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linguistic process

Affix

[v. uh-fiks; n. af-iks]

An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a stem to form a word. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes. Affixation is, thus, the linguistic process speakers use to form new words (neologisms) by adding sounds (affixes) at the beginning (prefixation), the middle (infixation) or the end (suffixation) of words.

Positional categories of affixes

Affixes are divided into several categories, depending on their position with reference to the stem. Prefix and suffix are extremely common terms. Infix and circumfix are less so, as they are not important in European languages. The other terms are uncommon.

Categories of affixes
Affix Example Schema Description
Prefix un-do prefix-stem Appears at the front of a stem
Suffix/Postfix look-ing stem-suffix Appears at the back of a stem
Infix saxo‹ma›phone st‹infix›em Appears within a stem — common in Borneo-Philippines languages
Circumfix a›scatter‹ed circumfix›stem‹circumfix One portion appears at the front of a stem, and the other at the rear
Interfix speed-o-meter stema-interfix-stemb Links two stems together in a compound
Duplifix teeny~weeny stem~duplifix Incorporates a reduplicated portion of a stem
(may occur in front, at the rear, or within the stem)
Transfix Maltese: k‹i›t‹e›b "he wrote"
(compare root ktb "write")
s‹transfix›te‹transfix›m A discontinuous affix that interleaves within a discontinuous stem
Simulfix mouse → mice Changes a segment of a stem
Suprafix produce (noun)
produce (verb)
Changes a suprasegmental phoneme of a stem
Disfix Alabama: tipli "break up"
(compare root tipasli "break")
stm The elision of a portion of a stem

Prefix and suffix may be combined as adfix, a term that is rarely used except in contrast with infix.

In transcription, for example in the third column in the chart above, simple affixes such as prefixes and suffixes are shown connected to the stem with hyphens. Affixes which disrupt the stem, or which themselves are discontinuous, are often marked off with angle brackets. Reduplication is often shown with a tilde.

Lexical affixes

Lexical affixes (or semantic affixes) are bound elements that appear as affixes, but function as incorporated nouns within verbs and as elements of compound nouns. In other words, they are similar to word roots/stems in function but similar to affixes in form. Although similar to incorporated nouns, lexical affixes differ in that they never occur as freestanding nouns, i.e. they always appear as affixes.

Lexical affixes are relatively rare. The Wakashan, Salishan, and Chimakuan languages all have lexical suffixes — the presence of these is an areal feature of the Pacific Northwest of the North America.

The lexical suffixes of these languages often show little to no resemblance to free nouns with similar meanings. Compare the lexical suffixes and free nouns of Northern Straits Saanich written in the Saanich orthography and in Americanist notation:

Lexical Suffix Noun
-o, -aʔ "person" ,ełtálṉew̱ ʔəɬtelŋəxʷ "person"
-nát -net "day" sȼićel skʷičəl "day"
-sen -sən "foot, lower leg" sxene, sx̣ənəʔ "foot, lower leg"
-áwtw̱ -ew̕txʷ "building, house, campsite" ,á,leṉ ʔeʔləŋ "house"

Lexical suffixes when compared with free nouns often have a more generic or general meaning. For instance, one of these languages may have a lexical suffix that means water in a general sense, but it may not have any noun equivalent referring to water in general and instead have several nouns with a more specific meaning (such "saltwater", "whitewater", etc.). In other cases, the lexical suffixes have become grammaticalized to various degrees.

Some linguists have claimed that these lexical suffixes provide only adverbial or adjectival notions to verbs. Other linguists disagree arguing that they may additionally be syntactic arguments just as free nouns are and thus equating lexical suffixes with incorporated nouns. Gerdts (2003) gives examples of lexical suffixes in the Halkomelem language (the word order here is Verb Subject Object):

VERB SUBJ OBJ
(1) niʔ šak’ʷ-ət-əs łə słeniʔ łə qeq
"the woman washed the baby"
 
VERB+LEX.SUFF SUBJ
(2) niʔ šk’ʷ-əyəł łə słeniʔ
"the woman baby-washed"

In sentence (1), the verb "wash" is šak’ʷətəs where šak’ʷ- is the root and -ət and -əs are inflectional suffixes. The subject "the woman" is łə słeniʔ and the object "the baby" is łə qeq. In this sentence, "the baby" is a free noun. (The niʔ here is an auxiliary, which can be ignored for explanatory purposes.)

In sentence (2), "baby" does not appear as a free noun. Instead it appears as the lexical suffix -əyəł which is affixed to the verb root šk’ʷ- (which has changed slightly in pronunciation, but this can also be ignored here). Note how the lexical suffix is neither "the baby" (definite) nor "a baby" (indefinite); such referential changes are routine with incorporated nouns.

See also

Bibliography

  • Gerdts, Donna B. (2003). The morphosyntax of Halkomelem lexical suffixes. International Journal of American Linguistics, 69 (4), 345-356.
  • Montler, Timothy. (1986). An outline of the morphology and phonology of Saanich, North Straits Salish. Occasional Papers in Linguistics (No. 4). Missoula, MT: University of Montana Linguistics Laboratory.
  • Montler, Timothy. (1991). Saanich, North Straits Salish classified word list. Canadian Ethnology service paper (No. 119); Mercury series. Hull, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization.'''

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