What on earth are affixes in morphology?

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Morphology can be described as the smallest information bearing unit of the human language. Words that are inflected can be divided into morphemes, e.g. -ed in talked is a morpheme that adds the meaning of a past tense into the verb talk-s in dogs pluralizes the noun and so on. These morphemes that are added to words are known as affixes. There are different kinds of affixes and in this post we are going to look at them more closely. 🤓

Prefix

Prefix is the kind of affix that is added in front of the word. In English, these affixes don’t have a grammatical meaning, such as plural or past tense, but they rather change the semantics of the word. Examples of common prefixes are: misbehave, unfortunately, postedit and so on.

Suffix

Suffixes are added to the end of words. In English, they can be grammatical like in talked and dogs as already mentioned before. Also they are used to derive new words from existing ones. For example the noun sleep can be turned into an adjective with a suffix, sleepless, and back to a noun again by adding one more suffix sleeplessness.

Infix

Sometimes, a word is altered from the middle of it. This is done by introducing an infix. In the case of the Finnish word jokin (something), we can add an infix -ssa- to it to make it mean “in something/somewhere”: jossakin.

Circumfix

Some morphemes aren’t only added to one particular position of the word, but rather they are split into two parts. Such is the morpheme to form the past participle in German ge…t, which surrounds the verb it’s attached to. To say is sagen in German, and said is gesagt. As you can see, the verb gets surrounded by the morpheme.

Suprafix

Suprafixes work on the phonetical level. Instead of adding more consonants or vowels to the word, they change how the word is pronounced. For example, by altering the stress, length or tone of a syllable. A clumsy example of English is the difference in pronunciation between the noun present and the verb present. A simple change of stress changes the part-of-speech.

Reduplication

In some languages, by repeating the word twice, you are expressing a grammatical difference. For example, in Malay, orang means human and orang orang humans in plural.

Conclusion

In this post, I have explained different kinds of affixes. Understanding them is the key to understanding the morphology of any given language. You might also be interested in how world languages are divided by their morphology. 😊

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