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Morphemes , morpheme classification, inflectional and derivational morphology. June 5, 2014. What is a word?? https :// Morphology. morphology : subfield of linguistics that studies…

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morphemes morpheme classification inflectional and derivational morphology

Morphemes, morpheme classification, inflectional and derivational morphology

June 5, 2014


What is a word??



morphology:subfield of linguistics that studies…

  • words, their structure, and how they are put together out of their composing parts
  • rules that determine how words are put together using these component parts
  • how meaning of a complex word is related to the meaning of its parts
  • how individual words of a language are related to other words of the language in terms of their morphological structure

morphophonology: study of the interaction between morphology and phonology. More on morphophonology is coming up next week!


Sound and meaning

In general, a word’s meaning or usage cannot be predicted from the speech segments that make up the word, e.g.:

English [dag]

Polish [pjɛs]

French [ʃjɛ̃]

Japanese [inu]

But there are types of words in which sound and meaning are more closely tied, e.g. onomatopoeia: word that (supposedly) imitates natural sounds

bam! fizzwoofa-choo!


Sound and meaning

Look at the two shapes. How would you pair these shapes with the following words?



sound symbolism: the idea that vocal sounds carry meaning in and of themselves:

slip slide, slurp, slither, slime, slug… but slave, slit, slow

little, teeny, cutey, Johnny, sweety… butbleed, grip, zombie


Sound and meaning

But once we know the meanings of certain words, we CAN predict the meanings of other words, because word meaning is often compositional, e.g.:

rapid  rapidly drink  drinkable

blue  blueish bride, Godzilla  bridezilla

And yet, the meanings of many phrases and expressions are NOT compositional:

  • idioms: to kick a bucket, to be a party pooper
  • collocations: white wine/noise/man
  • proverbs: It’s no use crying over spilled milk.

*It’s no use crying over a broken plate.

“Jennifer is a Party Pooper”


Word vs. phoneme

morpheme: smallest meaningful unit of language and a building block of words (cf. phoneme). Also, a morpheme is identifiable from one word to another.

pegand begare two morphemes with distinct meanings, differentiated by the phonological feature [+/‐voice] and contrastive phonemes /p/ and /b/.

But /p/ and /b/ on their own do NOT carry any meaning!

Anybody want a peanut?

Anybody want some peanuts?

Anybody want some peanuts?

*Anybody want some –s?


Word vs. phoneme

    • In order for something to be a word, it must:
    • have meaning
    • have at least one morpheme
    • be able to move relatively freely in a sentence (a word is a free morpheme)
    • usually be inserted between two other words, but not inside of another word
    • have one primary stress
  • Morphemes that canNOTfreely occur in a sentence (and that attach to another word) are bound morphemes, ex. –s, – er, –im. Bound morphemes are also called affixes.

free morphemes

English: a, sweet, camel, library

Spanish: y, casa, cucaracha

bound morphemes

-dis, -ish, -ness, -zilla, pre-

in- (inútil), -s (casas), o(puedo)


Morpheme classification

(a) read‐able (b) leg‐ible


en‐large magn‐ify

perform‐ance rend‐ition

white‐ness clar‐ity

dark‐en obfusc‐ate


The meaning of the words in (b) and (a) are similar, but roots in (a) are free morphemes, while roots in (b) are bound morphemes!

What about words like…?

cranberry huckleberry loganberry raspberry

There are no words like cran, huckle, logan, and rasp, or at least not with the relevant meaning. Words like cranberry are compounds: complex words consisting of two roots, one of which is bound! Morphemes like cranand loganare often called cranberry morphemes.


Morpheme classification

Words that consist of a single morpheme are classified as simple words.










Words that consist of more than one morpheme are classified as complex words.











Morpheme classification

root: morpheme (usually free) that plays a central role, to which all other morphemes attach. Roots usually contribute the greatest meaning component to the resulting word, e.g.:

jump+ able = jumpable (can be jumped)

liquid+ ify = liquify(to turn into liquid)

dog+ s = dogs (more than one dog)

affix: bound morpheme that attaches itself to a root. Affixes are further subdivided into:

base: that to which the affix is attaching; can be a bare root or an already affixed form

stem: the bare root that never changes


prefix rootsuffix



With a partner, complete exercise 1 on the exercise sheet.


Morpheme classification

infix: morpheme that gets inserted INSIDE the root instead of going to its left or right edge!

Kharia (India)

bhore ‘be full’ bhobre ‘fill’

t͡ʃuwe‘leak’ t͡ʃubwe ‘cause to leak’

Bontoc(Austronesian, Philippines)

fikas ‘strong’ fumikas‘he is becoming strong’

bato ‘stone’ bumato ‘it is becoming a stone’




Morpheme classification

circumfixes: two‐part morphemes that go AROUND the root simultaneously!

Chickasow (Oklahoma)

lakna ‘it is yellow’ iklakno ‘it isn’t yellow’

palli ‘it is hot’ ikpallo ‘it isn’t hot’


Lieb ‘love’ geliebt‘loved’

glaub ‘believe’ geglaubt‘believed’


Morpheme classification

There are other types of morphological processes that are not limited to prefixation and suffixation, e.g. reduplication(root or part of root is repeated).

Agta (Austronesian, The Philippines)

ma‐wakay ‘lost’ ma‐wakwakay ‘many things lost’

takki ‘leg’ taktakki ‘legs’

mag‐saddu ‘leak’ mag‐sadsaddu ‘leak in many places’

Ilokano(Austronesian, The Philippines)

pusa ‘cat’ puspusa‘cats’

jojo ‘yoyo’ joj‐jojo ‘yoyos’


chit‐chat loviedoviesee‐saw teeny weeny

crisscross knock knock bow wow craycray

‘I don’t like him. I like like him!”

Reduplication is often used iconically: repetition of the

phonological material stands for repetition of the events of

things (to mean repetitive action or plurality).


Morpheme classification

Another non-suffixal processes is zero affixation/conversion: morphological change (usually of lexical class) without any explicit phonological material, e.g. in English:

N  V V N

a telephone to telephone to look a look

a friend to friend to run a run

a Xeroxto Xerox to like a like

In English these are exceptional, but some languages use them extensively, e.g.: Hebrew, Arabic use vowel change to signal derivational morphological relationships:



saperverbal root ‘to get a haircut’

English words can also change lexical class through:

Stress change: per’mit (V.)  ‘permit (N.)

Final consonant change: prove (V.)  proof (N.)

defend (V.)  defense (N.)

Vowel change: sing (V.)  song (N.)

sit (V.)  seat (N.)


Word classes / lexical categories

lexical (content) morphemes

express general informational content, a meaning that is essentially independent of the grammatical system of a particular language; open class

functional (grammatical) morphemes

tied to a grammatical function, expressing syntactic relationships between words in a sentence or obligatorily marked categories, such as number or tense; closed class

Nouns: London, app, love

Verbs: swim, devour, sleep

Adjectives: squishy, tiny, meh

Adverbs: often, nicely, very

Prepositions: to, by, from, with

Articles: the, a, an


Auxiliaries: has, did, will, might

Conjunctions: and, but, however

Interjections: well, hi, gah!

Affixes: re-, -ness, -ly, -ed, -s

Personal: I, he, they

Reflexive: yourself, themselves

Possessive: my, hers, its

Demonstrative: this, these, those

Indefinite: each, somebody, both

Relative: that, which, what, who

Interrogative: where, when, whether

Tie elements together grammatically:

hit bya truck apples andbananas

Express grammatical features, e.g. definiteness, gender, number, tense:

She found a/the table vs. *She found table.

She found many tables vs. *She found many table.

She fixedit yesterday vs. *She fix it yesterday.


Word classes / lexical categories

Give me a second, I

I need to get my story straight

My friends are in the bathroom

Getting higher than the Empire State

My lover, she is waiting for me

Just across the bar

My seat’s been taken by some sunglasses

Asking \'bout a scarfun. “We are young”



With a partner, complete exercise 2 on the exercise sheet.


Inflectional vs. derivational morphology

Inflectional morphology creates new grammatical formsof the same word, but the core meaning remains the same. Also, inflectional morphology NEVER changes the word’s syntactic/lexical category, e.g.:

key (N.)  keys (N.)

cute (Adj.)  cuter (Adj.)

Derivational morphology creates new words from old ones. The core meaning might change significantly, and the syntactic category of the word may change too. Also, the new word will require additional inflectional morphology required by the grammar, e.g.:

happy (Adj.)  unhappy (Adj).

blend (V.)  blender (N.)  blenders




Inflectional morphology

Inflectional morphology marks grammatical features of words, like plurality or tense. This morphological marking is required by syntax of the language. For example, in English, there are contexts where a verb must carry a 3rd-person singular marker:

He goes to school vs. *He go to school

Inflectionsdo NOT create new words but rather mark the existing ones for grammar. The meaning of the inflected word is always compositional, or predictable from the meaning of its parts, e.g.:

piano (musical instrument) + s (plural) = pianos (more than 1 musical instrument)

sweet (sugary flavor) + est (superlative) = sweetest (the most sweet)





different inflectional variants of the same abstract word (lexeme): PAINT


English inflectional morphology

play vs. played

cough vs. coughing

she knits

book vs. books

I vs. we, this vs. these

they vs. them

white vs. whiter

loud vs. loudest

tenseon verbs

aspecton verbs

numberand person on verbs

numberon nouns

number on pronouns

caseon pronouns

comparativedegree on adjectives

superlativedegree on adjectives

All English inflections are suffixes!


English inflectional morphology

Some English inflections are irregular, e.g.:

tooth  teeth go  went man  men ox  oxen

dive  dove or dived child  children drink  drank cactus  cacti

  • Are these all different allomorphs of the plural morpheme –s and past tense morpheme -ed?
  • If we use meaning as the basis of our analysis, then YES.
  • But because of their phonological divergence from –s and –ed, these are usually NOT considered allomorphs. Also, many of the changes involve the word root, not the affix. The phenomenon in which a single lexeme has more than one root is suppletion.

English inflectional morphology

But what are the plural forms of nouns like…?








a pair of

a pair of

a piece/stick of

a piece of

some/a lot of

a piece of

a flock of

periphrasis (periphrastic form): use of one or more free morphemes (instead of inflections or derivations) to denote grammatical meaning. Also:


English: ofa dog vs. Japanese: いぬの Latin: stēllae


Inflectional morphology

Some languages have richer inflectional systems than English.

Italian: gender

Il sole ‘sun’ (masc.)

la luna ‘moon’ (fem.)

Russian: gender

[stul] ‘chair’ (masc.)

[taburetka] ‘stool’ (fem.)

[sidenje] ‘seat’ (neut.)

Polish: case

jeż ‘hedgehog’ NOMINATIVE

jeża ‘of a hedgehog’ GENITIVE

jeżowi ‘to a hedgehog’ DATIVE

jeża ‘hedgehog (dir. ob.)’ ACCUSATIVE

jeżem ‘with a hedgehog’ INSTRUMENTAL

jeżu ‘about a hedgehog’ LOCATIVE

jeżu ‘you hedgehog’ VOCATIVE

Inuktitut: number

Iglu ‘a house’

Igluk ‘two houses’ (DUAL)

Iglut ‘more than two houses’