Inflection versus Derivation

Finally, we must reiterate the distinction between two very important processes in the creation of Cree nouns used as words in Cree speech.  The majority of the wordforms discussed thus far are created through what is known as inflection.  These are modifications of the basic noun for use in specific grammatical circumstances.  Although we can inflect a noun for number, possession and/or locative, these are all wordforms of the same noun.  All the inflected wordforms of a noun fit into a paradigm or what in traditional grammar is called a noun declension (these are similar to verb paradigms or conjugation patterns).  As such, the inflectional paradigms for nouns will all include number (plural and/or obviation), person (possessive forms) and case (locative).

In addition to the inflectional patterns that surround nouns, the noun stems themselves can often be formed by regular processes of word formation as well.  Many nouns are underived and consist solely of single meaningful elements (or “morphemes”) or noun roots which cannot be further divided, such as the nouns in (29).

(29) astis- “mitt”
nikikw- “otter”
pisiw- “lynx”


For instance, we cannot divide a noun like astis and find smaller pieces (e.g. */as-/ or */-tis/) which combine to form the overall meaning of astis.  astis is a morpheme, a word, a noun root and a noun stem all in one.

In contrast, the nouns in (30) can be divided into two or more consistent, meaningful parts which have been combined to form each noun stem.



“moose nose”

[mōsw- “moose” + -kot “nose”]



[mist– “big” + atim “dog”]



[pīsimw– “sun, moon” + –ēyāpiy “string, line”]


“Saskatchewan River”

[kisiskā– “quick” + –ciwan “flow” + sīpiy “river”]


In some cases, one piece of the word is a free morpheme (i.e. it can stand alone as a word; e.g. atimpīsimsīpiy), while at least one other piece is a bound morpheme (i.e. it cannot stand alone as a word but must be combined with other morphemes; e.g. mist-, –ēyāpīy, –ciwan, etc.).  In traditional English grammar, word formation that combines free words with bound morphemes or affixes is referred to as derivation.  Sometimes, two or more free words can be combined (e.g. kisiskāciwan + sīpiy) and this is generally called compounding.  At yet other times in Cree word formation, all the morphemes present are bound (e.g. kisiskā– + –ciwanmōsw– + –kot).  This last instance is very rare in English, such that there is no traditional English terminology for such a situation.  Even the English definition of compounding is problematical for a language like Cree in which not only affixes are bound, but many root morphemes (e.g. mōsw-, –kot) are bound as well.  For the sake of simplification, all word formation processes of these three types will be referred to as Derivation.