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Latin has some suffixes that turn nouns into adjectives. But there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to which suffixes get applied to which nouns. For example:

  • felis->felinus
  • canis->caninus

But

  • apis->apianus
  • avis->avianus

Does anyone know where this distinction comes from? Was there perhaps an ending in Old Latin that influenced the choice of suffix and then disappeared?

1 Answer 1

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I don't have a source for this at hand, but I would assume that the -anus suffix originated in a-stems: that is, the original suffix was -nus, but added to an a-stem it was -a-nus. This -anus would then have spread by analogy to nouns that aren't a-stems, too.

This is a common type of process; for a close parallel cf. the Greek feminine suffix -ssa, which originally arose by the addition of *-ya to t- and k-stems (e.g. *melit-ya > melissa "bee", *Phoinik-ya > Phoinissa "Phoenician woman"), but then became productive with all kinds of nouns (e.g. basilissa "queen").

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  • Sure. The -a stem verbs were all regular, for instance, and any borrowed or derived verbs (repetitives in -to, for instance -- cano/canto) all were regular first-conjugation verbs. For derived nouns, the -a/-us thematic declensions were also the model. That's the norm; in English reified irregular nouns or verbs become regular (Toronto Maple Leafs/*Leaves)
    – jlawler
    Aug 14, 2014 at 2:17
  • Can you be a bit more specific in this case? What would the old stems have been for apis and avis? Aug 14, 2014 at 4:16
  • @AnschelSchaffer-Cohen I'm not sure if your comment is addressed to me or jlawler, but if the former: it's not that apis and avis once had different stems, but that the suffix originated in a different stem class and then spread out from there.
    – TKR
    Aug 14, 2014 at 16:41
  • OK. But is there any good reason why it spread to some words and not others? There doesn't seem (to me) to be any phonological or semantic distinction at play. Aug 15, 2014 at 11:33
  • @AnschelSchaffer-Cohen I don't know; I haven't look at the data. These kind of analogical extensions tend not to be too predictable.
    – TKR
    Aug 15, 2014 at 18:57

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