Original Paper


, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 239-266

Prefix combinations in English: structural and processing factors

  • Linda ZirkelAffiliated withEnglish Linguistics, Fachbereich 3, Universität Siegen Email author 

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Recent studies, such as Hay and Plag (2004) and Plag and Baayen (2009), provide evidence that suffix combinations in English are constrained by structural and processing factors. Two suffixes can only combine if their grammatical and semantic characteristics allow them to do so, and if the resulting combination is well processable. The present paper tests whether the same factors can account for the combinability of prefixes through an investigation of the combinatorial properties of 15 English prefixes. It is shown that prefixes are less heavily constrained by selectional restrictions than suffixes and that structural factors alone cannot explain the distribution of attested versus unattested prefix combinations. The paper provides evidence that prefix combinations are constrained by processing factors. Prefixes can be ordered in a hierarchy and this hierarchy is organised in approximate order of increasing productivity.


Complexity-Based Ordering Selectional restrictions Affix combinations Prefix Morphological processing