Evidence for the Suffixing Preference

Colloquium | March 18 | 3:10-5 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall

 Matthew S. Dryer, Professor of Linguistics, University at Buffalo

 Department of Linguistics

It might be thought that there already exists overwhelming evidence for a preference for suffixes over prefixes. However, strictly speaking, most of the available evidence is evidence for an orthographic suffixing preference, i.e. a preference for suffixes over prefixes in the orthographic representations of words in grammatical descriptions. Haspelmath (2011), however, questions how reliable such orthographic representation are and therefore questions whether there is good evidence for a suffixing preference. In this paper, I provide evidence for a suffixing preference by examining the phonological properties of two types of affixes, tense-aspect affixes on verbs and pronominal possessive affixes on nouns, examining the former in 827 languages and the latter in 553 languages. It has been suggested that pronominal possessive affixes do not exhibit a suffixing preference. However, I provide evidence that under one interpretation of the suffixing preference, pronominal possessive affixes do indeed exhibit a suffixing preference.