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Cohering and non-cohering affixes

Dutch has cohering and non-cohering affixes (the terms were introduced in (Dixon 1977)). The distinction pertains to the interface between morphology and phonology: cohering affixes form a prosodic word with their stem, while non-cohering affixes are prosodic words of their own. Thus, the morphological boundary of a cohering affix does not necessarily coincide with a prosodic boundary. All non-native suffixes and most native suffixes are cohering. A number of native suffixes, however, is non-cohering. These are the following suffixes, which all derive historically from words: -achtig, -baar, -dom, -heid, -ling, -loos, -schap, -zaam . For the same historical reason, affixoids are always non-cohering.

The distinction is easy to see by comparing the syllabification of the words roodachtigrood-achtigreddish and rodigrod-igreddish. As –achtig is a non-cohering suffix, the syllable boundary of the first word falls after the final consonant of the stem roodachtig/ro:t.αx.tǝx/. By contrast, –ig is cohering, and so stem and word are syllabified as a unit and the final consonant becomes the onset of the last syllable: rodig/ro:.dǝx/.

Dutch prefixes are all non-cohering, that is, they do not form one prosodic word with the stem. This can be seen in the way prefixed words are syllabified: the syllable boundaries between affix and stem match the morpheme boundaries. An illustrative example is the verb verassenver-assen/vεr.α.sǝn/incinerate, which forms a minimal pair with verrassen ver-rassen/vε.rα.sǝn/to surprise (the two /r/'s are reduced to one by degemination).


While Dutch prefixes are non-cohering, the morphological boundary may blur in fast speech because syllabification then applies across the prefix boundary, as in verenigingver-eniging/vǝ.re.nǝ.γιŋ/society.

The boundary between prefixes and the stem also blocks the process of prevocalic schwa-deletion that applies without exceptions within a prosodic word. For instance, the schwa of be- is not deleted in beademenbe-ademento apply artificial respiration to somebody.

Note that prefixes, although non-cohering in nature, only constitute a prosodic word of their own if they contain at least one full vowel. Hence, a prefix like be-[bǝ] is not a prosodic word.

When a cohering suffix is attached to a compound, it will form a prosodic word with the last prosodic word of that compound. For instance, the morphological and prosodic structure of the word godsdienstig religious, derived from the compound godsdienst religion, are as follows:

Example 1

Morphological structure
Prosodic structure

The prosodic difference between these two types of suffixes can also be observed in gapping in complex words. Furthermore, the prosodic difference influences the stress assignment.

[show extra information]

The distinction between these types of suffixes is discussed in detail in (Booij 1995).

  • Booij, Geert1995The phonology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Dixon, R.M.W1977A grammar of YidinCambridge UP
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