Is bio- a prefix?

Dr. Jennifer Petrich and I did a one-day scientific spelling workshop at my school this weekend.

It was so wonderful to see so many curious minds coming in and asking questions throughout about how orthography works, especially on a rain-filled Saturday during May testing season.

My session was titled “Introduction to Morphology.” Jen previewed some characteristics of dyslexia and set up the four questions for the audience:

1) What does the word mean? (Meaning)

2) How is the word built? (Morphology)

3) What are its relatives? (Etymology)

4) What aspects of pronunciation affect meaning? (Orthographic Phonology)

Morphology is concerned with the structure of Present-Day English words and how they are built. Morphology and etymology are interrelated.

One of the most important aspects of morphology that I wanted to highlight is that it is very difficult to understand it unless you practice it! We got lots of practice synthesizing, putting together, and analyzing, ‘loosening,’ words.

A great question came in that highlights the importance of the lexical algorithm and the interrelationship of etymology and morphology:

Is bio- a prefix?

The word under question is: biography.

What does biography mean? One way I address meaning with students is to ask them to use it in a sentence. Even if the word is a part of the English lexicon, doesn’t mean it is a part of said student’s vocabulary yet. So, if a student can use the word in a sentence, the likelihood that student understands the word is high. Asking students to read a definition from the dictionary doesn’t guarantee the student understands that definition. So, in order to address meaning we put the word in a sentence: Hopefully, one day someone will write a biography, or life story, about Sir William Jones. Biography can mean a life story in the context of this sentence.

How is it built? bi + o + graph + y OR bio + graph + y.

It is important to note that either one of these word sums is validated, but only if we have a bi bound base element and a connecting vowel letter o, and not a bio- prefix. Of course, it isn’t about answers, it is about understanding.

This is my own understanding of the analysis of biography and a falsification of a bio- prefix.

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So, while both hypotheses can be supported, we cannot identify bio- as a prefix, since it is clearly the bound base element bi in the words biome, biotics, and amphibian. Of course, we could analyze the elements in those words more rigorously should we choose.

Also of note for further investigation is the word geography.

As we continued to study words throughout the day, questioning and interrogating resources, I reflected back to how life-changing this work has been for me and so many of my students.