13 February, 2012

LANE 333 - English Morphology

What is English Morphology?
1.1 What is morphology?
The term morphology is generally attributed to the German poet, novelist, playwright, and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), who coined it early in the nineteenth century in a biological context. Its etymology is Greek: morph- means ‘shape, form’, and morphology is the study of form or forms. In biology morphology refers to the study of the form and structure of organisms, and in geology it refers to the study of the configuration and evolution of land forms. In linguistics morphology refers to the mental system involved in word formation or to the branch of linguistics that deals with words, their internal structure, and how they are formed.
1.2 Morphemes
A major way in which morphologists investigate words, their internal structure, and how they are formed is through the identification and study of morphemes, often defined as the smallest linguistic pieces with a grammatical function. This definition is not meant to include all morphemes, but it is the usual one and a good starting point. A morpheme may consist of a word, such as hand, or a meaningful piece of a word, such as the –ed of looked, that cannot be divided into smaller meaningful parts. We can identify a morpheme by three criteria:
1. It is a word or part of a word that has meaning.
2. It cannot be divided into smaller meaningful parts without violation of its meaning or without meaningless remainders.
3. It recurs in differing word environments with a relatively stable meaning.
Take the word straight /stret/. It is obviously recognised as a word by English speakers. Although we can divide it up in all sorts of ways (trait /tret/, rate /ret/, ate /et/), they all mean something different and leave us with meaningless remainders like /s-/, /st-/, and /str-/. The unit /stret/ occurs with relatively stable meaning in words like straighten, a straight line, and straightedge. Thus it fits the criteria for a morpheme. Likewise, consider the words bright (light) and brighten (make light). We might conclude that the –en in brighten is a morpheme with a causative meaning, and we certainly find that elsewhere in words like deepen, soften, stiffen. You may also run across the term morph. The term ‘morph’ is sometimes used to refer specifically to the phonological realization of a morpheme. For example, the English past tense morpheme that we spell -ed has various morphs. It is realized as [t] after the voiceless [p] of jump (jumped), as [d] after the voiced [l] of repel (repelled), and as [ǝd] after the voiceless [t] of root or the voiced [d] of wed (rooted and wedded).
We can also call these morphs allomorphs or variants. The appearance of one morph over another in this case is determined by voicing and the place of articulation of the final consonant of the verb stem.
Now consider the word reconsideration. We can break it into three morphemes: re-, consider, and -ation. Consider is called the stem. A stem is a base morpheme to which another morphological piece is attached. The stem can be simple, made up of only one part, or complex, itself made up of more than one piece. Here it is best to consider consider a simple stem.
Although it consists historically of more than one part, most present-day speakers would treat it as an unanalyzable form. We could also call consider the root. A root is like a stem in constituting the core of the word to which other pieces attach, but the term refers only to morphologically simple units. For example, disagree is the stem of disagreement, because it is the base to which -ment attaches, but agree is the root. Taking disagree now, agree is both the stem to which dis- attaches and the root of the entire word.
Returning now to reconsideration, re- and -ation are both affixes, which means that they are attached to the stem. Affixes like re- that go before the stem are prefixes, and those like -ation that go after are suffixes.

Thus another classificatory distinction must be made between roots, stems and bases. Roots are content morphemes that cannot be further divided into smaller morphemic parts. A root need not be a free standing word. Thus, both {lav-} in lavando and {burden} in unburden are roots; the latter being a free root and the former being a bound root. A base is anything that an affix attaches to. For example, in the word unlovable, love is the base for lovable, and lovable is the base for unlovable. A stem is a base to which inflectional affixes attach. Thus, {lav-} and {burden} are at the same time roots, stems, and bases. They are roots because they cannot be reduced to any smaller morphemic units. They are stems because inflectional affixes can be directly concatenated to them. They are bases because complex words can be derived from them by adding additional affixes. Contrasting prefixed words like unhappy and repaint to prefixed words like receive and deflect. The former are derived from free bases, {happy} and {paint} respectively, while the latter are derived from bound bases, {-ceive} and {-flect} respectively. Strictly speaking, all of these morphemes are roots since they all take derivational prefixes. They are all bases since larger words are built of them.
Aronoff, Mark; Fudeman, Kirsten. 2005. What is Morphology?,Blackwell Publishing.
Melinger, Alissa. Morphological Complexity in English Prefixed Words: An Experimental Investigation, A PH. D dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of State University of New York at Buffalo: