[Lingtyp] Bound Roots and Affixes

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Wed Jan 16 19:30:01 UTC 2019

 From the point of view of English, one doesn't really need the 
distinction between prefixes and "compound-only roots", I think.

(Though perhaps bio-, socio-, geo-, astro- etc. are special in that they 
bear stress when combined with -logy, -graphy, -nomy, which is not the 
case with prefixes like un-, pro-, pre-, anti-)

The question of language comparison is different. I have proposed that a 
root (as a comparative concept) should be defined as a minimal form that 
denotes a thing, an action, or a property (Haspelmath 2012) – it seems 
that this corresponds exactly to our intuition, even though it cannot be 
applied in all cases in particular languages. But this is not the 
purpose of comparative concepts.

In Greek, bio-, ge(o)-, and astr(o)- are not restricted (they mean 
'life', 'earth', 'star', also outside of compounds), and neither are 
anti- (it occurs as a prefix or as a preposition) and auto- (it occurs 
as a prefix or as a pronoun or self-intensifier '(s)he; self').


On 16.01.19 18:58, Chao Li wrote:
> 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,
> Chao
> [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/, 2^nd edn., 1-65. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.]
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Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10	
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
Institut fuer Anglistik
IPF 141199
D-04081 Leipzig

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