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What is a clitic? (Grammar)

 

Definition
 

A clitic is a morpheme that has syntactic characteristics of a word, but shows evidence of being phonologically bound to another word.

Features
 
  • Phonologically bound but syntactically free
  • Function at phrase or clause level
  • Cannot be integrated into standard discourse without being bound to some other form
  • Often have grammatical rather than lexical meaning
  • Belong to closed classes like pronouns, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, and conjunctions
  • Usually attach to the edges of words, outside of derivational and inflectional affixes
  • Often attach to several syntactic categories of words such as head noun, non-head noun, preposition, verb, or adverb
  • Phonologically unstressed
Discussion
 

A clitic may have a nonclitic alternant.

Examples (English)
 
  • The contraction of the morpheme is, as in

  • What's going on?
  • The possessive marker 's, as in

  • The man in the black coat's book.
Kinds
 

Here are the two kinds of clitics:

 
  • proclitic, occurring at the beginning of a morpheme
  • enclitic, occurring at the end of a morpheme

 
Note:

Clitics that occur on the last element of a clause will always cliticize to the end of that element. (See Payne, T. 1997b)

Generic
  A clitic is a kind of
 
Comparison and contrast: clitic versus affix
 

Here is a table that compares and contrasts clitics and affixes:

 
  • Clitic

    Affix

    Functions above the word level syntactically and on the word level phonologically.

    Functions on the word level syntactically and phonologically.

    May attach to words belonging to a variety of syntactic categories.

    Attaches to words belonging to a single syntactic category.

    May attach to words or whole phrases.

    Attaches to single words.

    Occurs at the edge of a word.

    May occur within or at the edges of a word.

  • Sources
     

    Crystal 1980 64

     

    Hartmann and Stork 1972 38

     

    Anderson, S. 1985 158

     

    Klavans 1982 xi-xiv, 74–76, 83, 93–95, 100–101

     

    Zwicky 1977 5

    See also
     

    Context for this page:

    Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

    Page content last modified: 5 January 2004

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