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It has already been mentioned in the beginning of this chapter that there exist linguistic forms which in modern languages are used as bound forms although in Greek and Latin from which they are borrowed they functioned as independent words.
The question at once arises whether being bound forms, they should be treated like affixes and be referred to the set of derivatives, or whether they are nearer to the elements of compounds, because in languages from which they come they had the status of words. In fact we have a fuzzy set whose elements overlap with the set of affixes on the one hand and with that of words on the other. Different lexicographers have treated them differently but now it is almost universally recognised that they constitute a specific type of linguistic units.
Combining forms are particularly frequent in the specialised vocabularies of arts and sciences. They have long become familiar in the international scientific terminology. Many of them attain widespread currency in everyday language.
To illustrate the basic meaning and productivity of these forms we give below a short list of Greek words most frequently used in producing combining forms together with words containing them.
Astron ‘star’ — astronomy, autos ‘self’ — automatic; bios ‘life’ — biology, electron ‘amber’ — electronics;1 ge ‘earth’ — geology, graph-ein ‘to write’ — typography, hydor ‘water’ —hydroelectric; logos ‘speech’ — physiology, oikos ‘house’, ‘habitat’ — 1) economics, 2) ecological system’, philein ‘love’ —philology, phone ‘sound’, ‘voice’ — telephone;
1 Electricity was first observed in amber. 104
photos ‘light’ — photograph; skopein ‘to view’ — microscope; tēle ‘far’ — telescope.
It is obvious from the above list that combining forms mostly occur together with other combining forms and not with native roots. Lexicological analysis meets with difficulties here if we try to separate diachronic and synchronic approach and distinguish between the words that came into English as borrowings and those coined on this model on the English soil. From the synchronic point of view, which coincides with that of an educated English speaking person, it is immaterial whether the morphological motivation one recognises in the word àètopilot originated in modern times or is due to its remote ancestry in Latin and Greek. One possible criterion is that the word in question could not have existed in Greek or Latin for the simple reason that the thing it names was invented, discovered or developed only much later.
Almost all of the above examples are international words, each entering a considerable word-family. A few of these word-families we shall now describe though briefly, in order to give an idea of the rich possibilities this source of word-building provides.
Auto- comes from the Greek word autos ‘self’ and like bio-, eco-, hydro- and many others is mostly used initially. One of the first English words containing this element was automaton borrowed from late Latin in the 16th century. OED dates the corresponding adjective automatic as appearing in 1586.
The word autograph belonging to this word-family is a good example of how combining forms originate. It was borrowed from French in the 17th century. Its etymology is: Fr autograph<late Latin autographum <Gr autographos ‘that which is written in one’s own handwriting’. Hence in the 19th century the verb — ‘to write with one’s own hand’, ‘to give an autograph’. Thus the word autograph provides one of the patterns so well established in English that they are freely segmented providing material for new combinations.
In English as well as in Russian and other languages word coining with the form auto- is especially intense in the 19th century and goes on in the 20th. Cf. autobiography, autodiagnosis, autonomy, autogenic (training).
There are also many technical terms beginning with auto- and denoting devices, machines and systems, the chief basis of nomination being ‘self-acting’, ‘automatic’. E. g. autopilot, autoloader, auto-starter or auto-changer ‘apparatus on a record-player for changing the records’.
The word automobile was coined not in the English but in the French language and borrowed from French. The word itself is more often used in America, in Britain they prefer its synonym motor-car or simply car, it proved productive in giving a new homonym — a free-standing word auto, a clipping of the word automobile. This in its turn produces such compounds as: autobus, autocross ‘an automobile competition’, auto-drome. It is thus possible for a combining form to be homonymous to words. One might also consider such pairs as auto- and auto or -graph and graph as doublets (see § 13.3) because of their common origin.
The Greek word bios ‘life’, long known to us in the internationalism biography, helps to name many branches of learning dealing with living organisms: bio-astronautics, biochemistry, bio-ecology, biology, bionics, biophysics. Of these bio-astronautics, bio-ecology and bionics are the newest, and therefore need explanation. Bio-astronautics (note also the combining forms astro- and -naut-) is the study of man’s physical capabilities and needs, and the means of meeting those in outer space. Bio-ecology is also an interesting example because the third combining form is so often used in naming branches of study. Cf. geology, lexicology, philology, phonology. The form eco- is also very interesting. This is again a case of doublets. One of these is found in economics, economist, economise, etc. The other, connoting environment, receives now the meaning of ‘dealing with ecology’. The general concern over the growing pollution of the environment gave rise to many new words with this element: eco-climate, eco-activist, eco-type, eco-catastrophe, eco-development ‘development which balances economic and ecological factors’. Bionics is a new science, its name is formed by bio-+-onics. Now -onics is not a combining form properly speaking but what the Barnhart Dictionary of New English calls abstracted form which is defined as the use of a part of the word in what seems to be the meaning it contributes. The term here is well motivated, because bionics is the study of how man and other living beings perform certain tasks and solve certain problems, and the application of the findings to the design of computers and other electronic equipment.
The combining form geo- not only produced many scientific terms in the 19th century but had been productive much earlier: geodesy and geography come down from the 16th century, geometry was known in the 14th century and geology in the 18th.
In describing words containing the forms auto-, bio-, and geo- we have already come across the form graph meaning ‘something written’. One can also quote some other familiar examples: hydrography, phonograph, photograph, telegraph.
Words beginning with hydro- arealso quite familiar to everybody: hydrodynamic, hydroelectric, hydromechanic, hydroponic, hydrotherapeutic.
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