A disfix is a subtractive morpheme, that is, a morpheme which manifests itself through the subtraction of segments from a root or stem. Most frequently the subtracted element is the final segment of the stem, but other forms of disfixation exist. Disfixation can thus be seen as a kind of "anti-affix". An example comes from Murle, an Eastern Sudanic language of South Sudan, where the final consonant of a word may be removed to form the plural:
- /oɳiːt/ 'rib' ↔ /oɳiː/ 'ribs'.
Productive disfixation is extremely rare among the languages of the world, but is important in the Muskogean languages of the southeastern United States. Similar subtractive morphs in languages like French are marginal.
The terms "disfix" and "disfixation" were proposed by Hardy and Timothy Montler in a 1988 paper on the morphology of the Alabama language. The process had been previously described by Leonard Bloomfield who called it a minus feature, and Zellig Harris who called it a "minus morpheme". Other terms for the same or similar processes are subtraction, truncation, deletion, and minus formation.
Disfixes in Muskogean
- In most verbs, the last two segments are dropped from the penultimate syllable of the stem, which is the final syllable of the root. If the syllable has only two segments, it is elided altogether. For example:
- balaaka 'lies down', balka 'lie down'
- batatli 'hits', batli 'hits repeatedly'
- cokkalika 'enters', cokkaka 'enter'
- In some verbs, the final consonant of the penult is dropped, but the preceding vowel lengthens to compensate:
- salatli "slide", salaali 'slide repeatedly'
- noktiłifka "choke", noktiłiika 'choke repeatedly'
Bloomfield described the process of disfixation (which he called minus features) through an example from French, although most contemporary analyses find this example to be inadequate because the masculine forms might be taken as the base form and the feminine forms simply as suppletives. Though not productive like Muscogean and therefore not true disfixation, some French plurals are derived from the singular, and many masculine words from the feminine, by dropping the final consonant and making some generally predictable changes to the vowel:
The singular–plural forms are irregular in French, but nouns and adjectives ending in certain consonants in the feminine regularly drop that consonant in the masculine (apart from environments of liaison).
- Manova 2011:125-6
- Payne, Thomas (2006). Exploring language structure : a student's guide. Cambridge, UK New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 44, 45. ISBN 0-521-67150-7.
- Hardy & Montler, 1988, "Alabama H-infix and Disfixation", in Haas, ed., In Honor of Mary Haas: From the Haas Festival Conference On Native American Linguistics, p 399
- Bloomfield 1933:217
- Hardy & Montler 1988:391-2
- Speakers of French may learn these words by rote as suppletive pairs, rather than deriving one from the other morphologically. Without active morphology, there is arguably no affix involved (cf. Wolfgang U. Dressler, "Subtraction", in: Geert E. Booij, Christian Lehmann & Joachim Mugdan (eds.), Morphology, Berlin, New York: de Gruyter 2000, 581-587, p 582).
- Bloomfield, Leonard. 1933. Language. New York, NY: Holt [British edition 1935]: London: Allen and Unwin.
- George Aaron Broadwell. "Subtractive Morphology in Southern Muskogean", International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 59, No. 4, Muskogean Languages of the Southeast (Oct., 1993), pp. 416-429
- Heather Hardy and Timothy Montler, 1988. "Alabama H-infix and Disfixation", in William Shipley, ed., In Honor of Mary Haas: From the Haas Festival Conference on Native American Linguistics. Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-011165-9
- Stela Manova. Subtraction. Understanding Morphological Rules: Studies in Morphology Volume 1, 2011, pp 125-172