Humpty Dumpty's got the right idea. An UN-birthday -- presents all 365 days of the year! He obviously is well aware that the prefix un- means "not," as further shown in the following pairs of words:
Webster's Third New International Dictionary lists about 2,700 adjectives beginning with un-. If we assume that the most basic unit of meaning is the word, then what do we say about parts of words like un-, which has a fixed meaning: un- means "not." So un + desirable = not desirable and un + likely = unlikely, and so on.
The smallest unit of meaning is a morpheme. It may be a word, like boy, desire, gentle, and man. Words are called free morphemes. Other morphemes - un-, -ish, -ly, dis-, and -ment - are never words by themselves but are always parts of words. These affixes are bound morphemes. We know whether each affix preceded or follows other morphemes. Thus, un- and pre- (as in premeditate, prejudge) are prefixes -- they occur before other morphemes. Morphemes such as -er (as in singer, performer, reader) and -ing (as in sleeping, running, climbing) are suffixes, following other morphemes.
Affixes - prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and circumfixes
Affixes are bound morphemes (meaning they can't stand alone like words can) that we add to free morphemes to create new words. Let's take a look now at the four kinds of affixes with examples from languages of the world.
Prefixes and Suffixes
Morphemes are the minimal units of meaning in all languages, and many languages have prefixes and suffixes. But languages may differ in how they deploy their morphemes. A morpheme that is a prefix in one language may be a suffix in another language.
For example, in English the plural morpheme -s is a suffix (e.g. boys, machines, papers.) In Isthmus Zapotec, spoken in Mexico, the plural morpheme ka- is a prefix:
Languages also differ in what meanings they express through affixation. In Karuk, an endangered language of Northwestern California, adding -ak to a noun forms the locative adverbial meaning "in":
In Russian, the suffix -shchik added to a noun is similar in meaning to the English suffix -er in words like reader, teenager, Londoner, racer, and first grader. The Russian suffix, however, is added to nouns only, as shown in these examples:
Some languages also have infixes, morphemes that are inserted into other morphemes. Bontoc Igorot, spoken in the Philippines, uses infixes, as illustrated by the following:
We have infixes in English, too, but they tend to be infixed full-word obscenities into another word, usually into adjectives or adverbs. The most common infix in America is the word fuckin' and all the euphemisms for it, such as friggin', freakin', flippin', and bloody (and its euphemism, bloomin', British), as in un + fuckin' + believable and fan + funckin' + tastic, I'm not o + fuckin' + kay (in the song, "I'm not Okay" by the group My Chemical Romance.)
Some languages have circumfixes, morphemes that are attached to a base morpheme both initially and finally. In Chickasaw, a Muskogean language spoken in Oklahoma, the negative is formed with both a prefix ik- and the suffix -o. The final vowel of the affirmative is dropped before the negative suffix is added. Examples of this circumfixing are:
Root Words (also called stems)
Complex words consist of a root
and one or more affixes. A root is a content morpheme that cannot be
analyzed into smaller parts. Seen another way, the root is what's left
when all prefixes and suffixes have been removed. Some examples are
paint in painter, read in reread, and ling in linguistic. A root may or
may not be a stand alone word (ling isn't). Root words can be combined
with prefixes and suffixes to create new words. In this basic
course, the words "root" and "stem" are used
interchangeably because, while not identical, they are linguistically
similar in meaning.
Ling 102/WI Introduction to the Study of
Language, University of Hawai'i - Leeward Community College
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