The Grammar of Language: Morphology

What is morphology?

  • Morphology is the study of word structure and word formation processes in language.
  • Morphologists not only identify the different classes of morphemes but also study the patterns that occur in the combination of morpheme in a given language.

A word is the smallest free form, a morpheme or group of morphemes that can stand by itself as a free unit
A morpheme is the smallest meaning-bearing unit in a language.
Free morphemes are independent words.
Bound morphemes, called affixes, cannot stand on their own.

Main divisions of word classes
Content words (Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, Adverbs):
They denote concepts such as objects, actions, attributes, and ideas.
They have a clear lexical meaning
They are often called open class words, because we can and regularly add new words, e.g. blog, selfie

Function words (Conjunctions, Pronouns, Prepositions, Articles)
They specify grammatical relations
They don’t have a clear lexical meaning
They are often called closed class: unreceptive to new membership

A single word may be composed of one or more morphemes:
boy + ish
boy + ish +ness
gentle + man + li + ness
anti + dis +establish + ment + ari + an + ism

Free & bound morpheme
A free morpheme constitutes a word; can stand by itself as a word. Example: boy, desire, gentle, man
A bound morpheme can’t stand by  itself as  a free unit; usually in the form of affixes.  Example: -ish, -ness, un-, -s

Types of affixes
Prefix attaches at front of word
Examples: un-, pre- (premeditate, prejudge), bi- (bipolar)
Suffix attaches at end of word
Examples: -ing (sleeping, eating), -er (singer, performer), -ist (typist, linguist),–ly (manly, friendly)
Circumfix is attached to the front and to the end of a base simultaneously.
Indonesian         ke-lapar-an
Chickasaw language
chokma “he is good”         ik + chokm + o “he isn’t good”
lakna “it is yellow”         ik + lakn + o “it isn’t yellow”
palli “it is hot”         ik + pall + o “it isn’t hot”
tiwwi “he opens (it)”         ik + tiww + o “he doesn’t open (it)”

Infix attaches inside word
Indonesian     s-in-ambung.
Bontoc (language spoken in the Phillipines)
fikas “strong”         fumikas “to be strong”
kilad “red”         kumilad “to be red”
fusul “enemy”         fumusul “to be an enemy”

Rules of word formation
Inflectional Morphology – deals with the modification of a word’s form to indicate grammatical information such as tense, number, gender, case, etc.
Derivational Morphology – deals with affixational process that forms a word with a meaning and/or category distinct from that of its base.

English inflectional morphology
plural marker: -s  (dog + s = dogs)
possessive marker: -’s  (dog + ’s = dog’s)
3rd person present singular: -s  (walk + s = walks)
past tense: -ed  (walk + ed = walked)
progressive: -ing  (walk + ing = walking)
past participle: -en or -ed  (eat + en = eaten)
comparative: -er (fast + er = faster)
superlative: -est  (fast + est = fastest)

English derivational morphology
Derivational morphology can (but need not) change grammatical category.
un + do = undo (both verbs)
program + able = programmable (verb, adjective)
A derivational affix must combine with the base before an inflectional affix.
e.g. neighbor (base) + hood (DA) + s (IA)  = neighborhoods
The following combination is unacceptable:
neighbor (base) + s (IA) + hood (DA) = *neighborshood

Two or more words joined together to form a new word (e.g. girlfriend, textbook, air conditioner, sugar-free , toothpaste)
German also uses compounding to form new words, e.g. Wunderkind ‘child prodigy’, Muttersprache ‘mother tongue’
Note: The meaning of a compound is not always the sum of the meanings of its parts.

A process of forming new words either by doubling an entire free morpheme (total reduplication) or part of it (partial reduplication)
Indonesian uses total reduplication to form  the plurals of nouns.
Singular                Plural
[rumah] ‘house’            [rumahrumah] ‘houses’
[ibu] ‘mother’            [ibuibu] ‘mothers’

Tagalog uses partial reduplication to indicate the future tense.
Verb stem        Future tense
[bili] ‘buy’        [bibili] ‘will buy’
[pasok] ‘enter’    [papasok] ‘will enter’

Words derived from the initials of several words. Examples:
severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA)

Process that creates a word by removing a real or supposed affix from another word in the language.
Creative reduction due to incorrect morphological analysis.
Examples: editor (1649)  edit (1791)
television (1907)  televise (1927)

A word which is clipped (formed by abbreviating long words)
Facsimile fax
Hamburger  burger
Advertisement  ad

Words derived from proper names or things.
Sandwich (from Earl of Sandwich)
Nicotine (from Jean Nicot)

A word formed from parts of two already existing items (similar to compounds, but parts of the words are deleted).
Motor + hotel > Motel
Breakfast + lunch > Brunch

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