Internal Alpha Privative

A discussion of word histories and origins.
bnjtokyo
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Internal Alpha Privative

Postby bnjtokyo » Mon May 16, 2022 10:56 pm

In the discussion of the Good Word of the Day "anonymous" mkoplow brought up "internal alpha privative" a technical term I had never encountered before. So I looked it up and found that "alpha privative" is defined as the "prefix a- or an- expressing negation in Greek and in English" (Merriam-Webster). Thus I take it to be either a grammatical term or an etymological term and choose to post my comment here. Examples of a plain alpha privative in English are "atypical," "agnostic" and "asynchronous." But I could not find a definition for "internal alpha privative." In the absence of a definition, I assume that "internal" implies the alpha "a-" that indicates negation is not initial as in the above examples but "internal" the word.

mkoplow said that an English teacher had once said that "diamond" is one of three examples in English of an "internal alpha privative" and challenged the students to find the other two. But before looking for the other two, I want to analyze "diamond." Is it in fact an "internal alpha privative"? I think not. If it were, then "diamond" would consist of three morphemes: "di" a prefix, "a" a negative prefix internal to the word and "mond" the root or stem. but looking at the etymology of "diamond" here
https://www.etymonline.com/word/diamond
and here
https://www.etymonline.com/word/adamant ... ne_v_44101
suggests that the root is "*deme" meaning "break" in the sense of "break horses" and that a+deme would be "unbreakable"
This became "adamantem" in Latin, becoming "*adiamantem" in Vulgar Latin and "daimantem" in Medieval Latin. The alternation from -da- to -dia- appears to be a sort of back formation based on Greek models. The initial "a" is the negation and was lost in Medieval Latin, while the "a" in "dia" is not a negative morpheme. But we are now close to the modern English "diamond" which does not appear to exhibit an alpha privative at all.

Audiendus
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Re: Internal Alpha Privative

Postby Audiendus » Wed May 18, 2022 9:39 pm

What about 'subatomic' as an example of an internal alpha privative?

A-tomic = not divisible.

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Dr. Goodword
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Re: Internal Alpha Privative

Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat May 21, 2022 5:18 pm

"Internal alpha privative" isn't possible because Greek a(n)- "without, not" is a prefix and Greek has no infixes. Prefixes cannot appear in infix positions.

There are languages which do have infixes, though. They always occur appear after the initial letter or syllable in a word as in Filipino bili "buy" : bumili "bought".

Abso-freakin-lutely contains no infix. It contains a word which is added during wordplay (grammatical performance) and has nothing to do with grammar. Infixes are grammatical.
• The Good Dr. Goodword

David Myer
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Re: Internal Alpha Privative

Postby David Myer » Mon May 23, 2022 8:25 am

What a fascinating discussion. Well done Audiendus and more particularly, bnjtokyo. Clear and concise. And thanks Doctor G, for your enlightening additional comments.

I can't think of an internal alpha infix, but surely there are many words in English with two prefixes, the second of which I suppose, could be called an infix. Unexposed for example or underexposed. And many others on the same lines. Or are these examples of something quite different?

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Re: Internal Alpha Privative

Postby David Myer » Mon May 23, 2022 8:41 am

Or picking up on Audiendus' idea, diatomic? And if you were one of the less mainstream letters in the LGBT... group, might you be described as biasexual, having no interest in either of the two more common gender identifiers?


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