Latin suffixes and phonological changes in English adjectives

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

21 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Historical background
2.1 Stress movement

3 Lexical strata
3.1 Stratum ordering
3.2 Neutral lexical strata
3.3 Non-neutral lexical strata

4 Latin suffixes
4.1 Distinction between –able and –ible
4.2 Neutral Latin adjectives
4.3 Non-neutral Latin adjectives

5 Conclusion

6 List of references
a) Secondary literature
b) Internet sources

7 Attachments

1 Introduction

At times, many native speakers of the English language come to a point at which they are not sure how to form a word composed out of a verb and a suffix. They struggle when it comes to putting the stress correctly or deciding whether a vowel stays the same or whether it is shortened or lengthened.

This term paper deals with Latin suffixes attached to Latin-based words and the phonological changes that go along with them.

For this matter, the historical background of phonological changes will be given. This also includes how Latin suffixes found their way into the English language. In addition, a distinction between different kinds, i.e. different origins, of vocabulary will be given. When talking about stress and its movement as well as suffixes that cause them, lexical strata cannot be left out of consideration. Therefore, I will give an overview over how strata work and what has to be paid attention to when using them.

The model of lexical strata is of great importance when the theory of Latin suffixes is focused on. The various aspects of lexical strata will be explained. Resulting from that, this paper will deal with where the differences between neutral and non-neutral suffixes lie and how they can be distinguished and categorized.

Furthermore and as the main point of this paper, Latin suffixes will be focused on. This includes how suffixes affect the verb they are attached to and which suffix is attached to which form of the verb. Is there a rule for this all or is it rather arbitrary? Do all the verbs and their suffixes have to be stored in the mental lexicon? Do people who know the Latin language have an “advantage” over those learning the suffixes by heart? Why is it that native speakers struggle and, more often than not, choose the “easiest” way to form words composed out of a verb and a Latin suffix?

These are questions that this paper will attempt to answer and clarify. The paper will also try to set a new approach to explaining a regularity and constancy in forming adjectives that derive from Latin verbs.

2 Historical background

The historical background is of crucial importance when it comes to looking at how Latin suffixes found their way into the English language. Therefore, I will point out the two most essential linguistic changes in the following sections. The first one will be the shifting of the vowels that occurred from the early 13th century onwards, and the second one will be the movement of stress that goes along with the introduction of Latin suffixes.

In order to understand how Latin suffixes came to be in the English language in the first place, one needs to look at the history.

One could be tempted to think that, after Battle of Hastings and the Conquest of England in 1066, French, being a Romanic language, became the primary language. But it did not. English stayed the first language. Even though French was spoken by the conquerors and then by the Normans, who followed them to England, there is no evidence that the British people adopted their language at all (Emerson 38). Yet, whenever two people have contact of whatever kind with each other, it is unavoidable that parts of one language swap over to the other one and vice versa. Hence, the English did not entirely adopt the French language as their own but they “borrowed” (more on “borrowed elements” below) parts of French which is a Romanic language so they borrowed from Latin, as well.

Latin, for that matter, predominated in England, as in many other European countries as the high language spoken in religion, administrative matters, law, education, literature and others at that time. English developed from being a mostly spoken language in private situations to a publicly used one, taking over the aforementioned fields of public life. Hence, one has to assume that there must have been many bilingual speakers (English and Latin) who used either one of those languages according to the situation they were in and with whom they were dealing (Minkova 53f.). Thus, it was inevitable that Latin elements found their way into the English language. Another point is that due to the mingling of Germanic and Latin/French influences, there was a mixture of so-called “native” and “borrowed” vocabulary.

The “native” vocabulary stock was brought to England by the Teutonic forefathers. The second stock which is of far more importance to the topic of my paper contains the “borrowed” elements. Those are words that the English have taken from various languages they came into contact with. Moreover, those are considered borrowed that were formed on grounds of the principles of this particular language (Emerson 79f.). Native and borrowed words are at times rather hard to tell apart.

The borrowed elements, on the other hand, are anglicizations. This means that they have been modified, adopted and conformed to fit the English sound and inflectional system (Emerson 90). There are a lot of different ways to compose borrowed elements to English words. Those so-called hybrids (Emerson 114) can consist of either a series of native words or of native affixes. Many of the everyday-used English words derive from Latin or Greek terminology which was mostly used in scientific and technical context. With the invasion of the French, whose language was and still is highly related to Latin, Latin-derived words found their way into the English vocabulary. Later on, in the section “Lexical strata”, the focus will be on composed elements borrowed from the Latin origin.

2.1 Stress movement

The Germanic logic behind the whole system of affixes was that they started at the beginning of words, not at their end. So when counting the syllables, their affixes did not influence the stress or the intonation of words because they simply did not fall into account. The Germanic root of the language guaranteed the predictability of the stress in connection to the stem. The stem is the part to which the affixes are attached.

It is a different case when it comes to Latin or Greek-based suffixes. French loan words or derivations also affect this rule with French being a Romanic language as I explained in the section on the historical background (cf. Lieber 48).

There are only about 30 out of 200 suffixes in the English language that can be counted as strong. Strong, or non-neutral, affixes have the property to move the stress of a word, reduce or shift its vowels or even do both (Fournier 228). There will be more on the model of lexical strata in section 3.

In terms of Latin suffixes, speakers of English have to learn both partial generalizations and how to apply them and how and where to stress the word when the affix is non-neutral, i.e. when the speaker cannot predict where to stress the word (Delahunty 1).

There are several kinds of stress movement. One can be seen in the differentiation between nouns and adjectives on the one hand and verbs on the other hand. In this case of pairs or even triplets of words, nouns and adjectives are stressed on their penultimate syllables while the verb is stressed on its ultimate syllable which is briefly shown in the following chart (Delahunty 3):

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Another kind of stress movement that does not have anything to do with whether a word is a noun or an adjective has to do with suffixes. Depending on which suffix is attached to a word it can either alter the stress in a word or leave it where it was before the suffix was attached. It will be shown that it does not necessarily have to do with strong or weak suffixes. This means that not all the suffixes can be labeled as exclusively strong or exclusively weak. In the example of immúne/immúnity and prodúctive/productívity it becomes clear that the suffix –ity cannot be added to either of the strata classes (as they are referred to by Carstairs-McCarthy in his book Current Morphology). Or the affix has to be counted to both classes. While –ity is attached to the adjective immune, becoming immunity, it does not chance the stress of the base. If you take productive and productivity the stress changes when the affix is attached to the base.

3 Lexical strata

The model of lexical strata (stratum (Lat.) = level, layer) says that it is not so much the morpheme rather than the word that is crucial to the morphological analysis (Katamba Stonham 89, Hammond 287). The formation of the morphological structure of a word is essential and responsible for the pronunciation of a word. Each stratum comes with a pre-determined set of morphological rules which again go along with a set of distinct phonological rules. The phonological rules indicate how the structure that is built up by the morphology is to be pronounced (Katamba Stonham 92). The rules accountable for this are stored in the mental lexicon, where they are organized as hierarchically structured blocks called strata. The first part of this chapter will focus on how the model of lexical strata work.

After that, I will discuss the distinction between weak, or neutral, strata and the aforementioned strong, or non-neutral, strata. Since there is more than one theory on how lexical strata work and how many strata there are to begin with, this paper will put its focus on the 2-strata theory. There are models that claim three or even four strata to be existent.

Two classes of affixes behave in a very distinct phonological way (Katamba Stonham 89). In the following discussion, each of those two categories of strata will be analyzed. Furthermore, this paper will examine if there might be problems or issues when it comes to categorizing each affix into one particular class.

3.1 Stratum ordering

The theory of strata in the field of morphology states that different classes of affixes are added to bases in such way that all the affixes belonging to one class or stratum have to be added before affixes belonging to the next class or stratum can be added to the same word. Hence, this so-called level ordering works because one level is arranged with respect to the other.

The following sections on neutral and non-neutral affixes, i.e. those that do not alter the stress of a word and those that do, will illustrate which how exactly layering works and which effects different affixes have when attached to bases.

3.2 Neutral lexical strata

The most important criterion when it comes to distinguishing non-neutral from neutral strata is stress (Carstairs-McCarthy 61). Neutral, or class II, affixes which will be dealt with in this section have the property of not changing the stress of a word when they are attached. So attaching an affix to a word does not affect the way the word will be pronounced. The stress stays the same to where the word was stressed before the affix was placed. Prominent examples of neutral lexical strata are the following suffixes1:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

These examples show that neutral lexical strata do not have any effect on where the stress is put on a word. Moreover, a word like friend-li-ness demonstrates that and how affixes belonging to class II have the property of having to be arranged in a particular order to form a grammatically correct word. It would, for example, not be grammatical to put * home-ness-less rather than home-less-ness. Class II affixes like the ones above are mostly of Germanic origin whereas class I affixes which will be topic of the next section are of Latinate or Greek descent (Katamba Stonham 92).

3.3 Non-neutral lexical strata

The second, far more complex group of suffixes is called non-neutral. In contrast to neutral suffixes, whose name derives from the fact that the affixes do not affect the original phonological structure of the word they are attached to, the non-neutral affixes do have this quality.

Non-neutral affixes affect words they are attached to in a number of ways. That does not mean that these modifications have to take place all at once, though. For example, consonants or vowel segments can be affected just as much as the location of stress (Katamba Stonham 89). Since there is more than one non-neutral lexical affix, the effects described can apply in various ways and combinations. In the following section, the most common suffixes will be analyzed and it will be shown in what ways they take effect on the word they are appended to.

The first suffix that shall be analyzed is –itan. It is a suffix that even combines a couple of characteristics that make it non-neutral. It causes a change of the stress location in a word. If we take the word metropolis [məˈtrɒpələs] for instance, and attach the suffix –itan it becomes [mətrəˈpɒlətən]. That means that the last syllable of the original word is cut off and the suffix replaces it.

Another similar sounding, yet entirely different suffix is –ian. Like –itan, -ian has numerous, yet different, effects on words. For one thing, vowels can be diphthongized, while others get shortened. This can be seen in the change from Arab [ˈærəb] to Arabian [əˈreɪbɪən]. The [æ] is shortened to an unstressed schwa [ə] and the former schwa [ə] in the second position gets both diphthongized and stressed. The stress change would be the second change that sets in when –ian is attached. A diphthongization does not always have to take place, though. Taking the pair Mendel – Mendelian into consideration, it becomes clear that Mendel [ˈmendəl] or even [ˈmendl], missing the schwa, turns into [menˈdiːlɪən]. The former schwa does not become diphthongized in this case but “only” lengthened. In the word magician, deriving from magic, it is quite another case. While magic [ˈmæʤɪk] leads with a low front vowel [æ] and ends with a voiceless velar plosive [k], the derived word magician [məˈʤɪʃən] not only changes its front vowel into an unstressed one but also changes its final consonant from the velar plosive into a post-alveolar fricative [ʃ]. Only a small change in stress movement is found in Shakespearean [ʃeɪkˈspɪrɪən], deriving from Shakespeare [ˈʃeɪkspɪr].

All the examples have very many different characteristics when it comes to vowel and consonant shifts and alterations. There is one thing they have in common, though. Since the suffix –ian is pre-accenting the stress moves automatically to the syllable before –ian.


1 Henceforth, the stressed vowel will be printed both bold and accentuated to indicate if the stress moves or not.

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Latin suffixes and phonological changes in English adjectives
University of Cologne
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ISBN (Book)
latin, english
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Benjamin Halking (Author), 2014, Latin suffixes and phonological changes in English adjectives, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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