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A privative, named from Latin '' privare'', "to deprive", is a
particle In the physical sciences, a particle (or corpuscule in older texts) is a small localized object which can be described by several physical or chemical properties, such as volume, density, or mass. They vary greatly in size or quantity, from su ...
that negates or inverts the
value Value or values may refer to: Ethics and social * Value (ethics) wherein said concept may be construed as treating actions themselves as abstract objects, associating value to them ** Values (Western philosophy) expands the notion of value bey ...
of the
stem Stem or STEM may refer to: Plant structures * Plant stem, a plant's aboveground axis, made of vascular tissue, off which leaves and flowers hang * Stipe (botany), a stalk to support some other structure * Stipe (mycology), the stem of a mush ...
of the word. In
Indo-European languages The Indo-European languages are a language family native to the overwhelming majority of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and the northern Indian subcontinent. Some European languages of this family, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, Dut ...
many privatives are
prefixes A prefix is an affix which is placed before the stem of a word. Adding it to the beginning of one word changes it into another word. For example, when the prefix ''un-'' is added to the word ''happy'', it creates the word ''unhappy''. Particul ...
; but they can also be
suffix In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns, adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs. Suffixes can carry ...
es, or more independent elements.


Privative prefixes

In
English English usually refers to: * English language * English people English may also refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * ''English'', an adjective for something of, from, or related to England ** English national id ...
there are three primary privative prefixes, all
cognate In historical linguistics, cognates or lexical cognates are sets of words in different languages that have been inherited in direct descent from an etymological ancestor in a common parent language. Because language change can have radical eff ...
from
Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European language family. Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European languages. No direct record of Proto-Indo ...
: *'' un-'' from
West Germanic The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic family of languages (the others being the North Germanic and the extinct East Germanic languages). The West Germanic branch is classically subdivided into ...
, from
Proto-Germanic Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the reconstructed proto-language of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. Proto-Germanic eventually developed from pre-Proto-Germanic into three Germanic bra ...
; e.g. ''un''precedented, ''un''believable *'' in-'' from Latin; e.g. ''in''capable, ''in''articulate. *'' a-'', called
alpha privative An alpha privative or, rarely, privative a (from Latin ', from Ancient Greek ) is the prefix ''a-'' or ''an-'' (before vowels) that is used in Indo-European languages such as Sanskrit and Greek and in words borrowed therefrom to express negation or ...
, from
Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following periods: Mycenaean Greek (), Dark Ages (), the Archaic peri ...
'' '', '' '', from
Proto-Hellenic The Proto-Greek language (also known as Proto-Hellenic) is the Indo-European language which was the last common ancestor of all varieties of Greek, including Mycenaean Greek, the subsequent ancient Greek dialects (i.e., Attic, Ionic, Aeoli ...
*ə-; e.g. ''a''pathetic, ''a''biogenesis. These all stem from a
PIE A pie is a baked dish which is usually made of a pastry dough casing that contains a filling of various sweet or savoury ingredients. Sweet pies may be filled with fruit (as in an apple pie), nuts (pecan pie), brown sugar (sugar pie), sweeten ...
syllabic nasal privative *''n̥-'', the zero
ablaut In linguistics, the Indo-European ablaut (, from German '' Ablaut'' ) is a system of apophony (regular vowel variations) in the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE). An example of ablaut in English is the strong verb ''sing, sang, sung'' and i ...
grade of the negation *''ne'', i.e. "n" used as a vowel, as in some English pronunciations of "
button A button is a fastener that joins two pieces of fabric together by slipping through a loop or by sliding through a buttonhole. In modern clothing and fashion design, buttons are commonly made of plastic but also may be made of metal, woo ...
". This is the source of the 'n' in 'an-' privative prefixed nouns deriving from the Greek, which had both. For this reason, it appears as ''an-'' before vowel, e.g. ''an'' orexia, ''an'' esthesia. The same prefix appears in
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had diffused there from the northwest in the lat ...
, also as ''a-'' अ-, ''an-'' अन्- ( , -n-
infix An infix is an affix inserted inside a word stem (an existing word or the core of a family of words). It contrasts with '' adfix,'' a rare term for an affix attached to the outside of a stem, such as a prefix or suffix. When marking text for in ...
). In
Slavic languages The Slavic languages, also known as the Slavonic languages, are Indo-European languages spoken primarily by the Slavic peoples and their descendants. They are thought to descend from a proto-language called Proto-Slavic, spoken during the Ea ...
the privative is nie- and u-, e.g. ''nieboga'', ''ubogi''. In North Germanic languages, the -''n''- has disappeared and
Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian, is a stage of development of North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and their overseas settlement ...
has ''ú-'' (e.g. ú-dáins-akr), which became ''u-'' in Danish and Norwegian, ''o-'' in
Swedish Swedish or ' may refer to: Anything from or related to Sweden, a country in Northern Europe. Or, specifically: * Swedish language, a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Sweden and Finland ** Swedish alphabet, the official alphabet used by ...
, and ''ó-'' in Icelandic. Privative prefixes are not feature of
Indo-European languages The Indo-European languages are a language family native to the overwhelming majority of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and the northern Indian subcontinent. Some European languages of this family, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, Dut ...
only, but also exist in languages belonging to other families, such as (Semitic).


Confusion of privative and non-privative in English

Many words introduced into the English from the Latin start with the prefix ''in-''. While often, it is a privative, it is not always so. Even if it is a privative, the meaning may be unclear to those who are not familiar with the word. The following three examples illustrate that. Example 1: ''in''excusable The - prefix is a privative and the word means the opposite of ''excusable'' that is, "unable to be excused, not excusable". Example 2: ''in''valuable That is also a privative but it does not mean "not valuable, not precious". While today ''valuable'' is a synonym for ''precious'', it originally meant "able to be given a value". The meaning of ''invaluable'' hinges upon this original meaning and thus means "of very great value" or literally "value cannot be estimated (because it is so great)", similar to ''priceless'' but dissimilar to ''worthless''. Example 3: ''in''flammable A naive reader may incorrectly interpret that as "not flammable". However, the word contains not a ''privative'' but a ''locative'' and ''flammable'' (the newer word in English by 300 years), rather than being the opposite of ''inflammable'' means the same thing. The prefix ''in-'' arises from the Latin for "in, inside, within" and ''inflammable'' derives from the Latin root ''inflammāre'' meaning "able to be set alight, able to kindle a flame". Since at least the 1920s, there have been calls to stop using ''inflammable'' and substitute it exclusively with ''flammable'' to avoid the confusion that occurs even by native English-speakers.


Privative suffixes

Some languages have privative
suffix In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns, adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs. Suffixes can carry ...
es; ''-less'' is an example in English. Further examples are ''-t(a)lan'' or ''-t(e)len'' in Hungarian or ''-ton/-tön'' in Finnish (non-IE languages).


See also

*
Copulative a The copulative ''a'' (also ''a'' copulativum, ''a'' athroistikon) is the prefix ''ha-'' or ''a-'' expressing unity in Ancient Greek, derived from Proto-Indo-European *''sm̥-'', cognate to English ''same'' (see also Symbel).. An example is ''a-del ...
*
Privative a An alpha privative or, rarely, privative a (from Latin ', from Ancient Greek ) is the prefix ''a-'' or ''an-'' (before vowels) that is used in Indo-European languages such as Sanskrit and Greek and in words borrowed therefrom to express negation or ...


Notes


References

{{Reflist Linguistic morphology