Adaptation of the neoclassical prefixes super-, hüper-, mega- and ultra- in Estonian

Keywords: neoclassical prefixes, corpus study, free listing task, synonymy

Neoclassical prefixes are bound morphemes that originate from Latin or Ancient Greek and have become building blocks of international vocabulary within the last few centuries. This paper provides a short overview of this phenomenon and an analysis of four semantically similar morphemes super-, hüper-, mega– and ultra– in contemporary Estonian. The study was synchronic and empirical and was focused principally on the frequency, meaning, usage, and intensity of the aforementioned prefixes.

The data for the inquiries was collected from etTenTen13 (Estonian corpus of webpages). The lemmas of words starting with super-, hüper-, mega- and ultra- were extracted from the corpus and analyzed systematically. In addition to that, an experiment was conducted. Participants were given a free listing task with cues super-, hüper-, mega– and ultra– in which they were asked to produce as many compounds as possible in a limited time. Later the participants were also asked to rank the same morphemes on a scale from the weakest up to the strongest. The purpose of the experiment was to analyze the potential gradation of productivity and intensity among the prefixes.

All the studied prefixes were found to be productive to some extent in Estonian, especially super– and mega-. The study revealed that even though they are all used as intensifiers, the nuances in their meanings differ. Most obviously they can express different intensity and contrast in expressing quantity or quality. The use of a certain prefix may also depend on the thematic domain of the word or stylistic level. More­over, comparison with Polish, English, and Hungarian research data of the same prefixes showed that the use of the prefixes depends on cultural context and language as well.

All in all, the phenomenon of neoclassical prefixes is worth further research and the comparison of the usage of such morphemes across languages is an important part of it. The results of the present study contribute to a better understanding of their frequency and usage in Estonian.


Johanna Kiik (b. 1995), MA, University of Tartu, PhD Student in Estonian and Finno-Ugric Linguistics (Jakobi 2-433, 51005 Tartu),