3.1. Knowing a language means knowing the words of that language. When you know a word, you know both its form (sound) and its related meaning. These are inseparable parts of the linguistic sign.
Words are an important part of linguistic knowledge and constitute a component of our mental grammars. But one can learn thousands of words in a language and still not know the language.
What is a word? A particular string of sounds must be united with a meaning and a meaning must be united with specific sounds in order for the sounds or the meaning to be a word in our mental dictionaries. Once you learn both the sounds and their related meaning, you know the word. It becomes an entry in your mental lexicon (the Greek word for dictionary).
Each word is stored / listed in your mental lexicon with information on its pronunciation (phonological representation), its meaning (semantic properties) and its syntactic class or (grammatical) category specification (whether it is a noun, a verb, an adjective, a preposition, etc).
For instance, a speaker may not consciously know that a form like love is listed as both a verb and a noun, but the speaker has such knowledge as shown by the phrases I love you, and You are the love of my life.
For literate speakers, its spelling or orthography will also be in our lexicon.
In spoken language, words are not separated by pauses (or spaces as in written language). One must know the language in order to segment the stream of speech into separate words. As V. Fromkin and R. Rodman (1980: 64) point out, someone who does not know English would not know where one word begins or ends in an utterance like Thecatsatonthemat. We separate written words by spaces (The cat sat on the mat), but in spoken language there are no pauses between most words. Without knowledge of the language one cannot tell how many words there are in the utterance. A speaker of English has no difficulty in segmenting the stream of sounds into six individual words: the, cat, sat, on, the, mat.
3.2. The minimal units of meaning: Morphemes
3.2.1. Consider the following pairs of words:
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary lists about 2700 adjectives beginning with un-.
If the most elemental units of meaning, the basic linguistic signs, are assumed to be the words of a language, it would be a coincidence that un- has the same meaning in all the column B words. But this is no coincidence. The words undesirable, unlikely, unhappy, undeveloped consist of at least two meaningful units: un + desirable, un + likely, and so on.
Just as un- occurs with the same meaning in the words above, so does phon in the following words:
phone phonology phoneme
phonetic/s telephone phonemic
phonic telephonic symphony
Phon is a minimal form in that it can’t be divided into more elemental structures. In all the words on the list phon has the identical meaning, ‘pertaining to sound’.
Words are not the most elemental sound-meaning units: some words are actually structurally complex.
The most elemental unit of grammatical form in a language is morpheme. A morpheme is the minimal unit of linguistic meaning or grammatical function / form.
Thus, ‘moralizers’ is an English word composed of four morphemes:
moral + ize + er + s
The study of word formation (i.e. the rules by which words are formed) and the internal structure of words is called morphology. This word itself consists of two morphemes: morph- (derived from the Greek word morphe, meaning ‘form’, ‘structure’ )+ -ology. The morphemic suffix -ology means ‘science of’, ‘branch of knowledge concerning’. Thus, the meaning of morphology is ‘the science of word forms’.
Part of one’s linguistic competence includes knowledge of the language’s morphology – the morphemes, words, their pronunciation, their meanings, and how they are combined. As we shall see later, morphemes combine according to the morphological rules of the language.
A single word may consist of one or more morphemes:
boy - one morpheme
boy + ish - two morphemes
boy + ish + ness - three morphemes
genle+ man+ li + ness - four morphemes
A morpheme may be represented by a single sound such as the morpheme a meaning ‘without’ as in amoral or asexual, or by a single syllable, such as child and ish in childish.
A morpheme may also consist of more than one syllable: by two syllables, as in lady, water; or by three syllables, as in crocodile; or by four syllables, as in salamander.
A morpheme - the minimal linguistic sign – is thus a grammatical unit in which there is an arbitrary union of a sound and a meaning that cannot be further analysed. Every word in every language is composed of one or more morphemes.
The word black is a minimal unit in so far as it cannot be broken down into smaller semantic or functional units. The words blackbirds and blackened, on the other hand, can be broken down into significant elements, three in each case.
In the case of blackbirds two of the elements, black and bird, stand together to denote a particular kind of bird and the third, -s, serves to indicate plurality.
In the case of blackened the adjective black is accompanied by the element –en which changes the adjective into a verb and the element –ed which specifies the past tense or past participle.
3.2.2. A word must contain an element that can stand by itself, such as black, boy. Nonaffix lexical content morphemes (having no affixes) that cannot be analysed into smaller parts (black, boy) are called root morphemes.
When a root morpheme is combined with affix morphemes it forms a stem.
Other affixes can be added to a stem to form a more complex stem, as shown in the following:
root boy noun
stem boy + ish noun + suffix
word boy + ish + ness noun + suffix + suffix
Similarly, unsystematically can be analysed as follows:
root system noun
stem system + atic noun + suffix
stem un + system + atic prefix + noun + suffix
stem un + system + atic + al prefix + noun + suffix + suffix
word un + system + atic + al + ly prefix + noun + suffix + suffix + suffix
As one adds each additional affix to a stem a new stem and a new word is formed.
A word may contain more than one root, in which case it is a compound word (for example blackbird).
A word may contain one or more elements that cannot stand by themselves, such as –en, -ed in blackened, -ish, -ness in childishness.
Such elements that can only exist when joined to a ‘host’ are called affixes and the host may be called a base. Affixes may be joined to the beginning of the base, in which case they are called prefixes, or to the end of the base, in which case they are called suffixes.
There are other alternatives such as infixes that are significant in some languages. Some affixes like –en of blacken create a new lexeme, while others like the –ed of blackened restrict the word grammatically.
The number of such semantic and grammatical elements that are typically combined in a single word varies from language to language. The Finnish equivalent of in my house is talossani: Finnish incorporates in one word the concepts that the English express in three separate words. Finnish is often described as an agglutinating or agglutinative language, it being a language in which such concepts as are realized as prepositions and possessive adjectives in English are realized as affixes. In the case of talossani the element talo- denotes a house, the element –ssa indicates position within (the house) and the element –ni indicates that the house belongs to the speaker.
The English in my house is indicative of an analytic or isolating language, each concept being expressed by a separate word.
On a scale reflecting the average number of concepts incorporated in a word, then, agglutinating languages lie at one end and analytic languages lie at the other. In between linguists usually recognize another type, inflecting languages. Such languages, like French, make greater use of affixes than analytic languages do; for example, the French equivalent of I shall give is donnerai.
3.3. Classification / Types of morphemes
3.3.1. Bound vs. free morphemes
A morpheme may be defined as a minimal functional element of a word. As we have seen, some elements can stand by themselves and some cannot. The former are called roots, the latter are affixes. They can also be referred to as free morphemes and bound morphemes respectively.
184.108.40.206. Free morphemes
Some morphemes are free in that they need not be attached to other morphemes. For instance, boy, system, gentle, man, etc. are free morphemes – they constitute words by themselves.
220.127.116.11. Bound morphemes
Some morphemes are bound in that they must be joined to other morphemes: they are always parts of words, and never words by themselves.
Affixes (that is, prefixes, suffixes, infixes, circumfixes) are bound morphemes because they cannot occur unattached (as distinct from free morphemes)
Prefixes are those morphemes which occur only before other morphemes: un-, pre-, dis-, trans-, bi-, etc.
Prefixing is very widespread in the languages of the world.
Suffixes occur only after other morphemes: -ly, -ness, - ish, etc.
English examples of suffix morphemes are –er (as in singer, reader, performer),
-ist (in pianist, novelist, linguist) and –ly (as in manly, sickly, friendly), to mention only a few.
These prefix and suffix morphemes are bound morphemes because they cannot occur unattached, as distinct from free morphemes like man, sick, friend, and so on.
Infixes are morphemes that occur in the middle of stems, i.e. they are inserted into other morphemes:
An example of
an infixing language is Bontoc, a language spoken in the
Noun / adjective verb
Fikas ‘strong’ fumikas ‘to be strong’
Kilad ‘red’ kumilad ‘to be red’
In this language the infix –um- is inserted into other morphemes, more precisely, after the first consonant of the noun or adjective to form verbs from nouns or adjectives.
English has a very limited number of infixes.
Circumfixes are morphemes that are attached to a root or stem morpheme both initially and finally (i.e. around). These are sometimes called discontinuous morphemes.
Examples of circumfixing or discontinuous languages are German, Romanian. In German, the past participle of regular verbs is formed by adding the prefix ge- and the suffix –t to the verb root. This circumfix added to the verb root lieb ‘love’ produces geliebt ‘loved’ (or ‘beloved’, when used as an adjective).
Probably the only circumfixes in English are: en- -en, and em- -en in enlighten, and embolden. One cannot say *enlight (although lighten is correct); *embold or *bolden are both incorrect.
18.104.22.168. Special types of morphemes
A morpheme was defined as the basic element of meaning, a phonological form that is arbitrarily united with a particular meaning and that cannot be analysed into simpler elements. This definition has presented problems for linguistic analysis for many years, although it holds for most of the morphemes in a language.
Some bound forms have no meaning in isolation but acquire meaning only in combination with other specific morphemes.
For instance, consider words like huckleberry or cranberry. The berry part is no problem, but huckle and cran occur only with berry. Thus, the morpheme huckle when joined with berry - huckleberry - has the meaning of ‘a special kind of berry that is round and purplish blue’ (R. afina). Therefore, huckle is a bound stem morpheme that only occurs in this word.
Lukewarm is another word with two stem morphemes, with luke occurring only in this word, because it is not the same morpheme as the name Luke. The morpheme luke when combined with warm has the meaning of ‘sort of’ or ‘somewhat’, and so on.
Bound forms like huckle- and luke- require a redefinition of the concept of morpheme. Some morphemes have no meaning in isolation but acquire meaning only in combination with other specific morphemes.
Just as there are some morphemes that occur only in a single word (combined with another morpheme), there are other morphemes that occur in many words, but seem to lack a constant meaning from one word to another.
What is the meaning of the morpheme –ceive in words such as perceive, receive, deceive, conceive? The morpheme has constant phonological form but seems to lack a constant meaning. The meaning of the morpheme is determined only by the words in which it occurs.
Similarly, the morpheme –mit in words such as remit, permit, commit, submit, transmit, and admit.
The meaning of such morphemes depends on the entire word in which they occur, on their morphological context.
They are thus, also, bound morphemes.
There are other words that seem to be composed of prefix + root morphemes, in which the root never occurs alone, but always with a specific prefix. Thus, we find inept but no *ept, disgusted but no *gusted, inert, but no *ert, etc.
To complicate things a little further, there are words like downhearted and outlandish, whose stems do not occur by themselves: *hearted and *landish are not free morphemes. In addition, *uphearted and *inlandish, their ‘opposites’, are not found in any English lexicon.
The meaning of a morpheme must be constant. The morpheme –er means ‘on who does’ in words like singer, painter, lover, worker, but the same sounds represent the comparative morpheme, meaning ‘more’, in nicer, prettier, taller. Thus, two different morphemes may be pronounced identically. The identical form represents two morphemes because of the different meanings. The same sounds may occur in words without representing a separate or distinct morpheme. Thus, the –er in water is not a distinct morpheme ending. Water is a single morpheme, or a monomorphemic word.
In conclusion, all morphemes are bound or free. Affixes (prefixes, suffixes, and infixes) are bound morphemes. Root morphemes can be bound or free, as illustrated by the following (V. Fromkin, 1980 : 73):
ROOT: boy, run, hot, etc
huckle(berry), (dis)gruntled, (in)ept, (per)ceive, (un)couth, (non)chalance
(friend)ship, re(do), (sad)ly, (tall)ish
Morph – allomorph: A morpheme may have different phonetic realizations. The variation is often determined by phonological environment; the final segments of the words boat, train and bus determine that the plural morpheme will be realized phonetically as /s/, /z/ and /iz/ respectively. To distinguish the phonetic realizations from the functional morpheme linguists often call the former a morph. Thus we might say that the plural morpheme is realized in English by the morphs /s/, /z/ and /iz/. As realizations of a morpheme that are in complementary distribution to each other we can call /s/, /z/ and /iz/ allomorphs of the plural morpheme.
3.4. Rules of word formation
3.4.1. Derivational vs. inflectional morphemes
In section 3.2.1. we drew a distinction between the elements –en and –ed in the word blackened. The element –en created a new lexeme, a label for the action of making something black, while the element –ed restricted functionally the lexeme blacken. The first case is an example of derivation, the second an example of inflection. Derivation, being concerned with the creation of new labels, draws morphology towards lexis while inflection, being concerned with function, draws morphology towards syntax.
22.214.171.124. Derivational morphemes
126.96.36.199.1. When added to a root or a stem derivational morphemes may change the grammatical (syntactic) word class and / or the meaning of the word.
i. Derivational morphemes may change the grammatical (syntactic) word class: For example, adding –ish to the noun child derives an adjective: childish. Also, when the suffix –en is added to an adjective, a verb is derived, as in:
dark (adjective) - dark + en = darken (verb)
ii. Derivational morphemes may change the meaning of the word: For example, prefixing un- to pleasant, changes the meaning by adding a negative element: unpleasant. As the example shows, a derivational morpheme may add an additional meaning to the original word, such as the negative meaning of words prefixed by un-, but the grammatical (syntactic) word class is kept.
Morphological rules of adding derivational morphemes may be more or less productive.
Some of the morphological rules are very productive, meaning that they can be used freely to form new words from the list of free or bound morphemes. Thus, the rule that adds –er to verbs in English to produce a noun with the meaning of ‘one who performs an action’ appears to be a very productive morphological rule: most verbs accept this suffix: lover, worker, hunter, etc.
Also, the suffix –able appears to be a morpheme that can be conjoined with any verb to derive an adjective with the meaning of ‘able to + V’.
Such a rule might be stated as:
Verb + able ADJ ‘able to be VERB-ed’
accept + able = ‘able to be accepted’
188.8.131.52.2. Lexical Gaps
A ‘gap’ is a term used in linguistics to refer to the absence of a linguistic unit at a place in a pattern of relationship where one might have been expected. (Crystal, 1992: 150)
To a greater or lesser extent there may be restrictions on which roots an affix may be joined to. The suffix –ant, for example, can only be joined to a Latinate root: there is assistant but not *helpant.
As further examples of the factors that constrain the composition of words we can refer to the use of the negating prefix un-. Un- is only used with positive roots: we can say unhappy but not *unsad, unkind but not *uncruel.
Morphemes combine according to the morphological rules of the language. The internal structure of words is rule-governed, i.e. morphemes occur in a fixed order.
For example, uninspired, ungrammatical are words in English, but *inspiredun and *grammaticalun (to mean ‘not inspired’, ‘not grammatical’) are not, because we do not form a negative meaning of a word by suffixing un (that is, by adding it to the end of the word), but by prefixing it (that is, by adding it to the beginning).
The order in which each new morpheme is affixed in a complex word is significant. A word is not a simple sequence of morphemes but has a hierarchical structure.
Consider the word unsystematically composed of five morphemes. The root is system, a noun, to which we added –atic, an adjective suffix, and then we added the prefix un-, which is added to adjectives to form the new adjective stem (or word) unsystematic.
If we added the prefix un- first, we would have derived a non-word *unsystem, since un- cannot be added to nouns.
The hierarchical structure of this word – unsystematically – can be diagrammed as follows:
(A)djective Stem Adv (Suf)fix
A Stem A Suf.
A Prefix A Stem
N A Suf
un system atic al ly
The diagram shows that the entire word – unsystematically – is an adverb stem which is composed of an adjective stem word – unsystematic(al) plus -ly, an adverbial derivational suffix.
The adjective stem itself – unsystematic(al) – is composed of an adjective stem – unsystematic, which is composed of an adjective prefix un- and another adjective stem systematic (composed of the noun system and the adjective suffix –atic) plus the adjective suffix –al.
Morphological rules of word formation are complex. Yet every speaker of English knows them and uses them to form new words and to understand words not heard before, like the first time one hears the word Chomskian.
184.108.40.206. Inflectional morphemes
Inflectional morphemes are determined by rules of syntax. They are added to complete words, whether monomorphematic words (made up of one morpheme) or complex polymorphematic words (i.e. words made up of more than one morpheme).
Many languages, including English to some extent, contain bound morphemes that are, for the most part, purely grammatical markers, representing such concepts as tense, number, gender, case and so forth.
Such bound grammatical morphemes are called inflectional morphemes, or less technically, inflectional endings.
Inflectional morphemes never change the syntactic category of the words to which they are attached. They are always attached to complete words.
Inflectional morphemes signal grammatical relations and are required by rules of syntax (syntactic sentence formation rules). Consider the forms of the verb in the following sentences:
(a) I walk to school.
(b) He walks to school.
(c) He walked to school.
(d) He has walked to school.
(e) He is walking to school.
In sentence (b), the –s at the end of the verb is an agreement marker: it signifies that the subject of the verb is third person, is singular and that the verb is in the present tense. It doesn’t add any lexical meaning.
In sentence (c), the –ed ending is a morpheme required by the syntactic rule of the English language to signal past tense.
While some languages are highly inflected (e.g. Finnish), English is no longer a highly inflected language. At the present stage of English history, there are a total of eight bound inflectional morphemes/affixes:
English inflectional morphemes Examples
-s: third person singular He walks to school
-ed: past tense He walked to school
-ing: Present participle He is walking to school
-en: Past participle He has walked / taken
-s: plural The boys walk to school
-‘s: possessive The boy’s books
-er: comparative This is a longer line
-est: superlative This is the longest line
In conclusion, there are some useful distinctions between derivational and inflectional morphemes:
- Derived words are syntactically unmarked, whereas inflected words are marked in some way; inflected nouns may be marked for the plural, inflected verbs may be marked for person or tense.
- A derivational affix may produce a related lexeme of a different word class (as with the adjective weak and the noun weakness); an inflectional affix does not alter the word class (as with the verb help and the verb helped).
- Derivational suffixes are less predictable in occurrence: while weak acquired the noun form weakness, strong acquired the noun form strength. Derivational affixes are also less predictable semantically: while fatherhood denotes the state of being a father, brotherhood denotes an association of men as well as the state of being a brother.
- Inflectional affixes are more productive than derivational affixes, that is they can be used with new words, this being facilitated by their greater predictability.
- Inflectional morphemes in English typically follow derivational morphemes. It therefore follows that a word with both a derivational affix and an inflectional affix, as with, for example teachers, the former will be placed closer to the root of the word, the latter will be more peripheral.
However, with some compounds the situation is complicated. Thus, the plural of mother-in-law is mothers-in-law whereas the possessive form is mother-in-law’s.
While the particular morphemes and the particular morphological rules are language dependent, the same general processes occur in all languages.
The figure below shows the way one may classify English morphemes
Affix root open class closed class
-ceive (content or (function or
-mit Lexical words) grammatical words)
-fer nouns (girl) conjunctions (and)
adjectives (pretty) prepositions (in)
verbs (love) articles (the)
adverbs (slowly) pronouns (he)
auxiliary verbs (is)
prefix suffix suffix
pre- -ly -ing -er -s
un- -ist -s -est -‘s
con- -ment -en -ed
The mental grammar of the language that is internalized by the language learner includes a lexicon listing all the morphemes and the derived words of the language.
The morphological rules of the grammar permit speakers to use and understand the morphemes and words in forming and understanding sentences, and in forming and understanding new words.
3.5. Problems of morphological analysis
3.5.1. Identifying morphemes
Speakers of a language can easily learn how to analyse a word of their language into its component morphemes, since their mental grammars include a mental lexicon of morphemes and the morphological rules for their combination.
For example, -er is a morpheme that occurs in taller, prettier, adding the meaning of ‘more’ to the adjectives to which it is attached. Therefore –er is a bound morpheme for ‘comparative’. There are other words with –er – singer, lover, writer, teacher – in which the –er ending, when attached to a verb, changes it to a noun who ‘verbs’, i.e. sings, loves, writes, teaches.
There are a number of words like somber, member, butter, number and many others in which the –er has no separate meaning at all – a somber is not on who sombs and a member does not memb – and therefore these words must be monomorphematic.
The word unhelpful clearly consists of three morphemes which are clearly realized by three morphs: the semantic root –help-, -ful which derives the adjective and the negating prefix un-. These are easily identified because each has an obvious function and because one follows another, because they are concatenated.
But there are many cases where the morphological analysis of a word is less straightforward.
Thus, recover in the sense of put a new cover on, can easily be split into two morphemes. But there is less obvious justification for treating as two morphemes recover in the sense of getting better. Many words have an ancestor that consisted of two or more morphemes but are now morphologically indivisible, there now being no part of the word that has a distinct function.
The words boys and pens are easily analysed as the composition of a semantic root and a plural morpheme realized as / z /. But how do we analyse the words teeth and sheep? Similarly the word walked is easily analysed as a semantic root plus a past tense morpheme but the word ran is not. How do we analyse the structure of a word where the morphs are internalized rather than concatenated?
In the case of sheep we can argue that plural morpheme is realized by a zero morph. But what about the words teeth and ran which undergo a change to the vowel of the root? Indeed, what about the word went which phonologically is totally unrelated to the word go?
One morph may realize more than one morpheme. Such a morph might be referred to as a portmanteau morph.
V. Fromkin and R. Rodman (1993: 93) consider that some of the irregular forms (man / men, bring / brought) must be listed separately in our mental lexicons, as suppletive forms. That is, one cannot use the regular rules of inflectional morphology to add affixes to words that are exceptions like bring / brought, but must replace the non-inflected form with another word. It is possible that for regular words, only the singular forms are listed since we can use the inflectional rules to form plurals. But this can’t be so with exceptions.
The past tense of the verb hit, as in the sentence Yesterday John hit the roof, and the plural of the noun sheep, as in The sheep are in the meadow, show that some morphemes seem to have no phonological shape at all.
We know that hit in the above sentence is hit + past because of the time adverb yesterday; we also know that sheep is the phonetic form of sheep + plural because of the plural verb form are.
V. Fromkin and R. Rodman (1993: 93), holding to the definition of a morpheme as a constant sound-meaning form, suggest that the morpheme hit is marked as both present and past in the lexicon, and the morpheme sheep is marked as both singular and plural.
To address such problems many linguists, such as Stephen Anderson (1995) have concentrated on the word form rather than segments of the word. Such an approach is known as word-and-paradigm morphology. One or more morphemes are associated with the word as a whole. Thus the semantic root tooth and the plural morpheme are realized as the morph teeth; the semantic root run and the past tense morpheme are realized as the morph ran. But in the opinion of many this approach is superficial, revealing little about the process of word formation. To quote Laurie Bauer, word-and-paradigm morphology has the major disadvantage ‘that the mechanisms it employs appear to allow almost anything as a morphological operation.’ (Bauer 1988: 162)
Where the realization of a morpheme results in a form that is phonologically quite distinct, that form is usually derived from a different lexeme: go – went. This situation is called suppletion.
3.6. Morphology and Syntax
Some grammatical relations can be expressed either inflectionally (morphologically) or syntactically (as part of the sentence structure). We can see this in the following sentences:
He loves books. He is a lover of books.
The planes which fly are red. The flying planes are red.
What on language signals with inflectional affixes, another does with word order and another with function words.
In English, to convey the future meaning of a verb we must use a function word will, as in John will come (on) Monday. In French, the verb is inflected for future tense. Notice the difference between John is coming (on) Monday. “Jean vient lundi” and John will come (on) Monday. “Jean viendra lundi”
3.7. Other models of morphological analysis
In this section we look at some other attempts made to construct coherent models of linguistic analysis using morphological data.
Item and arrangement, item and process and word and paradigm are three labels given to models of analysis, which were used, particularly with reference to morphological data.
Item and arrangement (IA) is a model of description used in morphology for the analysis of words (and sometimes in syntax for lager grammatical units). In this approach, words are seen as linear sequences (‘arrangements’) of morphs (‘items’), e.g. The boys kicked the ball will be analysed as the + boy + s + kick + ed + the + ball .
Problem cases, where this notion of sequence would not easily apply, constituted a main part of discussion in linguistics of the 1950s, e.g. whether mice can be seen as mouse + plural. The main alternatives to this way of proceeding are the Item-and- process and Word-and-paradigm models.
3.7.2. Item and process (IP) is a model of description used in morphology for the analysis of words. In this approach, the relationships between words are seen as processes of derivation; e.g. the ‘item’ took is derived from the item take by a ‘process’ involving vowel change. As P.H. Matthews (1991: Ch.12) points out, for some linguists this label is applicable to any approach which makes use of derivational processes in its formulation, such as generative grammar; but its original use was in the context of morphology.
3.7.3. Word and paradigm (WP) is a morphological model of description which sees the word as the basic unit of analysis, operating within a set of variables which constitute a paradigm. This is the traditional model of description, as illustrated from Latin grammars (e.g. amo, amas, amat,…constitutes the paradigm of the lexeme amo). WP is seen as a major alternative to the two other main approaches to morphological analysis: Item and process and Item and arrangement. In contrast to the traditional use of paradigms in language study, linguistics does not arbitrarily choose one form of a word (the ‘leading form’) as given, and derive the rest of the paradigm from this (the student usually learning it by rote); rather, the aim is to define a common factor (a root or stem) within the paradigm, neutral with respect to the variant forms of the paradigm, and to derive the variant forms from this, e.g. using rules.
Words are not the most elemental sound-meaning units; some words are structurally complex.
The most elemental grammatical units in a language are morphemes. A morpheme is the minimal unit of linguistic meaning or grammatical function.
Morphology is the study of word formation and the internal structure of words. A semantic or grammatical element constitutes a morpheme. Lexical content morphemes that cannot be analysed into smaller parts are called root morphemes. When a root morpheme is combined with affix morphemes it forms a stem.
A morpheme that can be expressed as a word is a free morpheme; a morpheme that can only be expressed in conjunction with another is a bound morpheme. Affixes, that is prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and circumfixes are bound morphemes
The form in which a morpheme is expressed may be called a morph and any variation in a form may be called an allomorph. Some morphs may to a greater or lesser extent have ceased to be productive and the use of morphs may be restricted in various ways.
A major distinction is between morphemes which create new lexemes (derivational morphemes) and those which restrict a lexeme grammatically (inflectional morphemes).
Derivational morphemes, when added to a root or stem, may change the syntactic word class and/or the meaning of the word.
Inflectional morphemes are determined by the rules of syntax. They are added to complete words, whether simple monomophemic words or complex polymophemic words, i.e. words with more than one morpheme.
Morphological analysis is complicated by such factors as morphs losing their significance over time, morphemes not being realized as identifiable morphs and words developing a variant that is so elided that it needs a host word.
1. a) Identify in the following sentence four bound morphemes. State the function of
each and say whether each is derivational or inflectional:
The teacher’s brother considered the project impossible.
b) Do you consider the word project to contain one morpheme or two? Account
for your opinion.
2. The Swedish for a small car is en litel bil. The Swedish for two small cars is twå
små bilar. Which linguistic phenomenon is represented by the use of små as
opposed to litel in the plural?
3. Which morphological issues are illustrated by the following sentence:
I haven’t inspected he mice
Divide the following words by placing a + between their separate morphemes.
(Some of the words may be monomophemic and therefore indivisible).
Example: replaces re + place + s
a. retroactive; b. befriended; c. televise; d. margin; e. endearment;
f. psychology; g. unpalatable; h. holiday; i. grandmother; j. morphemic;
k. mistreatment; l. disactivation;. m. saltpeter;. n. airsickness
5. Match each expression under A with the one statement under B that
a. noisy crow 1. compound noun
b. eat crow 2. root morpheme plus derivational prefix
c. scarecrow 3. phrase consisting of adjective plus noun
d. the crow 4. root morpheme plus inflectional affix
e. crowlike 5. root morpheme plus derivational suffix
f. crows 6. grammatical morpheme followed by lexical
Write the one proper description from the list under B for the italicized part of
each word in A
a. terrorized 1. free root
b. uncivilized 2. bound root
c. terrorize 3. inflectional suffix
d. lukewarm 4. derivational suffix
e. impossible 5. inflectional prefix
6. derivational prefix
7. inflectional infix
8. derivational infix
6. There are many asymmetries in English in which a root morpheme combined
with a prefix constitutes a word but without the prefix is a non-word. Below are
a list of such non-word roots. Add a prefix to each root to form an existing
Guide to exercises
1. a) The –er and the -‘s of teacher’s are bound morphemes, the former being
derivational, as it produces a lexeme that denotes the person who does an
action, the latter being an inflectional morpheme, as it indicates possession.
The –ed of considered is inflectional, indicating that the action took place in the
The im- of impossible is derivational, producing a new lexeme that denotes the
opposite of possible.
b) In the word project one can identify two elements that had a meaning in Latin,
pro- and –ject indicating movement forwards and throwing respectively. But
neither element can stand by itself, neither is free morpheme.
3. - Haven’t illustrates a clitic, a form that might be considered to be a separate word
or an affix.
- Does inspect consist of one morpheme or two (cf. project)?
-How does one describe the realisation of the plural morpheme in the case of the
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