Linguistics: An Introduction

By William B. McGregor



3.2 — Two other types of affix

In §3.3 we identified three types of affix: prefixes, suffixes and infixes. There are other types as well, two of which we mention here.

  1. Circumfixes. As the name suggests, these go around the root or stem. An example is the morpheme that goes into the Warrwa (Nyulnyulan, Australia) verb to indicate that the action is done to the person themself or among themselves (if there is more than one) — i.e. a morpheme that indicates reflexive (as in I hit myself) or reciprocal (as in We hit one another) meaning. The morpheme is made up of one part ma- (alternating with mu- — can you suggest a conditioning factor?) that goes before the verb root, and a second part -nyji that follows the root. This is illustrated by the following examples:

    Verb form Gloss
    ngi-rr-ma-ng-ka-nyji-na ‘they were fighting together’
    ngi-rr-ma-yama-nyji-ny-bili ‘they two argued together’
    ngi-rr-ma-wara-nyji-na ‘they followed each other around’
    i-mu-kudali-nyji-ny ‘he hid himself’
    nga-ma-yala-nyji-ny ‘I saw myself’
    ngi-rr-ma-yala-nyji-na ‘they were looking at one another’ or ‘they were each looking at themselves’

    The two parts of the circumfix ma- ... -nyji are virtually always both present, and meaning is associated with the pair together, rather than to each separately. It is the pair as a unit that is the sign, the morpheme.

  2. Suprafixes or tonemes. These go 'above' the word (like prosodies or suprasegmentals in phonetics and phonology). Look at the following verb forms in Kanuri (Nilo-Saharan, Nigeria), where the   ̂ diacritc indicates falling tone, the   ́ high tone.

    ‘does X and ...’ ‘is to do X’ Meaning of X
    lezə̂ lezə́ ‘go’
    tussə̂ tussə́ ‘rest’
    kərazə̂ kərazə́ ‘study’

    Here the form of the morpheme meaning ‘does X and ...’ is falling tone on the final vowel, while the form of the morpheme meaning ‘is to do X’ is high tone on the final vowel. Tonemes are found in a number of African languages; whereas case morphemes in languages like Latin (see textbook) are suffixes, in Terik (Nilo-Saharan, Kenya) they are suprafixes.

Updated: Feb. 11, 2009