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Prefixation (Nouns and Adjectives) in Romance Languages  

Claudio Iacobini

Romance nominal and adjectival prefixes are derivational affixes that are added before lexemes without determining a change in the part of speech of the lexeme with which they combine. The combination between prefixes and lexemes is mostly based on a semantic principle. Prefixes express functional-relational meanings, acting as modifiers of the base lexeme. The most important semantic categories expressed through nominal and adjectival prefixation are localization (within which we include spatial and temporal meanings, as well as hierarchy), negation, evaluation (i.e., augmentation and diminution in quantity and/or quality), multiplicity, union, reciprocity, and reflexivity. The prefixed lexeme is generally a hyponym of the base lexeme; when a prefixed lexeme is a noun, it inherits its gender from the noun base. Romance prefixes do not play any role in inflection. Nominal and adjectival prefixes do not differ much both from the formal and the semantic point of view in the early 21st-century standard Romance languages (i.e., those that have become the national official languages and developed a high degree of Ausbau). Such homogeneity is only marginally due to the conservation of features stemming from the legacy of a common Latin origin. It is mainly attributable to a re-Latinization of Romance languages through the scholarly transmission of words belonging to the domains of learned academic vocabulary coming from ancient Greek, as well as Classical, Humanistic, and Neo-Latin. The importance and the far-reaching consequences of this homogenizing re-Latinization are shown, on one hand, by the fact that Romance nominal and adjectival prefixation in standard Romance languages is, in the 21st century, more consistent and developed than it was at previous stages and, on the other hand, by the significant differences existing between standard and nonstandard Romance varieties. Standard Romance languages of the early 21st century are characterized by a quite rich inventory of Romance nominal and adjectival prefixes, whereas in nonstandard varieties native nominal and adjectival prefixes are not numerous and almost unproductive, a situation that roughly corresponds to that of the initial phase of Romance languages as a whole. Nominal and adjectival prefixation is a productive process in standard Romance languages; in the last centuries, both the number of elements and the semantic domains have increased, after a significant decrease undergone in the passage from Latin to Romance languages. Prefixed nouns and adjectives are numerous and frequently used both in current common vocabulary and, even more, in specialized terminologies. The spread of neoclassical compounding in common vocabulary (especially from the second half of the 20th century) has increased the number of right-headed words whose first element has a modifier function. Such a semantic relationship between the constituents of complex words shared by prefixation and some neoclassical compounds has both favored the diffusion of nominal and adjectival prefixation and determined a fuzzy zone between traditional prefixation and the new complex formations coming from technical and scientific terminology. Another blurred area between compounding and prefixation is due to the uncertain boundaries between nominal compounds with prepositions and nominal prefixation.