Morphology

Report
Language & Mind
Summer 2011
Words
 Perhaps the most conspicuous, most easily extractable
aspect of language.
 Cf. phone, phoneme, syllable
 NB word vis a vis speech stream (a la figure-ground in
cognition), i.e. word’s are prominent are thus given
primacy in common considerations of language; they’re
also exalted (in religion, as well as in academia).
 Words are minimal free forms: independent from
others in sentence; + no smaller bit has such freedom.
The structure of words
 Simple words
 Have no internal structure

Farm, kill, duck
 Complex words
 Can be divided into smaller pieces AKA morphemes

Farmer, kills, duckling
 English complex words are made up of relatively few
morphemes. Cf. Yu’pik: kai-pia-llru-llini-u-k
(‘the two of them were apparently really hungry’)
Morphemes & allomorphs
 Morphemes
 The smallest meaningful linguistic unit
 Allomorphs
 One of the alternative phonemic forms of a morpheme.



The prefix ‘in-’ has 4 allomorphs
3rd person sg present tense: kills, pats, touches
Indefinite article: a,an
Allomorphs
 ‘allos’ don’t contrast (allo- = Greek for ‘other’)
 Complementary distribution
 a & an

Cf. /p/ at beginning vs. end of word
 Free variation
 Cf. alternate realizations of ‘exit’ and ‘off’

However, cf. ‘exist’ vs. ‘excel’ (near minimal pairs)
Allomorphs
 E.g. Plural ‘s’ and he/she/it verb+’s’
 Both have the same three phonological forms:
 …resulting in 6 morphs

E.g. cap,bud,bush; fit,tag,kiss
 …which form 2 sets of allomorphs
 …of 2 morphemes
Morpheme types: by occurrence
 Free morphemes
 Simple words consist of a single morpheme, and thus
they are free morphemes.
 ‘a potential to occur independently’
 NB not all free morphemes in sentences are words.
 Bound morphemes (-er, -s, -ing, un-, re-…)
 Affixes: prefixes, suffixes, infixes
 A morpheme can have free & bound allomorphs:
 E.g. not - …n’t
‘deride’-’derision’
Morpheme types: by function
 Lexical morphemes



Convey major content of message;
Open set;
Free lexical morphemes = Free roots (May serve as base for
bound morphemes)
 Bound: Lexical roots & Derivational affixes
 Grammatical morphemes (‘function morphemes’)


Mainly give info about grammatical structure;
Closed set
 Free & Bound grammatical morphemes
 Bound: inflectional & clitics
Lexical morphemes
 Bound roots
 E.g. derision, submit, receive…(Latinate, ‘academic’
words)
 Derivational affixes
 Attach to a lexical root and make a new word (a complex
lexeme called a ‘stem’)

E.g. baker (-er), tearful (-ful), childish (-ish)…
 A new meaning and (sometimes) a new part of speech
are derived
Grammatical morphemes
 ‘function morphemes’
 Mainly give info about grammatical structure
 Generally demanded by the grammar
 Give abstract schematic meanings concerning the
functions of lexical items
 Free grammatical morphemes
 Articles, pron, preps, conj, aux verbs

And, but, if, or, the, on, that…
 Bound grammatical morphemes
 Inflectional affixes (8: -s, -s, -s, -ed, -ing, -en, -er, -est)

They don’t change the meaning (much)
Grammatical morphemes
 Bound grammatical morphemes
 Inflectional affixes: give grammatical info relevant to
the interpretation of sentence.
 Don’t give rise to new lexical words, but to diff forms of a
single word, different forms appropriate for use of that
word a sentence.


Servi consulem audiunt vs. Consul servos audit
The slaves hear the consul The consul hears the slaves
 noun+ /i/ = subject-pl; n+/em/=obj-sg; …-verb+/unt/;
verb+/t/
Allomorphic conditioning
 Types of allomorphs
 Phonological allomorphs
 E.g. possessive and plural ‘s’
 Suppletive allomorphs
 E.g. good, better, best; go,went,gone
Allomorphic conditioning
 Types of conditioning factors
 Phonological conditioning
: irregular plural
 Indefinite article
 Possesive
 Lexical conditioning
 Depends on word: irregular plural nouns, past tense
Allomorphic conditioning
 Morphological rules
 Like identifying abstract phonemic forms that are
realized by phones, it can be descriptively and
conceptually useful to identify abstract forms for
morphemes that are realized by different phonological
allomorphs.
 Thus the Eng. regular past suffix has 3 allomorphs,
which are in complementary distribution.
 We can presume they are alternative realizations of a
more abstract form of the morpheme (cf. phonemes)
Morphological description
 Locative case in Turkish
 Four allomorphs – each influenced by its phonological
environment
Morphological analysis
 Hungarian verbs p 72
 Suppletive allomorphs
 3rd pers sg – unmarked (not uncommon)
 Nb zero morphs
Morphological analysis
by speakers
 Kids learn L1 starting w/ words or larger units as




unanalyzed wholes.
Each word is a separate sign, unrelated to others
By 4 yrs kids’ vocabularies = 1000+ words
i.e. ‘too many’ to treat as unique entities
Thus they divide them into meaningful parts
 NB ‘regularizing’ irregular words (pl & past tense)
Morphological analysis
by speakers
 We continue to abstract elements of words throughout
adulthood, performing ad hoc analyses
 At times we abstract ‘meaningless’ elements and imbue
them with meaning (cf. faux etymology)
 At times we abstract ‘meaningful’ elements and create new
‘valid’ words (cf. etymology  any new academic term
from ‘atom’ to ‘zoophobia’
 NB: every word was made up at some point: what words are
being made up now?

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