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12.13: Lesson Thirty-seven

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The Prefix Syn- and Assimilation

1. All of the following words begin with some form of the prefix syn-. In the analysis we give you the stem of each word. Your job is to identify the form of the prefix for each. Show any assimilation that takes place:

Word = Prefix + Stem
sympathy = sy\cancel{n} + m + pathy
sympathetic = sy\cancel{n} + m + pathetic
symbol = sy\cancel{n} + m + bol
syllable = sy\cancel{n} + l + lable
symptom = sy\cancel{n} + m + ptom
system = sy\cancel{n} + stem
symmetry = sy\cancel{n} + m + metry
symphony = sy\cancel{n} + m + phony
synagogue = syn + agogue
synchronize = syn + chronize
syndicated = syn + dicated
synonym = syn + onym
synopsis = syn + opsis
synthesis = syn + thesis
synthetic = syn + thetic
syzygy = sy\cancel{n} + zygy

2. You should be able to look at your analyses above and describe the pattern of assimilation for the prefix syn-:

The prefix syn- assimilates partially by changing to sym- before stems that start with the letters \underline{<b>}, <m>, and \underline{<p>} . It assimilates partially by changing to sy- before stems that start with the letters \underline{<\mathrm{s}>} and <z> . It assimilates fully before stems that start with the letter <l> . Everywhere else it remains syn-.

3. The prefix syn- usually means something like “with, together, at the same time.” Below are the meanings of the some of the stems in the syn- words with which you’ve worked. Be ready to discuss the connection between the meanings of the prefixes and stems of the words and the meanings of the words.

Word Stem and Its Meaning
syllable lable “take”
sympathy pathy “suffer”
system stem “cause to stand”
symmetry metry “measure”
symphony phony “voice, sound”
synagogue agogue “bring, lead”
symptom ptom “fall”
synchronize chronize “time”
synopsis opsis “appearance”
synonym onym “name”
synthesis thesis “put, place”
syzygy zygy “yoke, connect”

Teaching Notes.

Items 1 and 2. Symphony may raise questions since though it starts with <\mathrm{p}> , the <\mathrm{p}> is part of the digraph <ph> spelling [f] rather than [p]. This assimilation is similar to the lack of assimilation of com- in words like comfort, in which the stem also begins with [f]. The letters <\mathrm{b}> ,<m>, and <\mathrm{p}> normally spell [b], [m], and [p], all bilabial sounds pronounced by bringing the two lips together. The sound [f] is pronounced by bringing the lower teeth together with the upper lip. Thus the place of articulation for the [f]’s in comfort and symphony are close enough to the place of articulation for the bilabial sounds [b], [m], and [p], to forestall assimilation in comfort but allow it in symphony. For more on comfort , see the teaching notes for Item 1 in Book 5, Lesson 5. For more on assimilation in syn-, see AES, pp. 107-98.

Syzygy is not a word that one encounters very often, though it has one sense that refers to the alignment of celestial bodies and would be common to someone interested in in astronomy. It’s also the only word I know of with three <y> vowels.

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1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5

Date Created:

Feb 23, 2012

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Apr 29, 2014
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