Fun with Linguistics

English can be a very confusing language, trust me, I know this. Not only do I tutor ESL (English as a Second Language) students, but I take grammar and linguistic courses regularly as part of my major and both experiences have shown me one thing–English is not an easy language to master, even for a native speaker.

Sure, we all speak it, but can native speakers without any linguistic or grammar training explain why you sit “at a desk” or “in a desk” but not “on a chair” and why we say “in Disneyland” or “at Disneyland” rather than “on Disneyland” like we would a college campus, such as “on campus.” For that matter, why are we “at school” and not “on school” while we are “on campus” but not “at campus.”

I’m already confusing myself, sorry. I really can’t answer all of these seemingly simple questions, but prepositions are, according to the Stephen Krashen’s Monitor Model (more specifically the Natural Order Hypothesis), prepositions are one of the last things non-native speakers of English acquire when their base language is lacking prepositions (many Asian languages, for example, do not have prepositions).

I know, I know. I said FUN linguistic things and thus far, this article has been way more informative than fun. Here’s the fun part.

I bet all of you have heard of a prefix and a suffix, but have you heard of an infix? Infixes are my new favorite linguistic thing, because I think they are fantastic and I want to start incorporating them into English.

A prefix is when a morpheme, or the smallest unit of language that holds some form of meaning (think pre and fix), is attached at the beginning of another morpheme to change the free morpheme, or the smallest unit of a language that can stand alone and have meaning (such as fix, but pre doesn’t grammatically stand on its own as a word so it is not a free morpheme even though it is a morpheme). A suffix is when a morpheme attaches itself to the end of a word, such as home combining with less to become homeless.

Can you guess at what an infix is? An infix is when you insert a morpheme into the middle of a word to change the meaning. Some Spanish speakers will recognize this as a convention of Nicaraguan Spanish, if they’ve ever come across it. Arabic languages as well as some languages in Southeast Asia have infixes.

And now, because you know about the wonder and glory that is the infix, you can start inventing your own infixed words at your leisure.

Do you know what this guy was famous for? No, the other thing. This guy made up his own words all the time. Imagine what he could have done with infixes.
Do you know what this guy was famous for? No, the other thing. This guy made up his own words all the time. Imagine what he could have done with infixes.

Here are some of my playful infixes to inspire you to create silly things with your grammar knowledge as well.

Fixines (infixes)
holessme (homeless)
sleyep (sleepy)
hayir (hairy)
mirex (remix)
foreingshadow (foreshadowing)
escalingat (escalating)
swingimm (swimming)

The one downside to infixes is that I really have no clue how to properly say any of those words I’ve created above. It’s a good thing I’m not a playwright and just someone playing with grammar.

– Amanda Riggle


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