• Morphology is the branch of linguistics that
studies the structure of words.
• In English and many other languages,
many words can be broken down into parts. For example:
• un - carries a negative
• ness - expresses a state or quality
• s - expresses plurality
• ing - conveys a sense of duration
• A word like “yes”, however, has no
internal grammatical structure. We can analyze the sounds, but none of them has
any meaning in isolation.
smallest unit which has a meaning or grammatical function that words can be
broken down into
are known as morphemes.
So to be
clear: “un” is a morpheme.
also a morpheme, but also happens to be a word.
• Consider the following word. How many
morphemes does it contain?
that morphemes operate in language provides the subject matter of morphology.
• Morphologists also study the patterns
which occur in the combination of morphemes in a given language.
• Take, for example, the following words:
• rewrite retake relive
• “re” is a bound morpheme: it attaches
only to verbs and only at the beginning of a word. We can’t say “writere” or
part of a speaker’s linguistic competence is knowing, in addition to the
meaning of the morphemes of a language, the ways in which the morphemes
are allowed to combine with other morphemes.
several important distinctions that must be made when it comes to morphemes:
– Free vs. Bound morphemes
morphemes which can stand alone. We have already seen the example of “yes”.
• Bound morphemes: never exist as words themselves, but
are always attached to some other morpheme. We have already seen the example of
• When we identify the number and types
of morphemes that a given word consists of, we are looking at what is referred
to as the structure of a word.
• Every word has at least one free
morpheme, which is referred to as the root, or stem.
• We can further divide bound morphemes
into three categories:
• prefix un-happy
• infix abso-blooming-lutely
• The general term for all three is affix.
• (2) – Derivational vs. Inflectional morphemes
• Derivational morphemes create or derive new words by changing
the meaning or by changing the word class of the word.
• For example:
• happy → unhappy
• Both words are adjectives, but the
quick → quickness
changes both meaning and word class - adjective to a noun.
English: Derivational morphemes can be either prefixes or suffixes.
• Inflectional morphemes don’t alter words the meaning or word
class of a word; instead they only refine and give extra grammatical
information about the word’s already existing meaning.
• For example:
• Cat → cats
• walk → walking
English: Inflectional morphemes are all suffixes (by chance, since in other
languages this is not true).
only 8 inflectional morphemes in English:
person sg. present
-ed past tense
-en past participle
chairs are broken”
chair’s leg is broken”
• Inflectional morphemes are required by syntax. (that
is, they indicate syntactic or semantic relations between different
words in a sentence).
• For example:
• Nim loves bananas.
• They love bananas.
• Derivational morphemes are different in that syntax
does not require the presence of derivational morphemes; they do, however,
indicate sematic relations within a word (that is, they change
the meaning of the word).
• For example:
• kind → unkind
• He is unkind
• They are unkind
morpheme is not equal to a syllable:
has 1 syllable, but 2 morphemes.
has 2 syllables, but only 1 morpheme
• Types of Word-Formation Processes
• One of the most productive ways to form
new words is through affixation, which is forming new words by the
combination of bound affixes and free morphemes.
• There are three types of affixation:
• prefixation: where an affix is placed before the
base of the word
• suffixation: where an affix is placed after the
base of the word
• infixation: where an affix is placed within a
• While English uses primarily prefixation
and suffixation, many other languages use infixes.
• In Tagolog, a language of the
Philippines, for example, the infix ‘um’ is used for infinitive forms of
verbs (to _______)
• sulat ‘write’ sumulat ‘to write’
• bili ‘buy’ bumili ‘to buy’
• kuha ‘take’ kumuha ‘to
• You might think that this is just
memorization, but there are two ways to tell that this is not the case:
• First, all regular verbs conform to the
• Second, the form is productive.
In other words, we could come up with a new word in Tagolog, such as
"tilat": In this case, the new word would take the regular infix.
• ‘tilat’ ‘tumilat’
• A second word-formation process is
known as Compounding, which is forming new words not from bound
affixes but from two or more independent words: the words can be free
morphemes, words derived by affixation, or even words formed by compounds
• e.g. girlfriend air-conditioner
• blackbird looking-glass
• textbook watchmaker
• Compound words have different stress,
as in the following examples:
• 1. The
wool sweater gave the man a red neck.
• 2. The
redneck in the bar got drunk and started yelling
• In compounds, the primary stress is on
the first word only, while individual words in phrases have independent primary
• blackbird black bird
• makeup make up
• A third word-formation process is known
as Reduplication, which is forming new words either by doubling an
entire free morpheme (total reduplication) or part of a morpheme (partial
• Examples: ‘goody-goody’, ‘hoity-toity’,
‘wishy-washy’, and ‘teeny weeny’.
• Other languages make much more
extensive use of reduplication than English.
• In Indonesian, for example, total
reduplication is used to form plurals:
• rumah ‘house’
• rumahrumah ‘houses’
• ibu ‘mother’
• ibuibu ‘mothers’
• lalat ‘fly’
• lalatlalat ‘flies’
• Tagolog, on the other hand, has partial
reduplication to indicate future tense:
• bili ‘buy’ bibili ‘will
• kain ‘eat’ kakain ‘will
• pasok ‘enter’ papasok ‘will enter’
type of word-formation process is known as Blending, where two words
merge into each other, such as:
brunch from breakfast and lunch
smog from smoke and fog
• In addition to new words being formed,
words can change their meaning while retaining their original shape. There are
several ways that this can be accomplished.
• One of the first ways, Broadening or
Widening occurs when the set of appropriate contexts or referents of
a word increases.
• Broadenings are frequently the result
of generalizing from the specific case to the class of which the specific case
is a member.
• An example from Old English is the
• Originally the word ‘dog’, pronounced
OE [docga], referred to a specific breed of dog. The same is true of the word
seems particularly common with proper names, such as:
type of semantic change is called Narrowing which occurs when the
set of appropriate contexts or referents for a word decreases.
is less common, historically, than extensions, though it is still found fairly
OE hund ‘hound’ originally all dogs, now to a particular
type of dog.
ME girl originally
referred to young people of any gender.
type of semantic change is called Amelioration which occur when a
word takes on somewhat grander connotations over time.
• This word originally meant ‘youth’ or
‘military follower’ (powerless and unimportant people) but has since been
elevated to refer to people of a more romantic and impressive status.
• ME squire
• This originally was someone who held a
knights shield and armor, now refers to a country gentleman.
• The final type of semantic change,
called Pejoration is the opposite of semantic elevation; it occurs when
a word acquires a more pejorative meaning over time.
• Some examples:
• OE lust originally
• ME wench originally ‘a female child’
• ME silly happy,
• It is interesting to note that semantic
changes in one word of a language are often accompanied by (or result in) semantic
changes in another word.
• For example: as hund became more
specific in meaning, dog became more general. In this way, the semantic
system as a whole seemed to remain in balance.