Sunday, March 31, 2013

Intro to Linguistics: Morphology

In our previous Intro to Linguistics posts, we've covered phonetics (the study of speech sounds) and phonology (the study of how sounds are combined to create meaning). Today, we'll be looking at another field of linguistics, morphology.

Morphology is the study of the structure of words and how they are formed. To give you an idea of what morphology is all about, we'll start out with a list of key terms.

morpheme - The smallest unit of linguistic meaning or function. Words can be made up of one or many morphemes. Depending on how they attach to each other, morphemes can be either free or bound.

A happy cat awaiting some attention.
free morpheme - These morphemes can be words on their own. For example, cat and happy are free morphemes.

bound morpheme - These morphemes are always bound to words and cannot be words by themselves.

affix - Affixes are bound morphemes attached to a stem or root. They have different names based on where they're attached to another morpheme. Prefixes attach to the beginning, suffixes attach to the end, infixes are found in the middle of a morpheme, and circumfixes attach both before and after. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of morphology. The morpheme that remains when all affixes are removed is called a root. For example, happy is the root of the word happily

Morphemes that create a new stem or word are referred to as derivational morphemes. They often change the grammatical category of a word. In the word happily, the suffix -ly converts happy from an adjective into an adverb. 

Inflectional morphemes, on the other hand, add grammatical information such as case, number, person, gender and tense to the word. In the word cats, the suffix -s indicates number, while in played, the suffix -ed indicates the past tense. Not too tricky, right? There's much more to morphology, but we'll keep it short and simple for today.