[Lingtyp] Bound Roots and Affixes

Chao Li chao.li at aya.yale.edu
Thu Jan 17 04:19:41 UTC 2019

Thank you Martin for the information about Greek. So there are indeed
polymorphemic Greek words in which *bio*, for example, is used as the final
constituent, right? If so, it seems that at least some Greek roots have now
functioned more like affixes in English.

>From a crosslinguistic perspective, it is indeed desirable and even
necessary (at some level of analysis) to distinguish between affixes and
bound roots. Packard (2000, 2016a, 2016b) notes that Chinese differs from
English in its large inventory of bound roots and in its frequent use of
two bound roots to form a word. He uses “bound root words” to refer to
words consisting of either only bound roots or a combination of bound roots
and free roots. Crucially, such words do not involve any derivational
affix. In the literature on English word formation, words like *psychology*
are often labeled “neoclassical compounds” on the assumption that *psycho*
and *logy* are roots. If *psycho* and *logy* are roots at all, they are
bound roots and this actually makes *psychology* a bound root word, not
truly a compound, whose components must be existing words if we follow the
traditional definition of this concept closely.

But there is still the question of whether *psycho* and *logy* in
*psychology* are really bound roots or affixes in contemporary English. In
terms of distribution, they function like affixes as *psycho* appears
word-initially and *logy* occurs word-finally. In terms of their
denotation, they are roots if we adopt Martin’s definition of the notion of
root. So there is a conflict here if both positioning and denotation are
taken into consideration, and this brings us back to the question of how to
best distinguish between affixes and bound roots.

Best regards,


Packard, Jerome L. 2000. *The Morphology of Chinese: A Linguistic and
Cognitive Approach*. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Packard, Jerome L. 2016a. Chinese morphology. In Sin-wai Chan (ed.), *The
Routledge Encyclopedia of the Chinese Language*, 215-226. London & New
York: Routledge.

Packard, Jerome L. 2016b. Lexical word formation. In Chu-Ren Huang & Dingxu
Shi (eds.), *A Reference Grammar of Chinese*, 67-80. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

On Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 2:30 PM Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>

> 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').
> Martin
> 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*, 2nd 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
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