germanic languages flowed from still earlier languages, and that studying the history of languages helps one appreciate this flow. Caution is often advisable when establishing the history of a word: although outrage seems to derive straightforwardly from out and rage (and mean anger beyond the normal), it actually comes from Old French oultrage: compare Italian oltraggio. The prior stage is however conjectural; philologists have reconstructed a Latin *ultraticum as the common ancestor of outrage, oultrage, oltraggio. It resembles comparable established usages, but has never been found in a text. In English, assumptions that rage is part of outrage have affected the use and meaning of the word, and as a result the reinterpretation of outrage as out and rage together has become a factor in the ‘story’ of the word. As a result, although the sound and look of outrage are not helpful in deciding its origin, they are relevant in a consideration of current meaning and use.
Morphological derivationTime is different in everyday WORD-FORMATION. Derivational morphology has two aspects: static, when analysing internal arrangement, and dynamic, when considering how the more complex emerges from the less complex. In static terms, transformation can be analysed into three parts, trans + form + ation (PREFIX, BASE, SUFFIX). In dynamic terms, analysis can establish stages through which words develop: for example, from form to transform to transformation. How long the process takes (centuries or seconds) is a secondary matter; once such a flow or pattern exists, users do not usually concern themselves with how long any element in the pattern has existed, and once they have become accustomed to a new derivative like transformational, they do not usually think about the flow that produced it. Although many complex words are derived along only one flow or path (as with pure—purify—purification), more than one may exist. The path for transformation could be either form—transform—transformation or form—formation—transformation. Whatever path is followed, a new base for another possible derivative is formed: pure the base for purify which is the base for purification which then leads to purificational and if so desired to *purificationalism. Although there is no theoretical limit, in practice usefulness, comprehensibility, and pronounceability decide the cut-off points: *antipurificationalistically is well formed, but not very useful. See ANALOGY, EPONYM, INDO-EUROPEAN ROOTS, MORPHOLOGY, ROOT-CREATION.
der·i·va·tion / ˌderəˈvāshən/ • n. 1. the obtaining or developing of something from a source or origin: the derivation of scientific laws from observation. ∎ the formation of a word from another word or from a root in the same or another language. ∎ Linguistics in generative grammar the set of stages that link the abstract underlying structure of an expression to its surface form. ∎ Math. a sequence of statements showing that a formula, theorem, etc., is a consequence of previously accepted statements. ∎ Math. the process of deducing a new formula, theorem, etc., from previously accepted statements. 2. origin; extraction: music of primarily Turkish derivation. ∎ something derived; a derivative: the derivation “sheepish” has six definitions. DERIVATIVES: der·i·va·tion·al / -shənl/ adj.