Dec 15, 2007

A Rough Sketch for Defining Affix(ation)

Have I kept you waiting?

I note some point to analyze affixes in sophisticated morphosyntactic theory.

Affixes and Affixations

First, we should distinguish between the operation "Affixation" and the morphological class "Affix" clearly in order to realize problems of affix accurately because it seems that not all affixes undergo some sort of affixation.
Briefly speaking, it is not necessarily the case that every affix is derived directly by the morphological (or phonological) operation.

A tentative definition of "Affix"

It is obvious that the class "affix" cannot be defined phonologically or semantically, namely neither phonological littleness nor every semantic character is sufficient to condition being an affix. As for phonological conditions, we easily come up with a pair of an affix and a word which have the same phonological volume and, similarly, many languages have a pair of an affix and a word which have the (almost) same meaning.
Consequently, I temporarily define the class "Affix" as follows,

(1) A tentative definition of "Affix"
A set of morphemes which can exist only in the local domain of other morphemes.

Affixes without affixations

According to the above definition, we can assume that there are affixes which do not undergo an affixation. Furthermore, they can be divided into two groups, a) bound morphemes which are externally merged directly in the local domain of other morphemes, and b) bound morphemes which are moved into the local domain of other morphemes at the stage of the narrow syntax.
In the latter case, the movement might be head movement. If so, we may get a story for explaining a relationship between head movement and affixation (see the previous article on head movement).

Affixes through affixations

In terms of affixations as morphological or phonological operations, we already have some important works. For instance, see Embick and Noyer (2001) on an affixation as a morphological operation or a phonological (post-morphological) operation and Embick(2007) especially on some sorts of phonological one.

What kinds of local domains do relate?

Embick and Noyer (2001) also defines two types of local domains which must be valuable to analyze affixes in the field of formal morphosyntactic theory: "M-Word" and "S-Word", which were considered for more detail in Embick (2007).


There are possible sorts of affixes as follows.

(2)Affixes (, which must be in the local domain of other morphemes.)
a. not undergo affixations
--1. externally merged
--2. head-moved
b. undergo affixations
--1. by a morphological operation: morphological merger
--2. by a phonological (post-morphological) operation: local dislocation

Moreover, the local dislocation have some subclassifications. See Embick (2007).


  • Embick, David and Rolf Noyer(2001) “Movement operations after syntax,” Linguistic Inquiry 32: 555-595.

  • Embick, David (To appear) “ Linearization and Local Dislocation: Derivational mechanics and interactions,” Linguistic Analysis.

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