The Building Blocks of Language

  • May 18, 2018

Depending on what subject you’re studying, morphology can mean different things. In linguistics, morphology is the study of word formation, words, and how words relate to each other in a language.

Morphology takes different parts of words into consideration, which includes but is not limited to stems, prefixes, suffixes, morphemes and word roots.

A morpheme is a unit of language that can not be further divided.

There are also two different kinds of morphemes: bound and freed. Bound morphemes only show up as parts of words, while free morphemes can be by themselves. The prefix “pre” is a bound morpheme because it is not a word on its own.

Before going any further, it is essential that you understand the relationship between morphemes and words. Words are made up of one or more morphemes, with the vast majority of words having more than one morpheme. Some languages can even have eight or more morphemes in a single word.

Two morphemes can be seen in the word “mats”: here, the units “mat” and “s” are both morphemes.

Morphology has two main branches, which are inflection and derivation.

Inflection concerns itself with changes and/or patterns in word formations based on grammatical functions such as case, gender, mood, tense and more. One example can be seen in the word “spy” as it changes to “spying”, or “spied” depending on the grammatical case in the sentence being used and who is doing the spying.

Derivation makes new words with new meanings. Two examples are “unfair” from “fair” and “slowly” from “slow.” Another example of derivation can be seen when the letter “s” is added to the end of a word to show that it is a plural.

Interestingly, in Mandarin there is no marking added to the ends of words to show that a word is plural. Instead, Mandarin will use the word “zhi” as an indicator of quantity. There are different words in Mandarin that measure quantity, but you must remember which ones to use based on what you are talking about.

One example of morphology being unclear can be seen in the words “race” and “run.” If you wanted to say race in the past tense, you would say “I raced.” In some instances, the ending “-ed” can be added to show that something happened in the past. This is where “run” comes in. You would never say “I runned”; you would always say “I ran.”

What tends to make morphology difficult in general for some people to grasp is the fact that some endings or rules can be applied to some words and not others. You just can not add a random ending to a word or change the stem-you have to go by the rules for that individual word.

With that being said, it’s hard to apply the rules of morphology to groups of words if you don’t even know what rules to follow.

Even though it can be frustrating at times, understanding English morphology will help you understand English better by allowing you to truly comprehend some building blocks of the language-words.

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