Crash Course Linguistics: Morphology

1.1 What is the definition of Morphology?
Coined from Greek etymology, Morph- means ‘shape, form’ and -ology simply means ‘the study of -‘. In Linguistics, Morphology is the study of word formation and their internal structure.

1.2 Breaking down Morphology
A word can be broken down into morphemes, which is described as the smallest parts that embody a grammatical function. Two meaningful examples of a morpheme would be:
– Cup
– The changing of a word’s tense using ‘-s’ (ex. Cup –> Cups)

A morpheme cannot be divided into smaller meaningful segments that share the same definition.

1.2.1 The 5 Different Types of Morphemes

The base (or root) is a morpheme gives the word its principle meaning.

  1. Free Morpheme
    This type of morpheme can stand alone. For example, drink, mouse, snow.
  2. Bound Morpheme
    This type of mopheme cannot stand alone. For example, ‘-s’, ‘-ment’, ‘-ology’.

Before moving onto derivational and inflectional morphemes, it’s important that we cover Affixes. An Affixe is a bound morphreme (so it can’t stand alone). These morphemes occur before or after a base (a.k.a root). Before a base, an affix is called a ‘prefix‘. After a base, an affix is called a ‘suffix‘. The lesser known, but actively used affix ‘infix’, is when an affix is inserted into a word stem; for example, ‘cupful’ –> ‘cupsful’ or ‘passerby’ –> ‘passersby’.

3. Derivational Morpheme
This type of morpheme looks to change the meaning of the base word by building onto it. For example, ‘decided’ becomes ‘undecided’, or ‘teach’ can become ‘teacher‘. All prefixes in the English language are derivational.
4. Inflectional Morpheme
This type of morpheme is added to a either a noun, verb, adjective, or an adverb to give a grammatical property to (tense, possession, comparison). There are only 8 inflectional morphemes in English: -s (plural), -‘s, -er, -est, -s (3rd person sing. present tense), -ed, -ing, -en. This type of morpheme does not change the essential meaning or the grammatical character of a word.
5. Allomorph
Different types of the same morpheme, derived from different phonetic variants.

1.3 Morpheme Trees
Morpheme trees allow us to visualize how a word is structured. Morpheme trees show the number of morphemes and the order in which they need to be attached. Below is a simple example.

Morpheme Tree for Disappearance (Noun)

Root: appear
Prefix: dis (attaches to verbs only; think: dissociate, discourage)
Suffix: -ance (attaches to verbs)

There are many constraints that come to word construction and there will be a crash course on affixes later on in the sencond half of the year.

Published by Elizabeth

Language learner - avid coffee drinker - and IT consultant

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