Evaluative morphology is a field of linguistic studies that deals with the formation of diminutives, augmentatives, pejoratives, and amelioratives. Actually, evaluative constructions cross the boundaries of morphology, and are sometimes realized by formal strategies that cannot be numbered among word formation processes. Nevertheless, morphology plays a dominant role in the formation of evaluatives. The first attempt to draw an exhaustive account of this set of complex forms is found in the 1984 work Generative Morphology, by Sergio Scalise, who made the hypothesis that evaluatives represent a separate block of rules between inflection and derivation. This hypothesis is based on the fact that evaluatives show some properties that are derivational, others that are inflectional, and some specific properties that are neither derivational nor inflectional. After Scalise’s proposal, almost all scholars have tried to answer the question concerning the place of evaluative rules within the morphological component. What data reveal is that, in a cross-linguistic perspective, evaluatives display a uniform behavior from a semantic and functional point of view, but exhibit a wide range of formal properties. In other words, functional identity does not imply formal identity; consequently, we can expect that constructions performing the same function display different formal properties in different languages. So, if evaluatives are undoubtedly derivational in most Indo-European languages (even if they cannot be considered a typical example of derivation), they are certainly quite close to inflection in some Bantu languages. This means that the question about the place of evaluatives within the morphological component probably is not as crucial as scholars have thought, and that other issues, sometimes neglected in the literature, deserve the same attention. Among them, the role of pragmatics in the description of evaluatives is no doubt central. According to Dressler and Merlini Barbaresi, in their 1994 work, Morphopragmatics: Diminutives and Intensifiers in Italian, German and Other Languages, evaluative constructions are the more typical instantiation of morphopragmatics, which is “defined as the area of general pragmatic meanings of morphological rules, that is of the regular pragmatic effects produced when moving from the input to the output of a morphological rule.” Evaluatives include “a pragmatic variable which cannot be suppressed in the description of [their] meaning.” Another central issue in studies on evaluative morphology is the wide set of semantic nuances that usually accompany diminutives, augmentatives, pejoratives, and amelioratives. For example, a diminutive form can occasionally assume a value that is attenuative, singulative, partitive, appreciative, affectionate, etc. This cluster of semantic values has often increased the idea that evaluatives are irregular in nature and that they irremediably avoid any generalization. Dan Jurafsky showed, in 1996, that these different meanings are often the outcome of regular and cross-linguistically recurrent semantic processes, both in a synchronic and in a diachronic perspective.
Several factors influence children’s initial choices of word-formation options––simplicity of form, transparency of meaning, and productivity in current adult speech. The coining of new words is also constrained by general pragmatic considerations for usage: Reliance on conventionality, contrast, and cooperation between speaker and addressee. For children acquiring French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, the data on what they know about word-formation for the coining of new words consist primarily of diary observations; in some cases, these are supplemented with experimental elicitation studies of the comprehension and production of new word-forms. The general patterns in Romance acquisition of word-formation favor derivation over compounding. Children produce some spontaneous coinages with zero derivation (verbs converted to nouns in French, for example) from as young as 2 years, 6 months (2;6). The earliest suffixes children put to use in these languages tend to be agentive (from 2;6 to 3 years onward), followed by instrumental, objective, locative, and, slightly later, diminutive. The only prefixes that emerge early in child innovations are negative ones used to express reversals of actions. Overall, the general patterns of acquisition for word-formation in Romance are similar to those in Semitic, where derivation is also more productive than compounding, rather than to those in Germanic, where compounding is highly productive, and emerges very early, before any derivational forms.