Martin Haspelmath (2011) has argued that the notion ‘word’ is incoherent, and therefore is not useful as a cross-linguistically valid comparative concept or as a language-internal descriptive category. As a result, in his view, the distinction between bound formatives, e.g., affixes and clitics, is untenable. For example, in Lithuanian, the bound formative –si is traditionally analyzed as a suffix when it is in one position (after the verb when the verb has no prefixes) and as a prefix when it is in another position (between the prefix and the verb in prefixed verbs):
(1) Lithuanian (Indo-European, Haspelmath 2011: 42)
1SG skutuo-si ‘I shave’ ne-si-skutu ‘I don’t shave’
2SG skutie-si ‘You shave’ ne-si-skuti ‘You don’t shave’
3SG skuta-si ‘He shaves’ ne-si-skuta ‘He doesn’t shave’
Haspelmath points out that due to its mobility, –si could also be analyzed as a clitic.
Haspelmath’s entire article is devoted to demonstrating that no single criterion or battery of criteria can pick out morphosyntactic words. Interestingly, all of his examples are glossed as though they comprise affixes or clitics. This is because the current glossing conventions used by descriptive linguists and typologists (mainly the Leipzig Glossing Rules) do not have a way of glossing bound formatives without committing to a particular analysis.
Without entering into a discussion of the merits of any particular analysis of any particular construction in any particular language, it seems that a way of glossing bound formatives in a non-committal way is desirable. This is especially important because, e.g., a typologist collecting data on bound formatives might be misled by a particular gloss into thinking that a particular bound formative is an affix, when in fact it could also be analyzed as a clitic. For example, the Modern Hebrew definite marker is typically glossed as a prefix (and so separated by a hyphen), while it has recently been shown to have behavior typical of clitics (Doron & Meir 2015+). Interestingly, the authors of this very article argued for its clitic status while glossing as though the definite marker is a prefix.
(2) Modern Hebrew (Afroasiatic, Doron & Meir 2015+)
ma ze ha-davar ha-mamaš taʕim ha-ze
what DEM DEF-thing DEF-really tasty DEF-this
Ideally, the glossing convention adopted would be one easily accessible on any keyboard, and since the plus sign (+) is not used to indicate any other type of morphosyntactic relationship, it would be possible to use it in order to indicate a bound formative without committing to its status as an affix or a clitic. (Admittedly, the plus sign might not be everyone’s cup of tea, aesthetically speaking.) When the precise nature of the bound formatives is unimportant, or if a linguist follows Haspelmath in jettisoning the principled distinction between affixes and clitics, this convention could be used.
For example, there is some disagreement about the proper analysis of bound formatives in the Coptic verb, with some linguists considering them to be affixes and others to be clitics. The proposed convention would allow linguists to gloss such examples without committing to a particular analysis.
(3) Coptic (Afroasiatic, Grossman 2014: 205)
‘He created him.’
Similarly, the Lithuanian examples could be glossed skutuo+si (‘I shave’) and the Hebrew examples could be glossed as ha+davar (‘the thing’).
It is important to stress that this proposal is simply to add another optional convention for linguists to use, in the face of doubts regarding the cross-linguistic validity of the criteria for distinguishing between affixes and clitics.
Doron, Edit & Irit Meir. 2015+. The Impact of Contact Languages on the Degrammaticalization of the Hebrew Definite Article. Forthcoming in Journal of Jewish Languages.
Grossman, Eitan. 2014. No case before the verb, obligatory case after the verb in Coptic. In: Eitan Grossman, Martin Haspelmath & Tonio Sebastian Richter (eds.) Egyptian-Coptic Linguistics in Typological Perspective, 203-225. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
Hasplmath, Martin. 2011. The indeterminacy of word segmentation and the nature of morphology and syntax. Folia Linguistica 45(1): 31-80.