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Circumfixation (also sometimes called ambifixation, or parasynthesis in some of the literature) is the process of adding a bound morpheme (i.e. a circumfix; also sometimes called an ambifix, or discontinuous affix) at the left and right edge of a base word simultaneously, thus producing a circumfixed word.

Circumfixes in Afrikaans are mostly category-determining (i.e. changing the syntactic category of the complex word as a whole) as in example (1), but can also be category-neutral (i.e. not changing the syntactic category of the circumfixed word) as in example (2).

in/on time, timeously
[Note that neither *be·tyd nor *tyd·s are words in Afrikaans.]
mountain range
[Although ge·berg PST·store stored is a possible word in Afrikaans, it has no bearing on ge·berg·te. Also, *berg·te is not a valid word in Afrikaans.]

The only circumfix in Afrikaans that is noticeably productive, is the participial circumfix ge-...-t/d (with the allomorphs ge-...-ø, ø-...-t/d, and ø-...-ø; the latter two occurring in cases when the verbal stem begins with an unstressed prefix).

matted (hair)
[+]Past participles

  • Following Bauer's (2003) analysis of German participles, the process of forming past participles in Afrikaans is considered here as circumfixation.
  • The participial circumfix ge-...-t/d is most frequently realised as its allomorph ge-...-ø, as in example (4) above. Since this form of the verb (i.e. only with ge- before the verbal stem) is so frequently used in the past tense construction and the passive voice construction, this circumfix has evolved to become only a prefix in such constructions. Hence, it is of more practical value, and theoretically simpler to say that the past participle in the past tense construction and in the passive voice construction is formed by means of the prefix [ge](PST) and [ge](PASS) respectively, rather than by means of a circumfix with a zero right-hand part. In all other constructions where the past participle is used (i.e. as an adjective), it is preferable to analyse the past participle as a verb stem plus circumfix.
  • For verbs ending in l, m, n, ng, r, a vowel, or a diphthong, the allomorph ge-...-d (as in (7)) is optionally realised as a variant of ge-...-ø (as in (8)) when the participle is used postnominally (AWS-11, rule 19.11). However, when used prenominally in the attributive function, ge-...-d is always realised (as in (9); AWS-11, rule 11.9).
    Die katoen sal dus nie ge·sertifiseer·d wees nie.
    the cotton shall therefore not PST.PTCP·certify·PST.PTCP be PTCL.NEG
    The cotton will therefore not be certified.
    ... elke bladsy moet ge·sertifiseer·ø wees.
    ... each page must PST.PTCP·certify·PST.PTCP be
    ... each page should be certified.
    'n ge·sertifiseer·d·e afskrif
    a PST.PTCP·certify·PST.PTCP·ATTR copy
    a certified copy
  • The allomorph ge-...-d is always realised in attributively used prenominal past participles of verb stems ending in b or d, preceded by a short vowel (except [i] or [u]) (AWS-11, rule 11.10). For example:
    ge·rib·d·e materiaal
    PST.PTCP·rib·PST.PTCP·ATTRT fabric
    ribbed fabric
  • We see that ge-...-t is only realised when the past participle of verb stems ending in k and p is used prenominally with an attributive -e (AWS-11, rule 11.6). In (4) above, ge·koek·ø will be used typically in a sentence like (11). This is contrasted with the prenominally used form in example (12).
    Haar hare is ge·gekoek·ø.
    her hair be.PRS PST.PTCP·mat·PST.PTCP
    Her hair is matted
    ge·koek·t·e hare
    matted hair
  • When used prenominally in the attributive function, the past participles of verb stems ending in f, g, or s can be formed by either ge-...-d or ge-...-t (AWS-11, rule 11.7). For example, both (13) and (14) are found in corpora:
    'n in+ge·lig·d·e aanbieder
    an in+PST.PTCP·light·PST.PTCP·ATTR presenter
    an informed presenter
    'n in+ge·lig·t·e besluit
    an in+PST.PTCP·light·PST.PTCP·ATTR decision
    an informed decision
  • The allomorphs ø-...-t/d and ø-...-ø are realised when the verbal stem begins with an unstressed prefix, as in (15) below (also see Conradie 2012, as well as the discussion here). The same principles as above hold true for the realisation of ø-...-d (example (15)), vs. ø-...-t (example (16)), vs. ø-...-ø (example (17)).
    ... dat ons veilig en beskerm·d sal voel ...
    ... that we safe and protect·PST.PTCP shall feel ...
    ... that we will feel safe and protected ...
    'n ontsnap·t·e misdadiger
    an escape·PST.PTCP·ATTR criminal
    an escaped criminal
    Hy was erg ø·verbaas·ø.
    he was very PST.PTCP·surprise·PST.PTCP
    He was highly surprised.
  • The past participle form of a separable complex verb is also formed by means of circumfixation, but only applied to the verbal stem (i.e. excluding the left-hand particle) (AWS-11, rule 19.6). The verbal stem also serves as the phonological context to determine which allomorph will be realised. In (18) the seperable complex verb is af+takel [[af](PREP.PTCL)[takel](V)](V) down+rig to demolish, which then becomes af+ge·takel·d [[af](PREP.PTCL)[ge](PST.PTCP)[takel](V)[d](PST.PTCP)](ADJ) demolished by appending the participial circumfix to the verb stem only. Inseparable verb compounds, like rang+skik rank+order to arrange (e.g. flowers), are circumfixed like ordinary verbs, as in (19).
    Het jy al iets meer af+ge·takel·d ge·sien?
    have you ever something more down+PST.PTCP·rig·PST.PTCP PST·see
    Have you ever seen something more demolished?
    alfabeties ge·rang+skik·t·e temas
    alphabetically PST.PTCP·rank+order·PST.PTCP·ATTR themes
    alphabetically arranged themes
  • Lexicalised past participle forms of roundabout 200 verbs have been inherited from Dutch strong verbs. It is of no practical or theoretical use to analyse such forms morphologically. Hence, a past participle like gebroke broken is usually glossed/annotated as gebroke break.PST.PTCP < breek to break.


For an alternative view on the formation of past participles, see the Dutch topic on verbal inflection.

[+]Other circumfixes

Like the participial circumfix, all other circumfixes in Afrikaans are from the native stratum, and they are all stress neutral. They are all practically unproductive.

Based by and large on Combrink (1990), the table below presents known circumfixes in Afrikaans words.

Table 1
Circumfix Meaning Base category Example
be-...-d [intense SEM(A)](A) A be·simpel·d ADVZ·foolish·ADVZ foolish(ly), silly
be-...-ig [to have SEM(N)](V) N be·ëd·ig VBZ·oath·VBZ to swear in; to put on oath (< eed)
be-...-ing [collection/range of SEM(N)](N) N be·huis·ing CN·house·CN housing; accommodation
[that which have been SEM(root)](N) root be·send·ing NMLZ·send·NMLZ consignment; shipment
be-...-s (only two attested cases) [on/during SEM(N)](ADV) N be·dag·s ADVZ·day·ADVZ by day (also see (1) above)
ge-...-ig [with SEM(N)](A) N ge·regt·ig ADJZ·justice·ADJZ entitled; warranted (< reg)
ge-...-te [collection/range of SEM(N)](N) N ge·been·te CN·bone·CN skeleton (also see (2) above)
on-...-baar [impossible to SEM(V)](A) V on·misken·baar ADJZ·over.look·ADJZ undeniable, unmistakable
on-...-ig [without SEM(N)](A) N on·will·ig ADJZ·will·ADJZ unwilling (< wil)
on-...-lik [impossible to SEM(V)](A) V on·bedaar·lik ADJZ·quieten·ADJZ uncontrollable
on-...-s [not like SEM(V)](A) V on·verwag·s ADJZ·expect·ADJZ unexpected(ly)
s-...-s [during SEM(N)](ADV) N s·nag·s ADVZ·night·ADVZ at night; nightly
ver-...-er [to make more SEM(A)](V) A ver·oud·er VBZ·old·VBZ to age
ver-...-ig [to make SEM(N)](V) N ver·en·ig VBZ·one·VBZ to unify (< een)

  • Bauer, Laurie2003Introducing linguistic morphologyEdinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
  • Combrink, J.G.H1990Afrikaanse morfologie: capita exemplaria.Academica
  • Conradie, C. Jac2012Historical Linguistics 2009. Selected papers from the 19th International Conference on Historical LinguisticsVan Kemenade, A & De Haas, N (ed.)The Dutch-Afrikaans participial prefix ge-: A case of degrammaticalization?John Benjamin131-153
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