LINGUIST List 4.888

Thu 28 Oct 1993

Disc: Infixes

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  1. , 4.873 Re: Origin of Infixes

Message 1: 4.873 Re: Origin of Infixes

Date: Wed, 27 Oct 93 07:27:35 HS4.873 Re: Origin of Infixes
From: <stampeuhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu>
Subject: 4.873 Re: Origin of Infixes

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 The Russel Ultan paper "Infixes and their origins" (In: Linguistic
Workshop, ed. Hansjakob Seiler, Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1975), cited by
Alexis Manaster-Ramer (LINGUIST 4.872), isn't available here, and I'm
having a hard time imagining how infixations can be entirely explained
as due to metathesis or reanalysis. Maybe someone can post a summary.

 The best-known examples of infixation don't involve metathesis or
reanalysis at all. In the common pattern of infixation in "Austric"
(Austroasiatic and Austronesian) languages, certain vc affixes go
before the first vowel of a word, i.e. they are prefixes of V-initial
words [vc[V...]] but infixes of C-initial words [C[vc]V...]. But not
all vc prefixes are infixed in CV forms. For example, in Sora, an
Austroasiatic (Munda) language of Orissa, India, verbs like id
`scratch' and pO (O=open-o) `pierce' form Ar-id (A=wedge) `scratching
tool' and p[Ar]O `piercing tool'. But beside Ar-id `scratch each
other' we have not *p{Ar]O but Ar-pO `pierce each other'. That is, Ar
`instrument' is infixed in consonant-initial words, but Ar `reciprocal'
is just prefixed.

 Even if all vc prefixes were infixed in CV forms it is difficult to
see how to relate this to metathesis, which is normally understood as a
reversal of phonological segments. But there is no evidence that
unprefixed forms of the shape V1C1C2V2... ever became C2V1C1V2... in
either Austroasiatic or Austronesian. Even if they had, it would not
have been a reversal of segments, but of a syllable and a segment.

 In our article "Rhythm and the holistic organization of language
structure" (In: Parasession on the Interplay of Phonology, Morphology,
and Syntax, ed. John Richardson et al., Chicago: Chicago Linguistic
Society, 1983), Patricia Donegan and I briefly mentioned infixation as
a characteristic of proto-Austroasiatic (the ancestor of Munda and
Mon-Khmer), and suggested that its purpose was to avoid [vc[CV...]]
structures which, by forming a closed syllable, would attract accent
to the affix from its canonic and iconic position on the lexical root
CV.... This explains why cv-prefixes are NOT infixed: they don't
close a syllable and attract the accent: [cv[CV...].

 [We did not explain why some vc-prefixes are not infixed, but I'll
give that a try. Our theory implies that a vc-prefix whose meaning is
such that it OUGHT to be accented should not be infixed. In Sora the
vc-prefixes that are infixed are those that nominalize verbs: p[Ar]O
`piercing tool', p[An]O `a puncture'. In themselves they contribute
no meaning. The ones that are not infixed, however, do contribute
meaning -- Ar-pO `pierce each other', Ad-pO `not pierce' -- and it is
therefore fitting that they should attract the accent, much as the
syntactic complement of a verb can attract the accent. In fact, the
negative prefix Ad-, when it is prefixed to a vowel-initial verb, is
unique in taking the form Adn- (e.g. Adn-id `not scratch'), as if to
force a syllable closure and keep the accent, which in Sora goes on
the syllable bearing the second mora in the word.]

 This account is based on the well known association of accent with
lexical as opposed to merely grammatical content. The mechanism is
phonological, or more precisely prosodic. It's hard to see why
infixations like these, which are quite typical of Austroasiatic and
Austronesian, require any appeal either to metathesis or reanalysis.

 (The following material may not be suitable for children.)

 In his article "Where you can shove infixes", the infamous Quang Phuc
Dong, writing under the pen name James D. McCawley (In: Syllables and
Segments, ed. Alan Bell & Joan Bybee Hooper, Amsterdam: North-Holland,
1978), noted that -fuckin'- and other infixable epithets optimally go
between a light and a heavy beat, as in fa3nta1stic (where 1=primary
accent, 2=secondary accent, etc.): fa2n-fu3ckin-ta1stic. Now, this is
just the same rhythmic pattern as in Adjective Noun constructions like
du2mb yo1kel. Epithets are "infixed" even here: du2mb fu3ckin yo1kel.
Like non-lexical elements such as clitics and affixes, epithets are
backgrounded by being placed, as Wackernagel put it, in the accentual
shadow of lexical elements. There is already a place in a 2 1 beat
pattern for a minimally (3) accented element, namely on the 3-rest that
comes between them, exactly as in common time music (1 3 2 3 1). If
infixing epithets in phrases is natural, for accentual reasons, then it
is a natural extension to infix them also in words that have multiple
beats. After all, because of the association of accent with lexical
meaning, we often treat such words as compound: alcoholic (workaholic),
hamburger (veggieburger), helicopter (helipad, jetcopter), and so on
for hundreds of examples.

 (The following material may not be suitable for grownups.)

 I suppose there are other kinds of infixation which can't be explained
as a way of keeping meaningless elements away from the accent. Dwight
Bolinger knew more accent and meaning than anyone, and if Dwight didn't
write about it, then maybe we are barking up the wrong tree trying to
explain infixation this way. But there is another supporting argument,
based on a peculiar but nearly universal variety of infixation. If
meaning is associated with accent, then the best way to obscure our
meaning ought to be to remove the accent from meaningful to meaningless
elements. This is how kids use infixing in "secret languages", in
which the accent is displaced by infixing a meaningless but ACCENTED
element before each vowel, sOBo nOBobOBodOBy cOBan OBundOBerstOBand
thOBem OBat OBall.

David Stampe
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