v3: osynlighet

Time to finish discussing adjective morphology. As a commenter pointed out, as well as underbar (wonderful), Swedish also has underlig (strange). But in case you might start thinking you discern some difference between the -lig and -bar endings, think again! Swedish has two similar words for edible: ätlig and ätbar, and three similar words for visible: synlig, synbar, and synbarlig. All those words are in SAOL, but some of my colleagues don’t think synbar is a “real” word. And interestingly, when it comes to opposites, SAOL lists only oätlig and osynlig.

I did say morphology was fun, and it’s also a useful way of packing a lot of meaning into a small space, but sometimes there’s a tendency to get a little carried away with it. For instance, on a crime show I was recently watching, one of the detectives was talking about the directionality of a line of blood drops, where the word direction would have done just as well. From a morphological standpoint, the noun directionality is formed from the noun direction, plus the suffix -al to turn it into an adjective, plus the suffix -ity to turn it back into a noun again. Sometimes suffixes do carry specific meanings (consider employer versus employee), but sometimes, as here, I can’t see that they do: the suffix -ality, in particular, often seems to serve the sole purpose of increasing the length of a word.

To illustrate the ability of morphemes to carry specific meaning, consider osynlighet (invisibility). Without all those little morphemes, one would have to say something like “the property of not being able to be seen”, which is verging on the unreadable. Note also that the order of the morphemes is identical in Swedish and English.

Next week, time to tackle verbs again.

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Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 21:08  Leave a Comment  
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