The history of the negating a-prefix and its productivity and status in contemporary English

Hulse, Victoria (2002) The history of the negating a-prefix and its productivity and status in contemporary English. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis explores the role of the negating a-prefix, found as a component part in the morphological structure of words such as atypical and asocial, and used to construct negative terms from existent positive terms in English. It reviews the prefix in terms of its historical origins and, more importantly, considers its current status and future potential in relation to productivity within the language, and attempts to demonstrate that it remains a significant feature of contemporary English.
The notion of productivity within language and how it can be measured remains vague. This research, therefore, examines the concept of productivity, evaluates the various methodologies which have been advocated, and attempts to clarify some of the issues surrounding it.
In turn, these measures are implemented in relation to the negating a-prefix in order to identify whether indeed the prefix has relevance today. Specifically, three main proposals for measurement are employed: a corpus-based measure, a dictionary based measure, and a direct testing procedure. It should be acknowledged that these three methods do not all measure exactly the same thing: the corpus- and dictionary based methods give an indication of actual usage, a gradable circumstance, answering the question Does it actually happen?'; the direct testing measure is indicative of acceptability and potential, a binary phenomenon, which signals whether a construction is either possible or not.
The major findings of the thesis show that productivity remains both difficult to define and to measure, but that a combination of methods provide the best indication as to whether a process is productive. The application of the various measures suggest that the negating a-prefix does indeed have relevant status within the derivational morphology of English, in terms of its current productivity and its capability to initiate new constructions in the future.

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