This question inspired me to finally ask a question that has been bothering me for years: how does one distinguish clitics and/or particles from affixes, especially when those clitics are phonologically enclitics, like Latin -que or arguably the Japanese case markers ?
My question is especially important when one looks at agglutinative languages, where affixes are often added with little to no phonological change to the root or affix. How can one decide whether those affixes are really true affixes or clitics in such languages? Since affixes belong to the morphology of a language, while clitics typically are described as part of the syntax of that language, it's an important distinction to make.
Let me give you an example of why I find this question both extremely interesting and yet difficult to solve: the Basque language is an agglutinative language with a rich declension system (see an example here). The behaviour of those declensions is AFAIK best explained if they are considered affixes, as a typical declension features instances of:
- Suppletion (the definite absolutive plural is an unanalysable -ak);
- Conditional epenthesis and elision: the dative -i and the cases starting with -e- both take an epenthetic -r- when added after a vowel, including the singular article -a, but not after the plural article -e. Moreover, the plural article actually disappears before the case suffixes in -e-, so that the only distinction between the indefinite and the plural is the presence or absence of the epenthetic -r-;
- Other weird behaviours: the local cases are a weird bunch. Unlike the other cases, adding them to the stem directly doesn't form the indefinite but the singular (except the inessive -n which does take the singular article). To form the indefinite, one has to add -ta- between the stem and the ending. And even more strangely, this -ta- element must also appear between the plural article and the local case ending!
Yet the Basque affixes do also behave in ways we expect more of clitics or separate postpositions:
- They only appear on the last element of a noun phrase, or on the last element of a series of coordinated noun phrases. E.g.: aita altu eta haur txikiarekin: with the tall father and the small child (where -a: "the" and -(r)ekin: "with" appearing only on txiki: "small")
- They can be stacked on top of each other, a phenomenon called "surdéclinaison" in French. E.g.: Ponetarekilakoarekin: poneta-a-(r)ekila-ko-a-(r)ekin: beret-ART-COM-GEN.LOC-ART-COM: "with the one who is wearing the beret"
I hope that with this example it's now clear why I'm asking this question. I find the distinction between clitics/particles and affixes nebulous at best, and would love to get some clarification. Thanks in advance for your insights!