Explorations in derivational morphology

Two finds in the 6/5 article “Mad Professors: The adjuncts are at the barricades” by Rebecca Burns in In These Times (about unions for adjunct faculty), with the crucial words boldfaced:

(1) That so many advanced degree-holders are toiling in poverty conditions flies in the face of the assumption that higher education is a path to prosperity. But low wages and precarity represent the new norm for what some adjuncts have termed “academia’s version of apartheid.”

(2) Reeling from state budget cuts, universities have turned increasingly to the cheap teaching labor provided by non-tenure track faculty. But the adjunctification of higher education also coincides with its bureaucratization.

In (1), we have the Latinate derivative precarity rather than the native English precariousness; in (2), a noun adjunctification, incorporating the verb-forming suffix –ify (on the base adjunct). Both are innovations, not in the OED or other dictionaries I’ve consulted.

precarity. Here the competition is between Latinate -ity and native -ness. The suffix -ness is fully productive, but -ity is much more restricted, and tends to be used in new formations to convey some specialized or technical sense not associated with the more general -ness — as in the case at hand. From Wikipedia:

Precarity is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. Specifically, it is applied to the condition of intermittent or underemployment and the resultant precarious existence. The social class defined by this condition has been termed the precariat.

Léonce Crenier, a Catholic monk who had previously been active as an anarcho-communist may have established the English usage. In 1952 the term was used by Dorothy Day, writing for the Catholic Worker Movement

… It is a term of everyday usage as Precariedad, Precariedade, Précarité, or Precarietà in a number of European countries, where it refers to the widespread condition of temporary, flexible, contingent, casual, intermittent work in postindustrial societies, brought about by the neoliberal labor market reforms that have strengthened the right to manage and the bargaining power of employers since the late 1970s.

Precarity is a general term to describe how large parts of the population are being subjected to flexible exploitation or flexploitation (low pay, high blackmailability, intermittent income, etc.), and existential precariousness (high risk of social exclusion because of low incomes, welfare cuts, high cost of living, etc.)

(Precariat and flexploitation are morphological bonuses in this passage.)

adjunctification. The causative (or sometimes inchoative) suffix -(i)fy is wonderfully flexible, as I’ve pointed out in this blog several times, notably in a posting on Pepsification, which has a collection of innovative examples.

From Michael Quinion’s affixes site on -fy:

The ending is in active use, forming verbs both from nouns and adjectives. Because many existing examples contain the linking vowel -i-, its form is usually taken to be -ify rather than -fy.

Verbs are sometimes created with humorous intent, as in trendify, to make trendy or fashionable, and yuppify, to make an area attractive to yuppies; others of similar kind are cutify, uglify, and youthify.

Many verbs in -fy have associated adjectives in -fic and nouns in -fication.

Though some occurrences of the suffix have an ostentatiously playful or jocular tone, others serve to compact a complex concept into a useful single word — as in adjunctification, in (2) above and in many other occurrences, for example, in articles entited “The Adjunctification of English” (here), about English departments, and “Lowering Higher Education: The Adjunctification Of CUNY And SUNY” (here).

Three more -(i)fy examples from my files, beyond those in my Pepsification posting:

In Paris, cheap housing is pushed out of sight of the boulevards, to the banlieues, the impoverished, underserved, tense suburbs. With its history of public housing, London has always been far more of a medley, incomes jostling together across the city. Now the poor are to be pushed centrifugally, faster and faster. The banlieuefication of London is under way. (link to NYT Magazine of 3/4/12)

Throughout our society, we are losing the places and institutions that used to bring people together from different walks of life. [Michael] Sandel calls this the “skyboxification of American life,” and it is troubling. (Thomas Friedman, “This Column Is Not Sponsored by Anyone”, NYT Sunday Review 5/13/12, p. 13)

Such talk adds up to what John Shuford, the director of the Institute for Hate Studies at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., calls “enmification” – the process of turning a particular group into an enemy. Now that American Muslims have been enmified, violence against them is understood in a mitigated, mediated way. (Samuel G. Freedman, “If the Sikh Temple Had Been a Mosque”, NYT  8/11/12, p. A11)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: