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The Valency of Affixes and Stems

The Valency of Affixes and Stems

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Published by Nicole Palada

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Published by: Nicole Palada on Mar 07, 2010
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Another essential feature of affixes that should not be overlooked is their combining power or valenсу and the derivational patterns in which they regularly occur.We have already seen that not all combinations of existing morphemes are actually used. Thus,
unhappy, untrue
are quite regular combinations, while seemingly analogous
*unsad,*UN-FALSE, *unpretty
do not exist. The possibility of a particular stem taking a particular affixdepends on phono-morphological, morphological and semantic factors. The suffix
for instance, occurs only after 
b, t, d, dz, v, l, r, m, n
disturbance, insistence, independence,
 but not after 
condensation, organisation.
These are allomorphs. See § 5.7.
It is of course impossible to describe the whole system. To make our point clear we shall take adjective-forming suffixes as an example. They are mostly attached to noun stems. They are:
~ed (barbed), -en(golden), -ful (careful), -less (careless), -ly (soldierly), -like (childlike), -y (hearty)
and some others. Thehighly productive suffix
can be combined with noun stems and verbal stems alike
It is especially frequent in the pattern
verbal stem +
-able (unbearable).
Sometimes it iseven attached to phrases in which composition and affixation are simultaneous producing compound-derivatives
(unbrushoffable, ungetatable).
These characteristics are of great importance both structurallyand semantically.Their structural significance is clear if we realise that to describe the system of a given vocabularyone must know the typical patterns on which its words are coined. To achieve this it is necessary not onlyto know the morphemes of which they consist but also to reveal their recurrent regular combinations andthe relationship existing between them. This approach ensures a rigorously linguistic basis for theidentification of lexico-grammatical classes within each part of speech. In the English language theseclasses are little studied so far, although an inquiry into this problem seems very promising.
It is also worthy of note that from the information theory viewpoint the fact that not every affix iscapable of combining with any given stem makes the code more reliable, protects it from noise,
mistakes, and misunderstanding.The valency of stems is not therefore unlimited. Noun stems can be followed by the noun-formingsuffixes:
-age (bondage), -dom (serfdom), -eer/-ier (profiteer, collier), -ess (waitress), -ful (spoonful), -hood (childhood), -ian (physician), -ics (linguistics), -iel-y (daddy), -ing (flooring), -ism (heroism), -ist (violinist),-let (cloudlet), -ship (friendship)-,
 by the adjective-forming suffixes:
-al/-ial (doctoral), -an (African), -ary(revolutionary), -ed (wooded), -ful (hopeful), -ic/-ical (historic, historical), -ish (childish), -like(businesslike), -ly (friendly), -ous/-ious/-eous (spacious), -some (handsome), -y (cloudy)’,
verb-forming suffixes:
-ate (aerate), -en (hearten), -fy/-ify (speechify), -ise (sympathise).
Verbal stems are almost equal to noun stems in valency. They combine with the following noun-formingsuffixes:
-age (breakage), -al (betrayal), -ance/-ence (guidance, reference), -ant/-ent (assistant, student),-ee (employee), -er/-or (painter, editor), -ing (uprising), -ion/-tion/-ation (action, information), -ment (government).
The adjective-forming suffixes used with verbal stems are:
-able/-ible (agreeable,comprehensible), -ive/-sive/-tive (talkative), -some (meddlesome).
Adjective stems furnish a shorter list:
-dom (freedom), -ism (realism), -ity/-ty (reality, cruelty), -ness(brightness), -ish (reddish), -ly (firmly), •ate (differentiate), -en (sharpen), -fy/-ify (solidify).
See the works by I.V. Arnold, T.M. Belyaeva, S.S. Khidekel, E.S. Koobryakova, O.D. Meshkov, I.K. Arhipov andothers.
 Noise as a term of the theory of information is used to denote any kind of interference with the process of communication.
The combining possibilities (or valency) are very important semantically because the meaning of thederivative depends not only on the morphemes of which it is composed but also on combinations of stems and affixes that can be contrasted with it. Contrast is to be looked for in the use of the samemorpheme in different environment and also in the use of different morphemes in environmentsotherwise the same.The difference between the suffixes
for instance, will become clear if we compare themas combined with identical stems in the following oppositions:
: :
 formalism : : humanity : :humanism; reality
: :
Roughly, the words in
mean the quality of being what the
corresponding adjective describes, or an instance of this quality. The resulting nouns are countable. Thesuffix
forms nouns naming a disposition to what the adjective describes, or a corresponding type of ideology. Being uncountable they belong to a different lexico-grammatical class.The similarity on which an opposition is based may consist, for the material under consideration in the present paragraph, in the sameness of suffix. A description of suffixes according to the stem with whichthey are combined and the lexico-grammatical classes they serve to differentiate may be helpful in theanalysis of the meanings they are used to render.A good example is furnished by the suffix
as a suffix of adjectives. The combining possibilitiesof the suffix
are vast but not unlimited.
are used, whereas
are not. The constraints here are of semantic nature. It is regularly present in the names of nationalities, asfor example:
 British, Irish, Spanish.
When added to noun stems, it forms adjectives of the type ‘havingthe nature of with a moderately derogatory colouring:
bookish, churlish, monkeyish, sheepish, swinish.Childish has
a derogatory twist of meaning, the adjective with a good sense is
A man may besaid to behave with
a childish petulance,
 but with
a childlike simplicity.
Compare also
‘havingthe qualities befitting a woman’, as in
womanly compassion, womanly grace, womanly tact,
with thederogatory
‘effeminate’, as in:
womanish fears, traitors to love and duty
(Coleridge).With adjective stems the meaning is not derogatory, the adjective renders a moderate degree of thequality named:
‘somewhat green’,
‘somewhat stiff,
‘somewhat thin’. The modelis especially frequent with colours:
blackish, brownish, reddish. A
similar but stylistically peculiar meaning is observed in combinations with numeral stems:
eightyish, fortyish
and the like are equivalentto ‘round about eighty’, ‘round about forty’. E. g.: “
What’s she like, Min
Sixtyish. Stout. Grey hair.Tweeds. Red face.”
(McCrone)In colloquial speech the suffix
is added to words denoting the time of the day:
or more often
means ‘round about four o'clock’. E. g.:
 Robert and I went to a cocktail party at  Annette’s. (It was called “drinks at six thirty'ish”
the word “cocktail” was going out.)
(W. Cooper).
But not all nationalities. E. g.
 Russian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese.
The study of correlations of derivatives and stems is also helpful in bringing into relief the meaningof the affix. The lexico-grammatical meaning of the suffix
that forms nouns of quality fromadjective stems becomes clear from the study of correlations of the derivative and the underlying stem. Afew examples picked up at random will be sufficient proof:
: :
 goodness; kind : : kindness;lonely : : loneliness; ready : : readiness; righteous : : righteousness; slow : : slowness.
The suffixes
(and its allomorphs
are noun-forming suffixes combinedwith verbal stems. The opposition between them serves to distinguish between two subclasses of nouns:abstract nouns and agent nouns, e. g.
accumulation : : accumulator; action : : actor;election : : elector; liberation
: :
liberator; oppression : : oppressor; vibration : : vibrator,
etc. Theabstract noun in this case may mean action, state or result of action remaining within the same subclass.Thus,
denotes the process of cultivating (most often of cultivating the soil) and the state of  being cultivated. Things may be somewhat different with the suffix
a cultivator 
is ‘a personwho cultivates
and ‘a machine for breaking up ground, loosening the earth round growing plants anddestroying weeds’. Thus two different subclasses are involved: one of animate beings, the other of inanimate things. They differ not only semantically but grammatically too; there exists a regulaopposition between animate and inanimate nouns in English: the first group is substituted
by he
and the second by the pronoun
In derivation this opposition of animate personal nouns to all other nouns is in some cases sustained by such suffixes as
-ard/-art (braggart), -ist (novelist)
and a few others, but most often neutralised. The term neutralisation may be defined as a temporarysuspension of an otherwise functioning opposition. Neutralisation, as in the word
is alsoobserved with such suffixes as
-ant, -er 
that also occur in agent nouns, both animate and inanimate. Cf.
‘a person who keeps accounts’ and
‘a cooling substance’;
‘mechanic who fits upall kinds of metalwork’ and
(in photography) ‘a device regulating the exposure to light of a plateof film’;
‘a messenger’ and ‘a blade of a skate’.Structural observations such as these show that an analysis of suffixes in the light of their valencyand the lexico-grammatical subclasses that they serve to differentiate may be useful in the analysis of their semantic properties. The notions of opposition, correlation and neutralisation introduced intolinguistics by N. Trubetzkoy prove relevant and helpful in morphological analysis as well.
The term word-building or derivational pattern is used to denote a meaningfulcombination of stems and affixes that occur regularly enough to indicate the part of speech, the lexico-semantic category and semantic peculiarities common to most words with this particular arrangement of morphemes.
Every type of word-building (affixation, composition, conversion, compositionalderivation, shortening, etc.) as well as every part of speech have a characteristic set of 
See also:
Ginzburg R.S. et 
A Course in Modern English Lexicology. P. 103.
 patterns. Some of these, especially those with the derivational suffix
have already been describedwithin this paragraph. It is also clear from the previous description that the grouping of patterns is possible according to the type of stem, according to the affix or starting with some semantic grouping.
The grouping of patterns, their description and study may be based on the same principle of explanatory transformations that we have used for componential analysis in Chapter 3 (see §3.6).Let us turn again to affixation and see how the dictionary defines words with the prefix
a —without an accent or stress
v — to remove the bolt of, to unlock 
n — lack of concern
v — to reverse the effect of doing
a — not failing, constantThese few examples show that the negative prefix
may be used in the following patterns:I.
+ an adjective stem
+Part. I stem
un- +
Part. II stem
with the meaning ‘not’, ‘without’,‘the opposite of'II.
un- +
verbal stem
— with the meaning of ‘to reverse the action asthe effect of...'III.
a verbal stem
which is derived from a noun stem — with thereversative meaning ‘to release from'IV.
un- +
a noun stem
shows the lack of the quality denotedThe examples for pattern I are:
uncertain, unfair, unbelievable, unconscious, unbalanced, unknown,unborn, unbecoming’,
for pattern II:
unbend, unbind, unpack, unwrap;
for pattern III:
unhook, unpack,unlock, unearth.
With noun stems (pattern IV)
is used very rarely. E. g.
‘people lacking the semblance of humanity’,
‘a public figure who has lost his influence’.These cases of semantic overlapping show that the meaning or rather the variety of meanings of eachderivational affix can be established only when we collect many cases of its use and then observe itsfunctioning within the structure of the word-building patterns deduced from the examples collected. Itwould be also wrong to say that there exists a definite meaning associated with this or that pattern, asthey are often polysemantic, and the affixes homonymous. This may be also seen from the followingexamples. A very productive pattern is
V = Vt. The meaning is ‘to do something faster, better,longer than somebody or something’. E. g.
outdo, out-grow, out-live, outnumber,
As for instance,
a numeral stem +
with ages has the meaning ‘approximately so many years old’:
 fiftyish, sixtyish, seventyish,
and has a colloquial connotation.
The number of possible combinations is practically unlimited. The spelling, whethehyphenated, solid or separate is in many cases optional. When formed not on verbs but on names of  persons it means ‘to surpass this person in something that is known as his special property’. Theclassical example is “
to out-Herod Herod”
(Shakespeare) ‘to outdo sb in cruelty’.
On the other hand, the same formal pattern
may occur with the locative
and producenouns, such as
The second element here is actually a deverbal noun of action.The above examples do not exhaust the possibilities of patterns with
as their first element.
may be used with verbal stems and their derivatives
with substantives
and adverbs
The more productive an affix is the more probable the existence alongside the usual pattern of somesemantic variation. Thus,
is freely added to verbal stems to form nouns meaning ‘One who is V-ed’,

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