[Lingtyp] Bound Roots and Affixes

Chao Li chao.li at aya.yale.edu
Wed Jan 16 17:58:04 UTC 2019

Dear Colleagues,

I was wondering whether I could consult with you on the use of Greek roots
that had been borrowed into English. For example, *bio*, *anti*, and *auto*
have their origin in Greek. They are often analyzed as roots from Greek.
However, in English such forms are generally positionally restricted and
thus are often found in the list of English affixes (see Aikhenvald’s
(2007: 28) observation that English has some forms that “are problematic as
to whether they are better analyzed as roots or as affixes, e.g. *bio- *or
*anthropo*-”). *I am wondering whether the counterparts of forms like bio,
anti, and auto are positionally restricted in Greek as well*.

More generally, *is it reasonable if we adopt a criterion that for a bound
form to be analyzed as a bound root, it should be positionally unrestricted
in a polymorphemic word with the meaning of the morpheme in question
maintained the same in its different uses?* (It appears that such a
criterion works pretty well for Mandarin Chinese). *If not, what is a good
criterion for the distinction between bound roots and affixes?* (The
criterion that the former have content and the latter do not doesn’t appear
to be quite useful. Moreover, one may adopt the definition that a bound
root is a bound morpheme denoting a thing, an action, or a property. If
this definition leads to an analysis of *bio*, *anti*, and *auto* as bound
roots because the first one denotes a thing and the latter two denote a
property(??), how would we analyze *un-* as in *unable*?)

Thank you so much in advance for your input and insight!

Best regards,


[Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. 2007. Typological distinctions in word-formation.
In Timothy Shopen (ed.), *Language Typology and Syntactic Description, Vol.
III: Grammatical Categories and the Lexicon*, 2nd edn., 1-65. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.]
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