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Morphology: Word Formation

morphology word formation
Morphology is one of the branches of linguistics that studies the form and structure of words in terms of morphemes. Broadly, we can say that morphology is the scientific study and description of word-formation.
What is a Morpheme?

is a minimal unit of meaning or grammatical function. It is a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word, such as ‘Human’, or a word element, such as ‘-ing’ in ‘Playing’, ‘-ed’ in ‘Cooked’ that can never be divided into smaller meaningful parts. Morpheme is the smallest part of morphology and that cannot be divided into another smaller meaningful part.

For example, words like ‘saves, saved, saving, saver’ must consist of one main and meaningful element ‘Save’ and multiple other elements like, ‘-s, -ed,-ing, -er’. In the word ‘re-invent-ed’, there are three morphemes, ‘re’- means ‘again’, ‘invent’-the root word, and ‘-ed’-indicates the past tense. All these are minimal units, i.e. morphemes. Similarly, in another word, ‘Play-er-s’, we have again three morphemes, namely, ‘play’, ‘-er’ and ‘-s’

what is morphology

Types of Morphemes

‘Free Morphemes’ and ‘Bound morphemes’ are the two main types of Morphemes.

Free Morphemes
These can stand alone as far as the meaning is concerned. We can treat them as an independent words. They can be ‘Lexical Morphemes’ (make, eat, cool, boredom, etc.) or ‘Grammatical/ Functional Morphemes’ (but, or, into, after, the, a, etc.)

a. Lexical Morphemes
These are called as the ‘open-class’ of words, because we can create new words by adding morphemes. These are found in a large number. These morphemes include ‘Noun, Adjective, and Verb’.

b. Grammatical/Functional Morphemes
These types of morpheme are considered as the ‘Closed-class’ of words,
because nothing can be added to them to make a new word. They have a particular grammatical function to play. These morphemes include ‘Prepositions, Conjunctions, Determiners, and Pronouns’

Bound Morphemes
These morphemes do not have their own meaning. They can form a meaningful word with the help of free morphemes only, hence, they are called ‘bound’ morphemes. All the Prefixes and Suffixes are bound morphemes. There are two types of Bound Morphemes, ‘Derivational Morphemes’ and ‘Inflectional Morphemes’.

a. Derivational Morphemes
These morphemes include all the prefixes and suffixes and we can derive new words through prefixation ( un- unwanted, mis- misuse, im- improper, etc.) and suffixation (ness- goodness, ful- careful, less- thoughtless, etc.)

b. Inflectional Morphemes
These Morphemes just indicate the aspects of the grammar function of
the word, they do not produce new words. These include the following 8 categories:
1. -‘s (possessive) with nouns, e.g. John’s house
2. -s (plural), e.g. boy- boys
3. -s (3rd person singular) with verbs, e.g. John plays
3. -ing (present participle) with verbs, e.g. John is working
4. -ed (past tense) with verbs, e.g. John played
5. -en (past participle) with irregular verbs, e.g. John has written a letter
6. -est (superlative) with adjectives, e.g. John is the wisest man
8. -er (comparative) with adjectives, e.g. John is wiser than him

Difference between ‘Inflectional Morpheme’ and ‘Derivational Morpheme’:

  • Inflectional Morpheme never change the grammatical category of a word.
       e.g. Good (adjective), Better (adjective), Best (adjective)
  • Derivational Morpheme can change the grammatical category of a word.
       e.g. Play (verb), Player (noun)

    There are so many words in English in which the element treated as stem is not a free morpheme. These are known as ‘Bound Roots’. e.g. ‘re’ in repeat, reduce, retain, remain, etc.

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