Prefixation In The Ossetian Language: Result Of Context Interaction Of Linguistic Units


The work considers prepositional word-forming elements that are prone to independent lexical meaning and detect formal-grammatical intersections with some morphological classes in the Ossetian language. Close morphological-syntactic relationship of words becomes a motivating feature in the formation of new lexical units, the status of which requires special studies and the definition of their compositional analysis. The lexical composition of the modern Ossetian language in both its dialect forms contains a fair number of complex words with the same initial components, which demonstrate the partial loss of their lexical meaning and therefore are not able to meet the requirements of composite formation. The analysis of such prepositional elements, which still do not have a definite status, showed their ability to function as full prefixes in a word, since their semantic meaning is reduced to indicating the direction or location of objects in relation to each other. Their clipped form, rapid loss of their semantics and word-forming activity strengthen their prefix status. The predicted demand for these prepositional units is associated with the development of journalistic and official business styles in the Ossetian language. Prepositional elements that act as emotional-evaluation intensifiers of the motivating component in the composition of lexical formation are classified by us as prefixoids. Preserving their lexical meaning with independent functioning, such elements activate the connotative meanings of a word with which they enter into word-forming relations.

Keywords: Word formation, contextual semantics, composite, prefix, Ossetian language


The study and classification of derivatives and complex words as nominations of objective reality has recently become an important part of the study of language processes in general. The dynamics of language development, the expansion of semantic capabilities of a word and rapid replenishment of lexical composition from the outside dictate the new research methods and principles of differentiation. What was recently considered well established is undergoing a thorough and profound revision in modern theory, often accompanied by the introduction of new conceptual categories and terminological definitions.

Different methods of word formation are characterized by the involvement of different morphemes or their complex. However, the mobility of linguistic units, including word-forming ones, provokes the new forms and methods of word emergence, thus posing a need for new approaches to their study. In this sense, the so-called complex words, which include two or more conceptual units, are fertile material. This is especially important for the Ossetian language, where the most common and productive way to form new words is a phrase, in which the addition of words into one conceptual whole occurs without the participation of a connecting vowel (interfix). Lexicographic difficulties are also associated with this.

Problem Statement

The essence of the problem is that the grammatical system has its own features at different levels of its system and the general theory of language cannot be exposed unchanged to the entire structure of the Ossetian language without changes. In this regard, words formed by adding two bases may represent a free phrase when written separately in an unchanged form. Such possibilities arise, inter alia, due to the fact that the Ossetian language has retained flective and agglutinative formation and represents a mixed type of a morphological system, in which a clear distinction between the partial status of a lexical unit is weakened. Besides, these boundaries are not constant: parts of speech easily pass from one class to another, and it is even possible to observe unchangeable parts of speech that are fixed in a certain case form. The problem that we intend to address in this paper lies in this particular plane.

Research Questions

form different types of free and set phrases. The words combined with auxiliary parts of speech convey various grammatical and syntactic links and relations. In the Ossetian language, the formal decomposition of complex words (composites) can semantically correspond to any type of combination. If in most cases of combining full lexical units a phrase is used as a method of formation, then when adding significant and formally auxiliary parts of speech, the question arises about the method of their formation and the status of their generating components.

1. We have identified a number of permanent formal components, with the participation of which a large number of complex words (composites) are formed in the Ossetian language, the decomposition of which is semantically equivalent to the combination of a word with a preposition or postposition. Positionally, such components hold a place at the beginning of a complex word and serve as a prefix. The problem is that such components are not considered full affixes in their traditional understanding and do not participate in the formation of a certain morphological class of words. Besides, due to the peculiarities of functioning within a word and word-forming productivity they tend to the status of intermediate affixes.

2. Another problem the confirmation or exclusion of homonymity of these components with formally semantically similar postpositions and prepositions, as well as adverbs. To determine the status of these components in the composition of complex words of the Ossetian language, it is necessary to analyze the corresponding lexical units with semantic comparison of equivalent combinations with their participation.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to determine the morphological status of complex word-forming components in the Ossetian language. To do this, it is necessary to establish the original nature of these components in their historical, etymological and semantic aspects. It is also necessary to trace the mechanisms of their transition from morphological to morphemic unit of the Ossetian language and determine the degree of their productivity in both dialect forms (Iron and Digor). This will make it possible to identify their functional features and bring us closer to establishing their morphological-syntactic status.

Research Methods

To achieve the objectives, various methods will be used to compare both dialect versions of equivalent word forms, as well as their semantic coverage and the ability to change grammatical forms and context transition. The comparison of semantically equivalent lexical and syntactic units will determine the potential ability to endow lexical formation with evaluation characteristics. The analysis of the results will provide the most reliable data.


The traditionally established principles of word formation are quite strong and are not subject to any doubt and change. They help to form new words with different semantics in accordance with the required morphological orientation. They are constant for Ossetian word formation. Besides, word formation is still interesting to scientists, and in the aspects of new research there is recognition of its interdisciplinary status as an inter-level phenomenon (Kotorova, 2014). In this regard, there is an increased interest in complex words that exist in the Ossetian language in huge numbers, the formation of which results in the addition of two words based on their syntactic relationship. This explains the possibility of joined-up and separate writing, depending on which the shades of internal semantics change while maintaining general meaning.

Complex words consisting of two, less often three, foundations (root morphemes with affixes) can be divided into: a) connecting words characterized as a connection of two equal foundations using a compositional connection of components (“band barrow”,“property”, etc.); many of them are represented by pairs with a characteristic synonymous rapprochement, have hyphen spelling and in modern linguistics are defined as paired words ( “skin-body”, “storm”, “disease”, “treat”, etc.); b) definitive lexical formations that are built on the basis of a subordinate connection of components are composites themselves, parts of which are in case relation to each other or one component is determined by another, i.e. the components are in attributive relations ( “noon”, “ankle”, “skull”, “hair”, etc.); c) composites with a verb base in the second part have a wide range of formal features ( “heron”, “hawk”,“pitch”, etc.).

The classification of composites in the Digor dialect of the Ossetian language is similar, and is also based on the syntactic connection between the components of a complex formation: a) connecting – “storm, vortex”, “interference, obstacle”,“happiness”,“vital activity”, “east”, “dawn, sparkling sun”, “soapwort”, etc.; b) attributive: composites which first component is the noun in the form of a genitive case which is formally lost: (from “shed, stall” + “room, receptacle”), the phrase literary “room for a stall”; “shadow” (from“sun” + “shadow”), original –, literary “shadow of the sun”; “signature” (from “hand” + “put, set”), etc.; composites which component keeps an inflection of a genitive case: “dawn” (from”day” + case ending –и + “dark blue, blue, green, gray, slate-gray”); “headache”; figurative meaning – care (from “head” + case ending и + “disease”); “source” (from “water” + case ending окончание – “head”; beginning”), etc.

Complex lexical formations with initial ir. / dig.-, ir./ dig.-, ir.- / dig. ir.- / dig., ir.- / dig. ir.- / dig., ir.- / dig.-, ir.- / dig., ir.- / dig. ir. / not quite fit into this system classification, since due to the ambiguity of their semantics and the existing signs of similarity with individual parts of speech their status in modern linguistic theory is not defined. In lexicographic sources they are represented as the initial parts of a complex word along with similar lexical units of nominal and auxiliary parts of speech.

To date, no special studies have been carried out on the components of the initial words presented. Meanwhile, in a number of sources, including textbooks, we can find references to some of them as semi-prefixes, without a motivated explanation (Dzodzikova, 2017), in other sources, words with their participation are considered part of composites and are characterized as prepositions that have historically merged with controlled words (“apron”, “in the sky, heaven”, “smile”,“sideway”,“valley”) (Abaev, 1959). According to Abaev (1959), these are the formative prepositive elements of complex words representing “old adverbs-prepositions”. Based on the same explanation, Gabaraev (1963) defines them as “parts of complex words” considering their inability to act as a component of the phrase as an independent word as the only and sufficient argument. In later works, they refer to as “elements that are not used as independent words or experience noticeable limitations in this”, but at the same time their “official purpose” is emphasized, which deprives them of the status of an equivalent component of addition (Gabaraev, 1977). On the contrary, Bagaev (1965) confidently calls alive, but less productive prefixes with the meaning of the direction of action with different species shades. As for the initial, the attitude towards them is even more ambiguous, since they are distinguished as “connected elements” (Gabaraev, 1977) and are not mentioned at all as constituent components of a word, while- and- are traditionally characterized as units with an independent meaning participating in a phrase.

In the existing grammars of the Digor version of the Ossetian language, this issue is also ambiguously covered. Thus, in the same work, within the framework of one section, they are first characterized as word-forming elements of complex adverbs with the clarification that these are former prepositions and then as prepositions (Isaev, 1966) with the spelling rules arising from these definitions, i.e. in the first case, the spelling is joined-up, in the second – separate. In another source, these elements are characterized as prepositions, while it is noted that all these prepositions are so “...lexicalized that they, as a rule, merge with a controlled word into a single complex word and show themselves as prefixes” (Abaev, 1959, p. 62).

However, in all sources there are discrepancies and in some way confusion, since these word-forming elements simultaneously refer to postpositions related to names (ir./ dig. “before”, ir./ dig. “bottom”), with adverbs (ir. / dig. “below”, ir./ dig. “above”, ir., / dig. “behind”, ir. / dig. “inside”). Besides, addition to the presented ones the prepositions include versions of other revocation prepositions that have frozen in a certain case form (mainly in the genitive case), which act as independent unchangeable parts of speech that have their own prepositional-postpositional meaning.

It is clear that such a versatile and blurred understanding of the presented word-forming elements does not contribute to an adequate and accurate determination of their status in a word: whether they are a full morpheme or an independent basis within a composite. A complicating factor is the morphological system of the Ossetian language, in which there is high mobility of parts of speech and their transition from one morphological state to another depending on the context in which they are used. This is clearly demonstrated on the example of denominative, adverbial and postverbal postpositions. For example, depending on the context, the following combinations have different interpretations:

“behind the door” – “back of the door” – “turn out of doors” – “behind the door”; “near / pointing in front” – “pointing forward” – “head” – “showing the way, a guide”; “below from the house” – “lower part of the house” –“bottom of the house”.

Considering that all lexical formations with these components can be laid out into free combinations, they can be written separately in accordance with the initial forms of the forming components, i.e. as combinations with prepositions. In general, this will lead to formal grammatical changes and units from a lexical will shift to a syntactic plane.

However, not all similarly formed words are able to maintain their original semantics, since as they are older than their formation, they change the degree of solidity (unity) of the meaning and tend to form their own meaning while preserving the semantic echoes of each of the components of a word (Morgoeva & Tsallagova, 2019). They also undergo phonetic changes, but mainly in their second part when truncating part of the original component or when forming grammatical forms. This happened to the following words: ir.“graveyard” – “on top of a dead man”; ir.“pie (national)” – “baked at the top”; dig. “oppression, fear, horror”; dig.“fresh cheese” –“caught at the top (on the surface of frozen milk)”; ir.“servant” – “walking behind”; dig. “behind, from the rear, behind the back” – “behind the back of the saddle bow”; dig.“behind ones back, in absentia, in absence” – “behind the shadow”; ir.“dead (about an animal)” – “died by his death”; dig. “the one who loves to intervene in everything himself”; ir. “armpit” – “at hand”; ir.“abyss” – “underground”, etc.

The prepositional place of these components in complex words contributes to their functioning as word-forming affixes, since in rare cases the reverse arrangement of components giving a completely different meaning is also possible. Let us compare: “facedown” – from “face (literary mouth down”) and“a belt of trousers, a self-belt through which a drawstring runs in”.

On the other hand, the presence of these components in words is quite widespread, their participation in the formation of new words is also common. This means that we can refer to their word-forming function as the initial part of a word, in other words, they are able to perform the functions of preverbs when forming new words. This suggests the dual nature of the studied elements, when in a certain grammatical form, they have independent circulation and can act as word-forming morphemes, i.e. they are able to have structural and semantic properties of root and affixing morphemes (Vaganova, 2013). The intermediate nature of individual word-forming morphemes was noted by many scientists who tried to explain the nature of this linguistic phenomenon and develop criteria for their definition, including foreign (J. Algeo, G. Marchand, H. Paul and others) and domestic linguists (E.S. Kubryakova, K.A. Levkovskaya, N.M. Shansky and others). The interest to this issue is still relevant and attracts researchers from different languages in the discussion of this problem (Dunn, 2000; Stevens, 2005). The postposition elements attracted the main attention. Besides, different terms are used – semi-suffixes, suffixoids, subaffixes. There were various terminological designations: relatively free morphemes, “autonomous words that act as suffixes”, “suffixed elements” (Gushchina, 2003). Due to the fact that this linguistic phenomenon is not only postpositional, but also prepositional in nature, in modern linguistics synonymous terms affixoid and semi-affix are more often found covering both positional variants (Marchand, 1960).

Meanwhile, some scientists provide a semantic differentiation of these two terms based on the number of derivatives, the degree of preservation of the lexical meaning, the ability/inability to use independently (Bartkov, 1980). Other scholars focus on the formal coincidence of these elements with the basis of a freely functioning word, their etymological relationship and semantic similarity, while allowing a certain degree of reinterpretation (Stepanova & Fleischer, 1984). For some gradation in the hierarchy of affixoids, it is proposed to base on a fixed regularity of repeating components in addition and productivity of these word-forming models (Gushchina, 2003).

Complex lexical units with the considered components identified in the Ossetian language reveal a clear etymological connection with self-functioning syntactic words (postpositions), which, most likely, historically go back to full nominal or verb vocabulary units. As for the degree of their semantic reinterpretation in a word composition, it is significantly influenced by both the formal merging with another lexical unit (composite) and its contextual environment, in which it is possible to accentuate or erase the original semantics. This is most clearly seen in formations with components in ir./ dig., ir./ dig., ir.- / dig. and, slightly different from them word-forming elements – ir./ dig., ir.- / dig.. The similarity and correlation of these prepositional units with other parts of speech in Ossetian seriously affects their status in a word formation system. Meanwhile, there are similar precedents in other languages, when there is match of prefixes with auxiliary parts of speech, such as ir. = Russian пред- / перед; ir. = Russian после- / после; ir. = Russian под- / под, just as the status of the prefix in Russian acquired(from Greek. hipo “below”, “under”), (from Latin. Infra “under”). Besides, the value of the prefix may vary depending on the root morpheme with which it interacts, as in the case of the Latin prefix inter-, which corresponds to the Russian version- and, in some cases, has the meaning of “inward”. All this provides grounds for a serious revision of considered prefix units in the Ossetian language in order to recognize their full functioning as prefixes, regardless of formal semantic convergence with adverbs and postpositions.

The essence of the given differences between prefixes and prefixoids is that the former, being word-forming morphemes, “mainly realize a conceptual function, acting semantically as significates, as a means of linguistic definition of relations between the denotative components of a concept” (Kushnir, 2011, p. 36), while prefixoids, formally being root morphemes, realize the subject function “acting as denotatives, as a means of generalizing the naming of those subject areas with which derived words formed through them are associated” (Kushnir, 2011, p. 40). In our opinion, this definition of prefixes fully corresponds to the nature of functional semantics of the considered units in a word composition, which casts doubt on their relation to prefixoids.

The prepositional units / пред- and / пост- (за-) are antonymous and indicate the positional place preceding or following what is called the motivating element or after it (Shishikina, 2008): 1) ir.“after breakfast”, ir. “after study”, ir. “after work”, dig. “afternoon time”, ir.“prematurely”, ir. “introductory word”, dig. “untimely”, dig. “preceding” – having time tinge; 2) ir. “beyond the pass”, ir. “behind the road (aside)”, ir. “behind the wall”, dig.“behind the house (rear of the house)”, ir. “the road ahead”, ir. “atrium”, dig. “ chief, leader (going ahead)” – having spatial connotation.

The pair of prepositional units / под- and / над- (на-) in their meaning is also antonymous and indicates the conditionally vertical location of something relative to what is called the motivating element: ir. “underwater”, ir. “lower trail”, ir. “underground”, dig. “lower eyelid”, dig. “lower part of the hearth”, ir. “over fire”, ir. “clothing (worn on top of), ir. “upper part of the entrance”, dig.“beyond the intended”, dig. “additional structure”, dig.“members of one hearth, house, family”, etc.

The words with initial- / внутри- (в-) indicating the content of something in itself, i.e. what the motivating element indicates to also have the meaning of location/placement: ir. “internal routine”, ir. “internal position”, ir. “thought, unspoken thought”, ir. “in (its) place”, dig. “inside the weeds”, dig.“near/around the hearth”, dig.“(speak) to yourself”, dig.“among people”, dig. “internal state”, dig. “root tooth”, etc.

Lexical formations with initial- / само- (авто-) contain the meaning of directing something towards itself or what happens/is done without assistance, involuntarily: ir. “self-education”, ir. “nugget”, ir. “self-recording”, ir. “independent”, dig. “armed with a spear”, dig. “free, independent”, dig. “self-training”, etc.

In all cases, we have a certain number of words with these components, the motivating element of which is poorly read, which is directly related to the age of their formation. Gabaraev (1977) calls this process “simplicity”, although in our opinion, “simplicity” here is quite conditional, since with the semantic “disclosure” of these words, with time becoming whole units, we get complex conceptual structures like “air” – “top+smell”, “heaven” – “top+sky”, at the same time “the national clothes of Ossetian women” – “before the open”,“gravity feed” – “himself+go”, “dead” – “himself+die”, “apron” – “ahead+wearable”,“abroad” – “beyond+border”, etc. The case of a phonetic divergence of Digor “a traditional Ossetian women’s dress”, where“cut in front” is transferred into, seems interesting. Lexical units that arose at an earlier stage of the addition method, when various types of nominations were predominantly descriptive, underwent similar “erasure” of morphemic boundaries. Eventually, many of them acquired conceptual meanings.

It will be logical to assume that, perhaps initially, these were free phrases, the components of which in a truncated form later merged into one whole lexical formation classified as a complex word (composite). The use of the same initial elements in the formation of new words led to the partial loss of their own lexical meaning and the appearance of new word-forming functions with the features of an independent morpheme. At this stage, the question arose of recognizing/not recognizing them as an independent prefix unit, and the opinions of scientists did not always coincide.

Meanwhile, the number of lexical units with the considered prefix units has increased markedly. Compared to the first most complete lexicographic source (Miller, 1927), in which 3–6 words with each of their represented components are found, in modern dictionaries there are 30–50 lexical units and their derivatives (Gurieva, 2004). The observations showed the ability of these prepositional units to a known variability, since they change their grammatical form and create words of different morphological classes. Besides, it is worth noting their ability to combine with the same root morphemes forming: a) antonymous pairs ( “above water” – “underwater”; “armpit (literary at hand)” – “hand (literary above hand)”, “prefix” – “postfix”, “independent” – “dependent, subordinate”, etc.); b) the options with semantic crossings tending to synonymy ( “decent”, “internal order, law”, “mood, internal attitude, temper”,“personal relation, state”).

Modern word-formation processes taking place with the participation of the considered components indicate a steady increase in their potential as independent affixes. They may be mostly demanded in the scientific sphere, medicine, and in the formation of socio-political vocabulary.

Prepositional units ir.dig., ir.- /dig. with a well-preserved semantics, but at the same time extremely popular in word-making hold a special place in the system of Ossetian word formation. Considering their component composition, the phrase is clearly visible, i.e. the combination of two root morphemes. However, variants of lexical formations with these components are mostly endowed with connotative components of two directions: a semantic component of the limit degree of a feature, quality or absolute absence thereof. In all cases, the inclusion of one of these components in a word gives the word an appropriate assessment with the marking “bad/good”: a)“beautiful, magnificent”,“well-trained”, “perfectly coordinated”,“good, high-quality”, а “well-equipped”, etc.; b) “evil in language”, “angry”,“daring, shameless”, “severe blow”, “stench”, etc.

Besides, word-forming components ir.хуӕрз; ir.- / dig.constitute an antonymous pair and can interact with the same root morphemes or with the basic ones (ir. /dig. “disfavor, enmity” – ir. /dig. “mercy, favor, reward”; ir. / dig. “angry, pampered” – ir. / dig. “good, decent”).

The feature of a prepositive element “evil, angry”, “bad” is its semantic saturation due to which lexical formations with its inclusion can get various negative connotative meaning, which affect the general semantics of a word. Besides, in the Digor version of the Ossetian language it is used in the meaning of “guilt” ( “I know my guilt”). At the same time, as an independent adjective with the meaning of “bad”, the most common are ir. and dig.. It is also used in the meaning of the adverb “very” and as a postposition with the meaning “because of”, “by lack” (ir. / dig.). The comparative degree from ir./ dig. (ir./ dig.) “the worst, worse” is an echo of suppletion in the Ossetian language (Abaev, 1958). Meanwhile, the comparative degree ir./ more common in the Ossetian language compared to the forms of ir./ dig.the same meaning. In this regard, there is a functional-grammatical similarity with the independent “completely” as with a semantically equal version with a weakened vowel from“good”. Takazov (2009) makes a clear distinction between as an adverb “very, quite; fully, completely” ( – completely alone, alone) and– as the initial part of a complex word “good, kind; absolutely, very”.

As prepositional elements, word forms can be combined not only with neutral or unipolar foundations, but also with words opposite in their emotional-evaluation load. Let us compare: “death, accident” – from “good+missing”, “incredibly beautiful” – from “evil+beauty”. Such variants in all cases can only be with the meaning of a perfect degree of a trait, quality, therefore they can be classified as affixoids, since they no longer fulfill the function of an independent word within the lexical formation (Nicht-mehr-Wort) but have also become ful affixes (Noch-nicht-Affix) (Donalies, 2005).

The last two word-forming components ir./ dig. хуӕрз, ir.-/ dig.are strongly different from others by partially preserved lexical meaning within a word, the ability to be used independently and high word-forming productivity. It is they that act as intensifiers of their expressive-evaluation components. “Semantic categories of intensity hold an intermediate position between objective and subjective-pragmatic semantic categories. The latter include the categories of expressiveness, emotion, assessment and imagery” (Skachkova, 2019, p. 178), which create and activate these components in a word.

Among such intensifiers we can find a multivalent word ir./ dig. root, basis, bottom, inheritance, death, ruin (Gurieva, 2004) which in a prefixal position can indicate the limitation of a sign, qualities with the meaning “absolutely, completely”: ir. “completely missing”, ir. “completely ruined”, ir. “absolutely burned (to the ground)”, dig. “completely forgotten”, dig. “absolutely deceived”. Word-forming variants with this meaning are limited and we can only refer to the tendency of this component to tend towards the affixoid status.


The analysis of complex lexical formations with prepositional elements having an independent semantic component showed active dynamics of productivity growth, which provoked an even greater convergence of these elements with prefixes: their disputed status of prefixoids is justifiably replaced by the status of full word-forming morphemes. Despite the characteristic of the Ossetian language, the variation in the general meaning of a lexical unit depending on the context environment, the formation with the components раз-,-,,,-, quite correspond to the prefixes themselves. This is facilitated by their truncated form, which is not used independently, as well as the presence of the main meaning of indicating the positional relations of signified objects.

A slightly different characteristic is obtained by the components-,-, реже-: due to the wide range of semantic combination with their participation, they are endowed with additional connotative meanings. In this case, they functionally perform the role of intensifiers of the semantics of the second (main) component of a word. Despite high word-formation productivity, they completely retain their own lexical meaning and can act as such. That is why their status is defined as prefixoids.

Abbreviations used:

ir. – Iron version of the Ossetian language.

dig. – Digor version of the Ossetian language.


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Morgoeva, L. B., & Tsallagova, I. N. (2021). Prefixation In The Ossetian Language: Result Of Context Interaction Of Linguistic Units. In D. K. Bataev, S. A. Gapurov, A. D. Osmaev, V. K. Akaev, L. M. Idigova, M. R. Ovhadov, A. R. Salgiriev, & M. M. Betilmerzaeva (Eds.), Knowledge, Man and Civilization - ISCKMC 2020, vol 107. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1594-1604). European Publisher.