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A morpheme is the smallest meaningful
lexical itemIn lexicography, a lexical item (or lexical unit / LU, lexical entry) is a single word, a part of a word, or a chain of words ( catena) that forms the basic elements of a language's lexicon A lexicon is the vocabulary A vocabulary, also known ...
in a language. A morpheme is not a
word In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most lang ...

word
. The difference between a morpheme and a word is that a morpheme sometimes does not stand alone, but a word on this definition always stands alone. The field of
linguistic Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages have a writing ...

linguistic
study dedicated to morphemes is called
morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical objects such as nebulae, galaxies ...
. In English, when a morpheme can stand alone, it is considered a
root In vascular plant Vascular plants (from Latin ''vasculum'': duct), also known as Tracheophyta (the tracheophytes , from Greek τραχεῖα ἀρτηρία ''trācheia artēria'' 'windpipe' + φυτά ''phutá'' 'plants'), form a large group ...
because it has a meaning of its own (such as the morpheme ''cat''). When it depends on another morpheme to express an idea, it is an
affix In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the met ...
because it has a grammatical function (such as the ''–s'' in ''cats'' to indicate plurality).. However this definition is not universal and it does not apply to, for example,
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
, where many roots cannot stand alone. For instance, the Latin root reg- (king) must always be suffixed with a case marker: rex (reg-s), reg-is, reg-i, etc. In a language like Latin, a root can be defined as the main lexical morpheme of a word. For some examples: * "Unbreakable" is composed of three morphemes: ''un-'' (a bound morpheme signifying "not"), ''-break-'' (the
root In vascular plant Vascular plants (from Latin ''vasculum'': duct), also known as Tracheophyta (the tracheophytes , from Greek τραχεῖα ἀρτηρία ''trācheia artēria'' 'windpipe' + φυτά ''phutá'' 'plants'), form a large group ...
, a free morpheme), and ''-able'' (a free morpheme signifying "can be done"). *
Allomorph In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
s of the plural morpheme for regular nouns: (e.g., in ''cats'' ), (e.g., in ''dishes'' ), and (e.g., in ''dogs'' ).


Classification of morphemes


Free and bound morphemes

Every morpheme can be classified as either free or bound. Since the categories are mutually exclusive, a given morpheme will belong to exactly one of them. *
Free morpheme In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ph ...
s can function independently as words (e.g. ''town'', ''dog'') and can appear within
lexeme A lexeme () is a unit of lexical meaning that underlies a set of words that are related through inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeolog ...
s (e.g. ''town hall'', ''doghouse''). *
Bound morpheme In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages ...
s appear only as parts of words, always in conjunction with a
root In vascular plant Vascular plants (from Latin ''vasculum'': duct), also known as Tracheophyta (the tracheophytes , from Greek τραχεῖα ἀρτηρία ''trācheia artēria'' 'windpipe' + φυτά ''phutá'' 'plants'), form a large group ...
and sometimes with other bound morphemes. For example, ''un-'' appears only accompanied by other morphemes to form a word. Most bound morphemes in English are affixes, particularly
prefix A prefix is an affix In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) ...
es and
suffix In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
es. Examples of suffixes are ''-tion'', ''-sion'', ''-tive'', ''-ation'', ''-ible'', and ''-ing''. Bound morphemes that are not affixed are called
cranberry morphemeIn linguistic morphology In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of ling ...
s.


Classification of bound morphemes

Bound morphemes can be further classified as derivational or inflectional morphemes. The main difference between derivational morphemes and inflectional morphemes is their function in relation to words.


Derivational Bound morphemes


Derivational morphemes

* Derivational morphemes, when combined with a root, change the semantic meaning or the
part of speech In traditional grammar A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about the world is truth, true. In epistemology, philosophers use the term "belief" to refer t ...
of the affected word. For example, in the word ''happiness'', the addition of the bound morpheme ''-ness'' to the root ''happy'' changes the word from an
adjective In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...
(''happy'') to a
noun A noun () is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many l ...

noun
(''happiness''). In the word ''unkind'', ''un-'' functions as a derivational morpheme since it inverts the meaning of the root morpheme (word) ''kind''. Generally, morphemes that affix (i.e., affixes) to a root morpheme (word) are bound morphemes.


= Inflectional bound morphemes

=


Inflectional morphemes

*
Inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical ob ...
al morphemes modify the tense,
aspect Aspect or Aspects may refer to: Entertainment * ''Aspect magazine ASPECT Volume 9: Performance ''ASPECT'' was a biannual DVD The DVD (common abbreviation for Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc) is a digital optical disc data stor ...
, mood,
person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is ...
, or
number A number is a mathematical object A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics. In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that has been (or could be) formally defined, and with which one may do deduct ...
of a
verb A verb () is a word (part of speech) that in syntax conveys an action (''bring'', ''read'', ''walk'', ''run'', ''learn''), an occurrence (''happen'', ''become''), or a state of being (''be'', ''exist'', ''stand''). In the usual description of E ...
, or the
number A number is a mathematical object A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics. In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that has been (or could be) formally defined, and with which one may do deduct ...
,
gender Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between femininity Femininity (also called womanliness or girlishness) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with women A woman is ...
, or
case Case or CASE may refer to: Containers * Case (goods), a package of related merchandise * Case, the metallic enclosure component in modern firearm cartridge (firearms), cartridges * Bookcase, a piece of furniture used to store books * Briefcase or ...
of a noun, adjective, or
pronoun In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languag ...

pronoun
, without affecting the word's meaning or class (
part of speech In traditional grammar A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about the world is truth, true. In epistemology, philosophers use the term "belief" to refer t ...
). Examples of applying inflectional morphemes to words are adding ''-s'' to the root ''dog'' to form ''dogs'', or adding ''-ed'' to ''wait'' to form ''waited''. An inflectional morpheme changes the form of a word. English has eight inflections.


Allomorphs

Allomorph In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
s are variants of a morpheme that differ in
pronunciation Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful d ...
but are semantically identical. For example, the English plural
marker The term Marker may refer to: Common uses * Marker (linguistics), a morpheme that indicates some grammatical function * Marker (telecommunications), a special-purpose computer * Boundary marker, an object that identifies a land boundary * Marker o ...
''-(e)s'' of regular nouns can be pronounced (''bats''), , (''bugs''), or , (''buses''), depending on the final sound of the noun's plural form.


Zero-Bound-Morpheme


Zero-Morpheme

A zero-morpheme, is a type of morpheme that carries
semantic Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another ...
meaning but is not represented by auditory
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
s. They are often represented by / Ø/ within
glosses A gloss is a brief notation, especially a marginalia, marginal one or an interlinear gloss, interlinear one, of the meaning of a word or wording in a text. It may be in the language of the text or in the reader's language if that is different. A ...
. Generally, these types of morphemes have no visible changes. For instance, ''sheep'' is both the singular and the plural form. The intended meaning is thus derived from the
Co-occurrenceIn linguistics, co-occurrence or cooccurrence is an above-chance frequency of occurrence of two terms (also known as coincidence or concurrence In Western Western may refer to: Places *Western, Nebraska, a village in the US *Western, New Y ...
determiner (in this case, "some-" or "a-").


Content vs. function

Content morphemes express a concrete meaning or ''content'', and function morphemes have more of a grammatical role. For example, the morphemes ''fast'' and ''sad'' can be considered content morphemes. On the other hand, the suffix ''-ed'' is a function morpheme since it has the grammatical function of indicating past tense. Both categories may seem very clear and intuitive, but the idea behind them is occasionally harder to grasp since they overlap with each other. Examples of ambiguous situations are the
preposition Prepositions and postpositions, together called adpositions (or broadly, in English, simply prepositions), are a used to express spatial or temporal relations (''in'', ''under'', ''towards'', ''before'') or mark various (''of'', ''for''). A pre ...
''over'' and the
determiner A determiner, also called determinative ( abbreviated ), is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practic ...
''your'', which seem to have concrete meanings but are considered function morphemes since their role is to connect ideas grammatically. Here is a general rule to determine the category of a morpheme: * Content morphemes include free morphemes that are nouns,
adverbs An adverb is a word or an expression that modifies a verb A verb () is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pr ...
,
adjectives In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Itali ...
, and verbs, and include bound morphemes that are bound roots and derivational affixes. * Function morphemes may be free morphemes that are prepositions,
pronoun In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languag ...

pronoun
s, determiners, and
conjunctions ''Conjunctions'' is a biannual American literature, American literary journal based at Bard College. It was founded in 1981 and is currently edited by Bradford Morrow. Morrow received the PEN/Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing in 2007. The jou ...
. Sometimes, they are bound morphemes that are inflectional affixes.


Other features

Roots are composed of only one morpheme, while stems can be composed of more than one morpheme. Any additional affixes are considered morphemes. For example, in the word ''quirkiness'', the root is ''quirk'', but the stem is ''quirky'', which has two morphemes. Moreover, some pairs of affixes have the same phonological form but have a different meaning. For example, the suffix ''–er'' can be either derivative (e.g. ''sell'' ⇒ ''seller'') or inflectional (e.g. ''small'' ⇒ ''smaller''). Such morphemes are called
homophonous A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same (to varying extent) as another word but differs in meaning. A homophone may also differ in spelling. The two words may be spelled the same, as in ''rose'' (flower) and ''rose'' (past tense of '' ...
. Some words might seem to be composed of multiple morphemes but are not. Therefore, not only form but also meaning must be considered when identifying morphemes. For example, the word ''relate'' might seem to be composed of two morphemes, ''re-'' (prefix) and the word ''late'', but it is not. Those morphemes have no relationship with the definitions relevant to the word like "to feel sympathy," "to narrate," or "to be connected by blood or marriage." By contrast, the word ''rename'' does consist of two morphemes; here the morpheme ''re-'' indicates that the action "name" is done again. Furthermore, the length of a word does not determine whether or not it has multiple morphemes. The word ''Madagascar'' is long and might seem to have morphemes like ''mad'', ''gas'', and ''car'', but it does not. Conversely, some short words have multiple morphemes (e.g. ''dogs'' = ''dog'' + ''s'').


Morphological icons

Morphological icons are images, patterns or symbols that relate to a specific morpheme. For children with dyslexia, it has been shown to be an effective way of building up a word. The word 'inviting' as an example is made up of two commonly used morphemes, 'in-' and '-ing'. A morphological icon for 'in-' could be an arrow going into a cup, and '-ing' could be an arrow going forward to symbolise that something is in action (as in ''being, running, fishing''). The concept of combining visual aid icons with morpheme teaching methods was pioneered from the mid 1980s by Neville Brown. He founded the Maple Hayes school for dyslexia in 1981, where he later improved the method alongside his son, Daryl Brown. The school's curriculum uses morphological icons as a learning aid.


Morphological analysis

In
natural language processing Natural language processing (NLP) is a subfield of , , and concerned with the interactions between computers and human language, in particular how to program computers to process and analyze large amounts of data. The goal is a computer capab ...
for
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an island country An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or ...

Japanese
,
Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, with a populat ...
, and other languages, morphological analysis is the process of segmenting a sentence into a row of morphemes. Morphological analysis is closely related to
part-of-speech tagging In corpus linguistics, part-of-speech tagging (POS tagging or PoS tagging or POST), also called grammatical tagging is the process of marking up a word in a text (corpus) as corresponding to a particular part of speech In traditional grammar, a pa ...
, but word segmentation is required for these languages because word boundaries are not indicated by blank spaces. The purpose of morphological analysis is to determine the minimal units of meaning in a language or morphemes by using comparisons of similar forms: for example, comparing forms such as "She is walking" and "They are walking," rather than comparing either with something completely different like "You are reading." Thus, the forms can be effectively broken down into parts and the different morphemes can be distinguished. Similarly, both meaning and form are equally important for the identification of morphemes. For instance, an agent morpheme is an affix like ''-er'' that transforms a verb into a noun (e.g. ''teach'' → ''teacher''). On the other hand, ''–er'' can also be a comparative morpheme that changes an adjective into another degree of the same adjective (eg.. ''small'' → ''smaller''). Although the form is the same, the meanings are different. Also, the opposite can occur, with the meaning being the same but the form being different.


Changing definitions

In
generative grammar Generative grammar, or generativism , is a linguistic theory that regards linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...
, the definition of a morpheme depends heavily on whether syntactic trees have morphemes as leaves or features as leaves. * Direct surface-to-
syntax In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...

syntax
mapping in
lexical functional grammar Lexical functional grammar (LFG) is a constraint-based grammar framework in theoretical linguistics Theoretical linguistics is a term in linguistics which, like the related term general linguistics, can be understood in different ways. Both can b ...
(LFG) – leaves are words * Direct syntax-to-semantics mapping ** Leaves in syntactic trees spell out morphemes: distributed morphology – leaves are morphemes ** Branches in syntactic trees spell out morphemes: radical minimalism and
nanosyntax Nanosyntax is an approach to syntax where the terminal nodes of Concrete syntax tree, syntactic parse trees may be reduced to units smaller than a morpheme. Each unit may stand as an irreducible element and not be required to form a further "subtree ...
– leaves are "nano-" (small) morpho-syntactic features Given the definition of a morpheme as "the smallest meaningful unit," nanosyntax aims to account for idioms in which an entire syntactic tree often contributes "the smallest meaningful unit." An example
idiom An idiom is a phrase In syntax and grammar, a phrase is a group of words which act together as a grammatical unit. For instance, the English language, English expression "the very happy squirrel" is a noun phrase which contains the adjective phra ...
is "Don't let the cat out of the bag." Here, the idiom is composed of "let the cat out of the bag." This might be considered a semantic morpheme that is itself composed of many syntactic morphemes. Other cases of the "smallest meaningful unit" being longer than a word include some collocations such as "in view of" and "business intelligence", in which the words together have a specific meaning. The definition of morphemes also plays a significant role in the interfaces of generative grammar in the following theoretical constructs: * Event semantics: the idea that each productive morpheme must have a compositional semantic meaning (a
denotation The denotation of a word is its central sense A sense is a biological system used by an organism for sensation, the process of gathering information about the world and responding to Stimulus (physiology), stimuli. (For example, in the human bod ...
), and if the meaning is there, there must be a morpheme (whether null or overt). * Spell-out: the interface where syntactic/semantic structures are "spelled out" by using words or morphemes with phonological content. This can also be thought of as lexical insertion into the syntactic.


See also

*
Alternation (linguistics) In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis includ ...
*
Bound morpheme In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages ...
*
Floating tone Floating may refer to: * a type of dental work performed on horse teeth Horse teeth refers to the dentition of equine species, including horses and donkeys. Equines are both heterodontous and diphyodontous, which means that they have teeth in mor ...
* Greek morphemes *
Hybrid word A hybrid word or hybridism is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), m ...
* Morphological parsing *
Morphophonology Morphophonology (also morphophonemics or morphonology) is the branch of linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language ...
* ''
Motif-Index of Folk-Literature The ''Motif-Index of Folk-Literature'' is a six volume catalogue of motifs, granular elements of folklore, composed by American folklorist Stith Thompson (1932-1936, revised and expanded 1955-1958). Often referred to as Thompson's motif-index, the ...
'', featuring a comparable concept in folklore studies *
Phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme is a unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most List of dialects of English, dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlan ...
*
Theoretical linguistics Theoretical linguistics is a term in linguistics which, like the related term general linguistics, can be understood in different ways. Both can be taken as a reference to theory of language Theory of language is a topic from philosophy of languag ...
*
Word stem In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many languages, words also corres ...


References

* *


External links


Glossary of reading terms

Comprehensive and searchable morpheme reference


by Prof. Mark Lieberman
Pronunciation of the word morpheme
{{Authority control Units of linguistic morphology Learning to read Reading (process) Linguistics terminology