F. Seifart (Seifart, 2015) says:

"a widespread assumption in the language contact literature is that affixes are never borrowed directly, but only indirectly, that is, as part of complex loanwords. From such complex loanwords, affixes may eventually spread to native stems, creating hybrid formations, in a process of language-internal analogical extension. Direct borrowing is the extraction of an affix based on knowledge of the donor language, without the mediation of complex loanwords within the recipient language".

But what could be the reason behind that widespread assumption?

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    I imagine it's not for any theoretical reason, but just because we observe that it very rarely happens in practice. Off the top of my head I can't think of any instances.
    – Draconis
    Oct 13, 2020 at 21:11
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    One example I can think of is the English suffix -ish, which is in the process of being borrowed into several of the Scandinavian languages with no particular word ending in -ish being the ‘mediator’. Granted, it’s not really being borrowed as a productive suffix, but as something more akin to a word, a kind of detached suffix marking an approximation as a sort of afterthought (as in, “We need to make it look like this… -ish”). You could argue that it’s a lexeme and not a suffix in that context, but I don’t think that would really be beneficial. Oct 14, 2020 at 12:13
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    Also German burschikos ‘laddy, boyish, student-like’, derived from Bursche ‘laddie, fella’ + Greek suffix -ικός (or adverbially -ικώς), which is not a suffix that exists elsewhere in the language at all, as far as I know. Oct 14, 2020 at 19:02
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    Something for you to think about 1. When do people usually borrow words from another language? 2. What lexical meaning do affixes usually have - compared to roots?
    – Alex B.
    Oct 14, 2020 at 20:53

1 Answer 1


A "wide-spread assumption" means there is no unique formal argument. Rather, following the observed rarity (potentially none), a rationalization has to be imagined.

First of all, it might be excedingly unlikely that a language with the need and opportunity to loan a suffix wouldn't also take the opportunity to loan whole words. Further, for the acceptance of the loan beyond bilinguals, a naturalized loan word would help to establish the phonotactics, and more importantly, the meaning. Coralary, speakers of the target language are unlikely to bracket and isolate the suffix correctly from sparse input. In successful loanwords, the suffix becomes reanalyzed and reinterpreted, respectively, often enough, in which case it's clear that neither the stem nor the suffix were really loaned independently. This implies that a suffix alone doesn't obviate it's meaning. If it would, it would probably become perceived of as a stem.

In the same sense, if the suffix is originally inflecting as it tends to be in synthetic languages, the whole inflection paradigm is even less likely to be borrowed due to its complexity (and the difference to endings is difficult to maintain in that sense). An uninflecting suffix would loose a lot of its functionality, which is offensive to the native speakers who are most likely to employ the words as lenders to begin with.

Vice versa, in analytic languages, isolated words would be more likely than suffixes (stems, as I said).

These are really just my own presumptions.

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