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Introduction to linguistics

Ashfaq Aslam

Analysis of morphemes in terms of their distribution in a word and their properties Ashfaq Aslam

Introduction to linguistics

Ashfaq Aslam

Morphology is the study of morphemes, which are the smallest significant units of grammar (Todd, 1995). In this essay, I will be analysing these morphemes in terms of their distribution in a word and in terms of their properties. When a word like antidisestablishmentarianism is presented to a native English speaker, his initial reaction would be that of familiarity. Yet, when probed with regards to its meaning many would be unsure. However, if we are to analyse this word we can see that it is constructed of words which are well-known to any native speaker. Anti- meaning against or opposed, dis- meaning do the opposite of e.g. disprove, establish meaning set up, -ism meaning adherence to a system e.g. stoicism, and so forth. We were able to break down antidisestablishmentarianism into many recognisable parts which contain meaning. Though, there is a certain point in which the word cannot be analysed further. For example, establish cannot be analysed as est and ablish as they, on their own, do not carry any meaning. Therefore, These basic units which carry a meaning are called morphemes, in other words, the smallest significant units of grammar. Bound and free morphemes Morphemes, the smallest significant units of grammar, can be broadly divided into two categories, bound and free morphemes. If we take, for example, the word unhappy, we can see that it is made up of two morphemes; un- and happy. We know from our linguistic knowledge that one of these morphemes is able to stand on their own and constitute a word by themselves. In this instance, it is clear that happy can be used by itself. This is termed as a free morpheme. There are other morphemes which cannot exist without a host, for example, un-, -ish and -ing are never words by themselves but are always contained within other words. These affixes are called bound morphemes. Affixes As in the earlier example, we can recognise that establish is the free morpheme in antidisestablishmentarianism and the rest are bound morphemes. When a morpheme is attached to another morpheme it is referred to as an affix. We, additionally, know that certain bound morphemes can only precede the free morpheme, morphemes such as un-, anti and dis. Thus, un-, anti- and dis- are prefixes. They occur before the free morphemes. On the other hand, those morphemes that precede the free morphemes are called suffixes. Some English examples of suffixes are ing (read+ing), -er(read+er) ist (typ+ist) to mention only a few. (Fromkin et al., 2003) Many, if not all, languages have affixation. However, they differ in terms of how these affixations are deployed. For instance, in English, pluralisation takes place. In most cases, by suffixation of -s to a noun. Yet, in Isthmus Zapotec pluralisation takes place when the morpheme ka- is prefixed to a noun (zigi (chin), ka+zigi (chins)). (Fromkin et al., 2003) Languages also difffer in the meanings conveyed by affixation. In English we do not affix a morpheme to derive a noun from a verb. Such as the verb dance in the example I like to dance and dance as a noun in the dance of the south. However, in Turkish the morpheme -ak is suffixed the verb to derive a noun (dur (to stop) dur+ak (stopping place). Certain languages use affixation to covey a particular meaning, whereas, other languages use a phrase to convey similar meaning. For 2

Introduction to linguistics

Ashfaq Aslam

example, to express a reciprocal action in English we use the phrase each other, as in understand each other. In Turkish suffix sh is added to the verb (anla (understand) anla+sh (understand each other)). Infixes and Circumfixes Certain languages have infixes, morphemes that are inserted in another morpheme. Bontoc, is such a language. Fikas in Bontoc means strong when the morpheme um- is infixed after the first consonant of the noun, f-um-ikas, a verb is derived. In English, infixing is deployed in a peculiar fashion. Linguists have observed that only expletive words are infixed in the language, as in unbloody-believable. The most common infix in British English is bloody and its euphemisms. (Fromkin et al., 2003)

Furthermore, some languages have Circumfixes, also known as discontinuous morpheme. These are morphemes that are attached to other morphemes initially and finally. In Chicksaaw, a language spoken in Oklahoma, the negative is formed with a prefix ik- and a suffix o. The final vowel of the affirmative is dropped before the negative suffix. Chokma means he is good and when the circum fix is attached, the meaning is negated, ik+chokm+o he isnt good. (Fromkin et al., 2003)

Roots and stems The semantic languages, like Arabic and Hebrew, have a very unique root and stem system. Nouns and verbs are based on three root letters from which related meanings are derived by varying the pattern of the vowels. For example, write in Arabic is the root letters ktb from which other related meanings are derived. Kataba (he wrote), kaatib (writer), kitaab (book) these are the stems from the root letters ktb. A root is a lexical content morpheme that cannot be analysed into smaller parts. The derived words, by means of affixation to the root morpheme, from the root morpheme are termed a stem (the root or the stem does not necessarily need to be a word, for example, ceive is not a word in English, but, it is the root of conceiver. And ceive+er is a stem, again, it is not a word in the English language). Some examples of roots in English are; paint in painter, read in reader and ceive in conceive. Stems can also be affixed with another morpheme to form a more complex stem. Suffixing able to believe forms believable which is a stem and a word. Prefixing -un to believable forms a more complex stem and the word unbelievable. In infixing languages it is in the root which the infixing is inserted. And in circumfixing languages it is around the root which the circumfix is attached. (Fromkin et al., 2003) Derivational and inflectional morphology Morphology fulfils two main functions in the English language. First, morphemes are affixed to other morphemes to form new words. Suffixing ful to beauty to from beautiful. The Second function is to inflect verbs and nouns, for example, look, looks, looked, looking.

Introduction to linguistics

Ashfaq Aslam

The first category is called derivational morphology. Bound morphemes like ful and un-, when affixed to a root or a stem, a new word with a new meaning is formed. The affixation of ful to beauty forms beautiful and the prefixation of -un to grateful forms ungrateful. The form that results from the affixation of a derivational morpheme is called a derived word. (Todd, 1995). As we have seen above, when a derivational morpheme is added to a root or stem a new meaning is formed. This indicates that derivational morphemes have semantic content without it being a word by itself. In addition, the derived word may be of a different grammatical class to the original word. As shown by suffixes such as able when added to a verb forms an adjective (love (verb) + able= lovable (adjective)). Nevertheless, there are instances where the derivational morphemes do not change the grammatical class of a word, for example, the word friend is a noun, the addition of ship to form friendship which is also a noun. The second category is called inflectional morphology. These are bound morphemes which have a purely grammatical function. They never change the grammatical class of the word to which it is affixed. Its sole purpose is to mark such properties as tense, gender number, case and so forth. The following are some examples of inflectional morphemes. Suffixation of ed to a verb results in the past tense form of the word, as in walk+ed. Also, pluralisation of nouns is done by suffixation of s to a noun, as in cat+s. Summary As defined, morphemes are the smallest significant unit in grammar. They can be divided into two types free and bound morphemes. Bound morphemes are attached to the host (free) morpheme. It can be attached to the free morpheme by prefixation, suffixation, infixation or circumfixation. Morphemes can, also, be analysed as roots or stems. Roots are lexical contents morpheme that cannot be analysed into smaller parts. When morphemes are affixed to the root stems are produced. Finally, morphology in language serves two main functions. First, that of producing new words (derivational morphology). Second, to inflect verbs and nouns (inflectional morphology).

Introduction to linguistics

Ashfaq Aslam

Bibliography
Loreto Todd, (1995). Introduction to linguistics. 8th ed. Essex; York press. Victoria fromkin et al., 2003. Introduction to language. 7th ed. Massachusett; wadsworth.