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Department of English MORPHOLOGY Andy Spencer Revised March 2005 by Cornelia Hamann

CONTENTS Morphology Morpheme Morphological formatives Derivation and inflection Functions of morphology Morphemes, morphs and allomorphy Other types of morphological processes Compounding Problems of definition ............... 2 .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... .......... 2 3 4 7 8 10 14 17

MORPHOLOGY Morphology is about words and how they are formed. Usually, morphology is the study of form, in this case, the study of word formation. In phonology we look at sounds and larger units made up of sounds (syllables) combining into words and at the characteristic sound properties of words (e.g. vowels, syllables, stress). However, if you only know what a word sounds like, you do not really know the word. An important component is missing. Knowing a word means knowing its phonetic shape and its meaning! Meaning also includes the word category. This is what you find when you look up a word in a dictionary. (1) bachelor [ ÂazsR?k?] 1. n, unmarried man

Some words are `basic' in that they are one syllable words and cannot be further decomposed: hat, mat, run, back. Others may be two-syllabic and still no further decomposition is possible: bacon, sister, water. However, there are one-syllabic words where you might feel that they are not `basic', that they are somehow made up of more than one component: hats, runs, ran. There are also bysyllabic (and polysyllabic) words where each syllable seems to contribute to the word: baker, runner, unread, decode, decodable, or the monster: pneumoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. This `feeling' is based on the intuition that words are made up of smaller meaningful units which keep their meaning and contribute it to the word's meaning and that such combinations are rule governed. This intuition sometimes breaks through: "In two words: im-possible", Sam Goldwyn, the film producer said. He was no linguist; these are, of course, not two words, there is a better term: Morpheme. Morphemes can be words (hat, run, think), but usually they are smaller units than words.

MORPHEMES If you take the English noun code, you can form the verb decode from it. The word decode is clearly made up of code and de-, and the meaning is fairly transparently derived from the meaning of its two parts. Moreover, this case is not isolated. You can attach de- to all kinds of nouns to form a verb. Often the meaning will be easy to work out from the meaning of the original noun: e.g. deflea. Sometimes, the meaning will be restricted to special contexts, such as defrost (which


tends to be used of refrigerators, frozen food, and cars). Sometimes, you simply have to learn the meaning separately (as with defrock, deflower). From the verb decode we can form the adjective decodable by adding -able. Again, -able can be added to a lot of verbs: readable, eatable, movable. Having created this word we can negate it by adding un- to get undecodable. This, too, is a very general process, and it allows us to negate a great many adjectives in English: unattractive, undisturbed, uncomfortable. Finally, we can come full circle by creating a noun from our adjective: undecodability. Almost any adjective ending in -able or -ible forms a noun of this sort by adding -ity. In each case we have created a new word by adding something to an old word. What we have added are linguistic units which have their own meaning, and which combine in given ways to form words. Any such unit, if it is minimal (that is, if it is not possible to break it into smaller such units), is called a morpheme. The standard definition of a morpheme is "the minimal meaningful unit" in the language. A morpheme can also be called a "minimal linguistic sign" ­ a grammatical unit in which there is an arbitrary union of sound (signifiant) and meaning (signifié) and that cannot be further analysed. A word such as undecodability consists of several morphemes and is therefore polymorphemic. The original word code, on the other hand, consists of just one morpheme. It is therefore a monomorphemic word. Equally, we could say that it is simultaneously a word and a morpheme. A morpheme such as code, which can exist separately, i.e. on its own, is also called a free morpheme, while morphemes such as un- and -ity, which have to be attached to other morphemes, are called bound morphemes. You find words composed of one morpheme (boy, desire), of two morphemes (boy+ish, desire+able), of three morphemes (boy+ish+ness, desire+able+ity), of four morphemes (gentle+man+ly+ness, un+desire+able+ity) and of more than four morphemes (un+gentle+man+ly+ness, anti+dis+establish+ment+ari+an+ism).

MORPHOLOGICAL FORMATIVES The commonest sorts of bound morphemes are those which have to be attached to the beginning of a word (prefixes) or to the end (suffixes). A general term covering both types is affix, and the process of adding a prefix or a suffix (that is, the processes of prefixation and suffixation) is called affixation. Sometimes, it is important to have a separate term for the thing to which we add the affixes. Several such terms are commonly used: root, and stem are ones which are often seen. We will use the term stem to mean any string of morphemes to which an affix is attached. If


the stem is itself monomorphemic (e.g. code) we will call it a root. In our example, therefore, we added de- to the stem code, which was also a root. Then we added -able to the stem decode, though this stem would not be called a root. Later, we will look at other ways of forming or changing words.

DERIVATION AND INFLECTION So far, we have seen how to create new words using affixes such as de-, un-, -able and -ity. The process of creating novel words is called derivational morphology (or derivation), and we could refer to these formatives as derivational affixes. However, once we have a word we often find that it appears in different forms, depending on its grammatical function or its position in the sentence. Consider the different forms of the verb bake in the sentences in (2): (2) a. b. c. d. e. f. g. h. Bake me a cake! He bakes very good cakes. They bake very good cakes. They are baking a cake. She has baked us a cake. This cake was baked for us. They like to bake cakes. He enjoys baking cakes.

The verb bake appears in four different forms, corresponding to a number of grammatical functions. These are shown in (3): (3) a. b. c. d. bake bakes baking baked imperative; infinitive; present (except 3rd sg.) 3rd sg. present present participle; gerund past tense; past participle; passive participle

Three of these forms involve affixation (specifically suffixation). Except for the verb be, it is always the case in English that the imperative, infinitive and non-3rd sg. present tense are the same; that the present participle and the gerund are the same; and that the past participle (used with the auxiliary verb have) and the passive participle are the same. However, in some verbs the past tense and the past/passive participle are different. These are the so-called strong verbs:



a. b. c. d. e. f.

They write songs. He writes songs. She is writing a song. He wrote a song. They have written a song. The song was written for us.

In the verb write the past tense is wrote but the past participle is written. In all these cases we are speaking of different forms of a single verb, not of the creation of a new verb. This kind of morphology is called inflectional morphology or inflection. In English, three major categories inflect. In addition to verbs, which were discussed above, these are nouns and adjectives. Nouns appear in a singular form and a plural form. Some examples will be given later. Adjectives (and adverbs) appear in a comparative form (-er) and a superlative form (-est): short, shorter, shortest. The function of derivational morphology is the creation of new words from old ones. This means that it will usually (but not necessarily always) be the case that the word created by a derivational process will belong to a different syntactic category from the word which forms its stem. For instance, -ity turns adjectives into nouns, -able turns verbs into adjectives, and so on. Some more derivational affixes of English are listed below (see also Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams (2003)): DERIVATE BASE Noun Adjective boy-ish Rom-an lady-like Verb generat-ive resent-ful absorb-ent Adjective green-ish counter-intuitive un-happy Notice that some of these affixes appear in more than one category. 5 Verb motor-ize vaccin-ate en-circle un-do mis-hear re-do black-en pur-ify Noun boy-hood lion-ess Marx-ist sing-er employ-ee defam-ation white-ness free-dom social-ist

Inflection creates a new form of a given word, not a new word. By defintion, therefore, an inflectional morpheme shouldn't change the syntactic category of the word it attaches to. There's a slight problem here with the participles. We'd like to say that a participle such as amusing or amused is an inflectional form, particularly since it is clearly a verb form in sentences such as (5). Yet they frequently appear as adjectives as in (6): (5) a. b. (6) a. b. c. Tom is amusing the children (with his stories). The children are being amused (by Tom's stories). Dick's story was not particularly amusing. Harriet was not very amused by Dick's stories. Harriet remained unamused by Dick's stories.

We'll discuss a possible explanation for this discrepancy in a later section. (English) Morphemes

Bound Affix Root -ceive -mit -fer

Free Open class girl (N) pretty (A) love (V) now (Adv) Closed class and (Conj) in (P) the (Det) she (pronoun) is (Aux)

derivational prefix suffix preuncon-ly -ist -ment

inflectional suffix -s, -ing, -ed, -en -s, -'s -er, -est


FUNCTIONS OF MORPHOLOGY The -s form of the verb has the function of signalling agreement between the verb and a subject in the third person singular (in the present tense). Agreement in English is limited essentially to this case, though in other languages it may be much more extensive. A minor form of inflection is seen with English pronouns. Compare the examples of (7) to (9): (7) (8) (9) a. b. a. b. a. b. He loves her. She loves him. I knew them. They knew me. They took the book from her and gave it to him. He took the book from them and gave it to me.

In these examples we see that the pronouns adopt a special form when they come after a verb or a preposition. We can say that the verb or the preposition governs the pronoun and that a pronoun which is so governed has to appear in a special form (a type of inflection). In other languages all nouns have to appear in a specially inflected form after a verb or a preposition (think of examples in a language you know such as German or Latin). In other cases the inflected form is used simply to express a meaning which is grammaticalized. Different languages choose to grammaticalize different meanings. In English (and French), for instance, the meaning `to cause someone to do something' is expressed in a separate verb such as make (or faire), as in example (10). In Japanese, however, this meaning is grammaticalized and a special verb ending, -ase, is used (cf. 11): (10) (11) a. b. Taro made Jiro run. Taro a fait courir Jiro. hashir-ase-ta

Taroo-wa Jiroo-o

Taro-subj. Jiro-obj. run-cause-past (literally: Taro run-caused Jiro) English (like French and Japanese) grammaticalizes the notion of past tense. Like French but unlike Japanese, it grammaticalizes the notion of perfect (I have/had done; J'ai/avais eu fait). Like French but unlike Japanese it grammaticalizes the notion of number (i.e. singular vs. plural). French, unlike English or Japanese, grammaticalizes the notion of imperfect tense (l'imparfait). 7

MORPHEMES, MORPHS AND ALLOMORPHY We can think of morphemes in two different ways. We can view them as linguistic units which have a meaning or grammatical function (that is, we can look at their content), or we can view them as entities which have a phonological structure (that is, we can look at their form). In the first case we will be mainly interested in the way that morphemes relate to syntax; in the second case we will be interested in the way morphemes relate to each other, and the way they relate to phonology. Look carefully at the plural endings of the words in (12) (These words are given in very broad, i.e. approximative phonetic transcription): (12) a. b. c. d. cats dogs horses cows /jzsr/ /cPfy/ /gN9rHy/ /j`Ty/

The regular plural ending conventionally spelt s or es has precisely three distinct pronunciations: [r], [y] or [Hy]. These three elements are the realizations of a single morpheme, the regular plural morpheme, which we can represent abstractly as -ES. We say that /r, y, Hy/ are allomorphs of the morpheme -ES. In more general terms, we say that the form of a morpheme as it is actually pronounced in given sets of words is a morph, and where two (or more) morphs are variants of one morpheme we say they are allomorphs of that morpheme. This terminology parallels that used in phonology: morph: the particular form of linguistic unit you get when you analyse a word into its smallest meaningful components. morpheme: the more abstract, general entity represented by a morph or by sets of morphs. allomorph: one of several forms (morphs) assumed by a morpheme. (cf.: phone: a particular speech sound obtained when a word is analysed into its phonological segments. phoneme: the more abstract, general entity represented by a phone or a set of phones. allophone: one of several forms (phones) assumed by a phoneme.)


When a morpheme has several variants (allomorphs) we speak of allomorphy. The allomorphy of the regular plural inflection, -ES, exhibited in (12), is entirely the result of regular phonological processes. We say that this is a case of phonlogically conditioned allomorphy. Sometimes, however, morphemes appear in different shapes for no particular reason. Consider the words of (13): (13) a. b. c. house knife wreath /g`Tr/ /m`He/ /qh9S/ houses knives wreathes /g`TyHy/ /m`Huy/ /qh9Cy/

In these words it is the root (house, knife, wreath) which exhibits the allomorphy. However, this only happens to a few morphemes. Most, like spouse, fife, or death don't show it. This type of allomorphy is said to be lexically conditioned. Occasionally, we find allomorphy which arises not because of phonology or as an idiosyncratic, lexical property of a morpheme, but because that allomorphy has been conditioned by another morpheme: we have morphologically conditioned allomorphy. A clear example of this is provided by German. German forms plurals of nouns in several relatively common and productive ways. Moreover, it has a number of suffixes which form nouns, such as -heit/-keit, -niss, -ung, -tum and so on. Any count noun formed from the suffix -heit/keit will form its plural in -en, as in (14), though in general a stem ending in, say, a vowel + /t/ might form its plural in any of a number of ways (15): (14) a. b. (15) a. b. c. d. Schwachheit - en Flüssigkeit - en Streit - Streite Kraut - Kräuter Zeit - Zeiten Braut - Bräute weaknesses fluids quarrels herbs times brides

An example from English involves the two different verbs ring. Ring (1) is the verb used for the sound of bells or in the meaning of telephone, call. This is an irregular verb: ring, rang, rung. There is another verb which forms its past form with the regular suffix ­ED. This is a denominal verb and has to do with rings. The rule is that if a verb form is derived from a noun, then it takes the regular past. This process is clearly morphologically conditioned.


When allomorphy isn't conditioned by regular phonological rules but is instead the result of lexical idiosyncrasy, we still often find that the allomorphs are fairly similar to each other phonologically. This is the case with the knife/knive allomorphy given earlier. Sometimes, however, the allomorphy might be more drastic and the variants might be quite dissimilar from each other. Some examples from derivational morphology are given in English in (16): (16) a. b. c. d. e. deceipt - deception satisfy - satisfaction flute - flautist France - French Shaw - Shavian /cHrh9s/-/ cHrdo/ /e`H/-/ ezj/ /ekt9s/-/ ekN9sHrs. /[email protected]/-/eqdm/ /RN9/-/RdHu/

When the phonological distance between two allomorphs becomes sufficiently large we speak of partial suppletion. In some cases the allomorphic variants might have absolutely nothing in common phonologically. Examples often cited are the English past tense of go which is went, and the comparative and superlative of good - better, best. This is called total suppletion (or sometimes just suppletion).

OTHER TYPES OF MORPHOLOGICAL PROCESSES The languages of the world exhibit a wide variety of morphological processes, and many languages use word structure to realize grammatical functions expressed by syntactic structures in the more familiar Indo-European languages. Here is a very small sample of such processes, with exemplification from English where appropriate. One form of affixation is rather different from the standard prefixation and suffixation operations. This is the phenomenon of reduplication, in which some part of a base is repeated, either to the left or to the right, or occasionally in the middle. Tagalog, the main language of the Philippines, is a rich source of this type of morphology. In (17a) and (17b) we see that the first syllable of a root is reduplicated, while in (17c), the final syllable of the prefix has been reduplicated. (17) a. Root: Future: sulat `writing' susulat



Root: Prefixed infinitive: Nominalization:

basa `reading' mambasa mambabasa sulat magpapasulat


Root: Future:

Prefixed causative infinitive: magpasulat `to make write'

In (17d), we see an example of a whole root being reduplicated: (17) d. magsulatsulat `to write intermittently'

In English, reduplication is characteristic of `baby talk': e.g. mama, choo-choo, wee-wee. However, there are a number of words in the adult vocabulary which seem to involve reduplication, such as hocus-pocus, or higgledy-piggledy. Many languages allow affixes to appear inside another morpheme. The Philippine languages show this characteristically. Tagalog, for instance, uses the infixes -um- and -in- to form certain of its voice constructions with verbs. Notice that these infixes are placed inside monomorphemic roots ­ there is no way to decompose sulat into smaller morphemes. (The term `active' and `passive' are not really accurate for this language, but their real nature isn't of interest for us here.) (18) from monomorphemic root sulat (`writing') a. b. sumulat `to write' (active voice) sinulat (passive voice)

For good measure, here are some examples in which reduplication interacts with infixation: (19) (20) a. b. a. b. sumulat sumusulat bumasa bumasabasa `to write' (infinitive) (present tense) `to read' (infinitive) `to read intermittently'

In (19b) we have first reduplicated the first syllable of the root (as in the future tense form (17a)) and then infixed -um- to the result. In (20b), we have reduplicated the whole root, as in (17d), and again infixed -um-.


Infixation in English is even more marginal than reduplication. However, it occurs in one construction and this is of no little theoretical interest. There is a small number of particles which can be used as infixes (the process is usually called expletive infixation). Examples are given in (21). Notice that these really are infixes because they appear inside another morpheme. (21) a. b. c. abso-bloomin'-lutely fan-bloody-tastic (Christ) Al-fucking-mighty

The reason these are interesting is that there are phonological and morphological constraints on the formation of words using these infixes. It is impossible, for instance, to say *ab-bloomin'solutely or *Christ Almigh-fucking-ty. Since the infixed particles in the main belong to vocabulary which is highly taboo it turns out that some speakers of English do not encounter such forms until their late adolescence. It has been shown that such speakers, who for sociolinguistic reasons have never been exposed to data which will allow them to formulate a rule of Expletive Infixation, nonetheless have the same judgements of well-formedness as other speakers even after hearing only one example of the construction. This is all the more remarkable since some of these speakers would never consent to using the construction themselves. This phenomenon sheds considerable light on the way linguistic representations are stored and learnt. There is another type of affix which is called a circumfix. Chickasaw, a Muscogean (American Indian) language spoken in Oklahoma has a negative morpheme consisting of ik+o. The first syllable attaches to the left of the stem, the second attaches to the right. (22) a. b. c. d. chokma lakna palli tiwwi he is good it is yellow it is hot he opens (it) a'. b'. c'. d'. ik+chokm+o he isn't good ik+lak+o ik+pall+o ik+tiww+o it isn't yellow it isn't hot he doesn't open it

As both of these syllables combine to constitute one meaning, negation, ik+o is a morpheme. Such morphemes are also called discontinuous morphemes. Not all morphology involves affixation in any obvious sense. In the examples below, we see a phonological alternation functioning as a kind of morpheme. This type of morphemeinternal vowel is called apophonony or ablaut. In (23) it realizes the category of plural, and in (24) the category of past tense or past participle.



a. b. c.

man tooth foot write take break sing

men teeth feet wrote took broke sang (broken) sung


a. b. c. d.

This is only found as a marginal and unproductive process in English, but in some languages similar processes are fully productive. Another marginal process involves word stress. Consider the following pairs of words (the accent marks the stressed syllable): (25) a. b. c. d. Noun 'torment 'contrast 'increase 'transport Verb tor'ment con'trast in'crease trans'port

A word formation process which is extremely common in English and a number of other languages (but not very frequent in other European languages) is the process of morphological conversion. This occurs when a word in one syntactic class is simply used as a word in another class without any other morphological process applying to it. In English pretty well any monomorphemic noun (and many polymorphemic ones) can be used as a verb given the right context. Many of these have become lexicalized with special meanings: (26) a. b. c. d. to table a paper to chair a meeting to shelve a plan to pocket the proceeds

Likewise, many verbs can be used as nouns: (27) a. b. c. to go - it's your go to walk - to go for a walk to faint - to fall in a faint 13

Conversion may help explain why inflection seems to involve a change of syntactic category in the case of participles used as adjectives. Perhaps what is happening is that the verb form, the participle, is simply converted to an adjective without any further morphology being necessary. Note that words belonging to other syntactic categories can also undergo conversion, e.g. up (preposition) ­ to up prices (verb), or, dirty (adjective) ­ to dirty (verb). There are several further types of word formation which can be mentioned, and which are marginal in English and other languages. A number of words have entered the English dictionary recently by a process of blending: e.g. smoke+fog = smog, breakfast+lunch = brunch. A device found in languages with alphabetic writing systems is that of the acronym, by which letters of a phrase are taken to spell a new word. This device is very popular in the United States. The best examples `create' words already in existence. Some of these may even have a meaning intended to suggest the meaning of the original word, as, for example, wasp (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Note that the new words created from the initial letters must be pronounceable as a word (e.g. laser, REM, radar). Words such as UN, UK, OED, in which the strings of letters are unpronounceable, are sometimes referred to as alphabetisms. Other devices include clipping, by which a word is shortened, generally in colloquial style. Words such as mike (microphone), phone (telephone) and telly (television) are formed this way. This is extremely common in Australian English, which abounds in clipped words ending in -o such as avo (afternoon). A more theoretically important process is backformation, which is of interest because it sometimes tells us something about the way speakers perceive morphological structure. This occurs when a word is treated as though it is derived from another word even if it is not. Then the ghost source is assumed to exist and enters the lexicon. For instance, originally the word pedlar was monomorphemic. However, speakers analysed the -ar ending as cognate with the -er of singer or the -or of actor. But this meant there had to be a verb peddle. Since there was no such verb one had to be invented by backformation. A modern example is derived from aggression. On analogy with progress > progression we would expect there to be a verb to aggress. Originally there was none, but recently people have started using such a verb.

COMPOUNDING The next morphological process is a very important one, both theoretically, from the point of view of linguistic theory, and practically, from the point of the description of English. This is the process of compounding. Compounding is essentially the process of forming words by conjoining two or more other words (though we will extend the notion slightly). There are hundreds of examples in English which are of great antiquity and which have highly specialized


meanings. In some cases the meaning of one or other member of the compound has changed significantly when used as a separate word. Some examples are given in (28): (28) a. b. c. housewife penknife cupboard

Originally, wife meant `woman' (cf. German Weib) and not `female spouse'. A penknife is no longer (solely) used to cut quills for writing. A cupboard isn't really a shelf (`board') for cups. Many lexicalized compounds (i.e. compounds which have specialized meanings) are nonetheless transparent semantically. For instance, we have the examples in (29): (29) a. b. c. d. boathouse houseboat typewriter bookcase

It is also possible for English speakers to create new compounds at will, especially by compounding nouns. Thus in the right context we can form examples such as (30). In some cases it is not entirely clear whether we are dealing with a freshly formed compound or a compound which has already entered the lexicon: (30) a. b. c. d. morphology handout phonetics test English Department secretary English language degree entrance requirements

Notice that it doesn't matter that these are written as separate words. The orthography is largely arbitrary and in many cases it is not clear how best to spell a compound (`button hole', `buttonhole', `button-hole'?). These examples involve sets of nouns, but we can also form compounds from other syntactic categories. (31) a. b. c. Preposition + Noun: Adjective + Noun: Verb + Particle: afterthought, in-crowd darkroom, bluestocking hold-up, through-put 15

d. e. f. g.

Adjective + Verb: Particle + Verb: Noun + Adjective:

double-book, free-associate over-eat, outplay childproof, fireproof, context sensitive

Adjective + Adjective: deaf-mute, open-ended

Some of these are actually produced by backformation from other constructions, for examle freeassociate is formed from the Adjective + Noun compound free-association. Compounds sometimes involve bound morphemes rather than full words. A great many `neo-classical' compounds formed from Greek roots are found in scientific literature for instance. Some examples are electroscope, leucocyte, cytoplasm, hydrogen. Other non-technical examples might be genocide, matriarchy, polymath. Compounding has many of the characeristics of syntax. There are two important syntactic properties exhibited by N+N compounds: recursion and constituent structure. Recursion is a property of rules or processes by which the result of a process is allowed to undergo the process again. For instance, I can apply the process of compounding to the words English and language to obtain a compound word. Since this is still a word I can use it to form another compound as in English language degree. Likewise, I can form a compound from entrance and requirements. Then I can put both of these together to get (30d). The important thing about recursion is that there is no principled way of stopping it. Nothing in the grammar of English prevents me from forming compounds which are indefinitely long. Example (30d) means `entrance requirements for the English language degree'. An English language degree is a degree in English language. This means that we can split up our compounds into chunks which are nonetheless larger than individual words, and these chunks correspond to the way the meaning of the whole compound is organized. The chunks are called constituents, and when we analyse the way they are grouped we are analysing the constituent structure of the compound. This can be represented graphically in two ways, by putting constituents in brackets, as in (32), or by drawing a tree diagram, as in (33). The two notations are equivalent to each other. (32) [[[English language] degree ] [entrance requirements ]]



English language degree

entrance requirments

In point of fact, a compound such as English language degree is ambiguous, because it can have a different constituent structure. A degree in language (e.g. in French) taught in England could also be called an English language degree (as in the expression `people studying English language degrees often go to Europe for language practice, but people studying American language degrees usually can't afford to'). In this case the constituent structure would be (34): (34) [English [language degree ]]

PROBLEMS OF DEFINITION We come finally to some more theoretical questions concerning morphology. We shall limit ourselves to problems of providing definitions for some of the technical notions we have been using. The first problem is this: we can isolate many morphological processes in a language, but in general only some of them are actively used to form new words, or make new word forms. For instance, no new abstract nouns are ever formed using the affix -th (as in warmth, health, etc). However, new nouns can be freely coined using an affix such as -ness or -ity. Likewise, when a new verb enters the language it is always given regular inflections. The noun ring was converted into a verb to ring meaning `to form a ring around' or `to put a ring on', as in `the police ringed the demonstrators', `the ornithologist ringed the guillemots'. However, even though the verb to ring in the sense of `to cause a bell to sound' has a past tense rang, the past tense of the converted verb is regularly formed from -ed. This problem is referred to as the problem of productivity. Some morphologists claim that only productive processes should be studied by linguists and regarded as `real' morphology; the unproductive processes would then be regarded as historical accidents (rather like spelling conventions are an historical accident). Other morphologists claim that the unproductive


processes are just as much part of our grammar as the productive ones and that the question of productivity has more to do with psychology than linguistics. The next problem is `how do we define the term "morpheme"?'. The standard definition is `the minimal linguistic sign' or `the smallest unit of meaning'. There are problems with both the `meaning/sign' aspect and the `unit' aspect. Given that some morphological processes involve phonological changes rather than affixation or compounding, what do we mean by `unit'? In other words, how do we say that the Ablaut in man-men or sing-sung, or the stress shift in 'transfer-trans'fer is a morpheme? Different theories have different ways of resolving this, but no approach is accepted even by the majority of researchers. The problem with `meaning' is simply that there are some units which we would like to call morphemes but which don't have any meaning. The standard examples involve different types of berries: (35) a. b. c. cranberry loganberry huckleberry

The problem is that cran-, logan-, and huckle- have no meaning. Yet berry means exactly what it should do in (35). Moreover, cran- etc. must contribute something to the meaning of the word as a whole, otherwise the examples in (35) would all mean the same (or would be all meaningless). A morpheme of this type which has no identifiable meaning is called a cranberry morpheme (I leave the reader to deduce the etymology of this term). The Latinate vocabulary of English provides interesting examples of this kind of thing. The verbs of (36) and (37) are all bimorphemic. But what is the meaning of each of these morphemes? (36) (37) receive, deceive, conceive, perceive a. b. c. d. refer, remit, relate, resume defer, decide, depose, define confer, commit, compose, confine, consume, collate permit, perplex, perfect, perform

Morphology is the study of morphemes and also of words. When we come to defining the notion `word' we encounter serious difficulties. First, we must distinguish several technical 18

senses of the ordinary language term `word'. In one sense the examples of (38) are all different words. (38) sing, sings, singing, sang, sung

In another sense they are all forms of the same word, namely forms of the verb sing. In the first sense, we will use the term word form. In the second, more abstract, sense we will use the term lexeme. Thus, (38) are all word forms of a single lexeme SING. It is the lexeme sense of `word' that we mean when we ask `how many words of English do you know?'. If you knew the grammar of English but only one verb, sing, and you claimed to know five verbs by virtue of knowing (38), you'd be cheating. Likewise, if you claimed to know 36 words of French, simply by knowing how to conjugate the verb parler. There are five ways of analyzing the French word parle. It may be the 1st or 3rd sg. present indicative or the 1st or 3rd present subjunctive or the sg. imperative. If we only take pronunciation into account (/parl/) we would have to add 2nd sg. present indicative and subjunctive, 3rd pl. etc. This means that for one lexeme we have a single word form (e.g. parle) which has many different morphosyntactic descriptions. In a sense, then, parle is a single word form of a single lexeme, which nonetheless represents several words. The words in this latter sense we will call morphosyntactic words. English provides examples of the same phenomenon. For instance, the word walked is simultaneously the past tense form and the past participle form. The form runs is simultaneously the 3rd sg. of the verb run and the plural of the noun run. Even with these subtle definitions it is not always easy to know what a word is in a given language. We have already mentioned compound words. Are these words in the same sense that words like run and walk are words? Or do we need to distinguish between `real' words and compound words? If so, do we say that the -wife of housewife is a word or not? Likewise, what about -man of postman. (It is interesting to note that this -man is pronounced with a reduced vowel, a schwa, rather than the full vowel of the proper word man.) In many languages affixes evolve over the centuries from compounded forms such as postman. This has happened with English words like like which has now become an affix in words such as in life-like. Perhaps man is becoming an affix rather than a real word? How can we tell when the process is complete? Some rules of phonology seem to refer to words, for example stress rules governing the position of main stress. But often the types of words defined by phonology are different from those defined by morphology or syntax. For instance, in English a definite article attached to a noun is generally not stressed. This makes it look like a part of the noun, from a phonological point of view. We call such combinations phonological words. But a phrase such as the apple is


a phrase, not a word, from the morphological and syntactic point of view. For instance, we can interrupt it with another word or phrase: the [very green] apple. This notion of `interrruptibility' is a criterion often used to distinguish phrases (interruptible) from words (not interruptible). In point of fact, it's not always easy to apply it. Interpreted strictly it would have the undesirable consequence of entailing that infixes such as Tagalog s-um-ulat or English fan-bloody-tastic are impossible. In the `apple' case above, it is easy to see that very green is not an infix, so there is no problem. In other cases, it may not be so easy. There is a fascinating problem in morphology related to the notion of phonological word. This is the problem of clitics. What would you call the pronominal forms in the following French expressions? Words? Affixes? Something else? (39) a. b. Jean me le donne Donne-le-moi ! John gives it to me give it to me

Linguists call them something else, namely clitics. These are elements which seem to be like independent words but which don't have the same distributional freedom as real words, that is, they are restricted to appearing only in certain parts of the sentence. French pronominal clitics can appear either before the verb (in which case they are called proclitics) or after the verb (enclitics). Moreover, they are unlike words in that it is impossible to put another word (other than a clitic) between two clitics. This makes them look like affixes. In some languages, however, it is clear that the clitics are not affixes because they don't attach to a particular category of word (such as the verb), rather, they attach to a word or phrase in a particular position in the sentence. In Czech and Serbo-Croat, for instance, the clitics always come after the first constituent of the sentence, whether it is a noun, verb, adjective or whatever. English doesn't have pronoun clitics of the French variety, though words such as the articles, personal pronouns (especially in the object form) and monosyllabic prepositions all tend to have the phonological properties associated with clitics, i.e., they don't receive a stress of their own and therefore can't easily exist on their own. Instead, they like to have another word to attach to (the word `clitic' itself is derived from a Greek word meaning `to lean'). Andy Spencer Cornelia Hamann December, 1987 March, 2005

Recommended Reading: Fromkin, V., R. Rodman and N. Hyams (eds.) (2003). An Introduction to Language. Chapter 3, Morphology. 20



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