English Affixes

Pinker gives on pages 128–129 gives 28 of what he terms "the most common" English derivational suffixes. In the discussion that follows he makes clear that some of these are "stem" affixes and some are "root" affixes, and gives criteria that distinguish the two types.

He could also have listed common English derivational prefixes; here is a list of 28: a-, all-, anti-, be-, bio-, circum-, co-, counter-, de-, dis- (dys-), en-, ex-, extra-, for(e)-, franco-, in-, inter-, mal-, mid-, non-, over-, philo-, phono-, pre-, re-, sub-, super-, un-.

Your task:

  1. Sign up for one prefix and one suffix on the sign-up sheet that circulates in class.
  2. Gather a number of examples of words that contain each of your affixes--a dictionary can help with many of the prefixes; a tergum (a dictionary with reverse alphabetization) can help with the suffixes. (Even if you don't have access to a tergum, you should be able to think of suffix examples, and additional prefix examples beyond those in your dictionary.) As Pinker indicates, some affixes are "promiscuous," and attach almost indiscriminately to a given part of speech. If your affix is one of these, you can stop gathering after you get a dozen or two. If, on the other hand, your affix is of the rare sort, try to find as many as you can (but don't go beyond a dozen or so).
  3. Classify your examples according to type, remembering that homophony is more often the rule than the exception (note the two -ing's, the two -ize's, and the two un-'s in table 4.13 (page 129 of O'Grady). That is, although you signed up for just one prefix and one suffix, your prefix (or your suffix, or both) may turn out to have several "personalities." Describe each personality as if it were a separate prefix. Use a different subnumber (as in the table on page 129) for each personality.
  4. Determine whether each affix is a stem affix or a root affix (as Pinker describes the two types), and give reasons for your decision, paying attention to the characteristics Pinker gives for stem affixes, and the characteristics he gives for root affixes. Be sure to include information as to the effect the affix has on part-of-speech: does attaching the affix change the part of speech, and if so, how - - from what to what? Also, how does the affix change the meaning?
  5. Submit a brief report that includes your data and your conclusions for each personality of each affix.