The study of word grammatical structure and how words are created and modified within a given language’s lexicon is called morphology, a discipline of linguistics. The smallest meaningful unit of a word is called a morpheme, and morphology investigates how these units can be combined to make new words or different spellings of the same word.
For instance, the word “cats” is made up of two parts: cat, which designates a certain kind of furry four-legged animal, and -s, which denotes the existence of multiple such animals.
Most English words only contain one or two parts, but some technical words—like non-renewability, which contains at least five—can have many more (non-, re-, new, -abil, and -ity). However, in many languages, a single word might convey a meaning that would necessitate the use of an entire phrase in English.
But not all conceivable piece pairings exist. To return to the earlier example of cat and -s, we cannot put those two parts in the reverse order and still obtain the same result. In English, we do have a term called scat, but it does not imply “more than one cat” or contain the letters cat or -s; rather, it is a completely another word.
How English morphology is different from morphologies of other languages
English is a fairly straightforward language from the morphological point-of-view, other languages have much more intricate systems for modifying the forms of words. The classification system’s underlying assumption is that other languages behave somewhat differently. The creation of language family trees to demonstrate which present languages are descended from which previous ones and potentially even the ability to reconstruct lost languages piqued the interest of linguists in earlier generations. One method of classifying languages is based on their morphological structure.
This grouping typically consists of three classes.
- Isolating languages: An isolating language always uses the same words. Alternatively, because it is made up of free morphemes, there aren’t any morphemes that denote information like grammatical number (for example, plural) or tense (past, present, future). One such language is frequently used as an example: Mandarin Chinese (although some claim Vietnamese to be a better example).
- Agglutinative languages: Agglutinate is defined as “unite as with glue; (of language) join simple words without change of form to express compound ideas” in the English dictionary. Examples from textbooks are typically based on Swahili or Turkish.
- Inflecting languages: It is possible to divide words into smaller components and give each one a name in inflecting languages because the words do exhibit various forms. The end result is a confusing and inconsistent account, nevertheless. The majority of English undergraduates lack knowledge of the Latin grammatical case example, and the typical examples are based on Latin. For instance, amo is the Latin word for “I love.” This means that in addition to other connotations, the ending o can also represent first person (“I” or “us”), singular, present tense, and other meanings.
Types of Morphology
We have already learnt that morphemes are the minimal units of words that have a meaning and cannot be subdivided further. There are two main types of morphemes:
- Free Morphemes
- Bound Morphemes
Bound morphemes can only occur with another morpheme, but free morphemes can occur by themselves. “Bad” is an illustration of a free morpheme, and “ly” is an illustration of a bound morpheme. It is constrained because, despite having meaning, it cannot stand on its own. To create a word, it must be joined to another morpheme.
Free morpheme: bad
Bound morpheme: -ly
A free morpheme can be further divided into two types:
- Open Class
- Closed Class
There are two categories of words when we talk about them: lexical (or content) words and functional (or grammatical) words. Open class words refer to lexical terms like nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. To this group, new words can frequently be added. Conjunctions, prepositions, articles, and pronouns are considered function words or closed classes, and new words cannot (or are only very seldom added to this class).
A bound morpheme too can be further divided two types:
This group includes prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and circumfixes. Prefixes are added to the beginning of another morpheme, suffixes are added to the end, infixes are inserted into other morphemes, and circumfixes are attached to another morpheme at the beginning and end.
Following are examples of each of these:
Prefix: re- added to do produces redo
Suffix: -or added to edit produces editor
Infix: -um- added to fikas (strong) produces fumikas (to be strong) in Bontoc
Circumfix: ge- and -t to lieb (love) produces geliebt (loved) in German
There are two categories of affixes:
- Derivational affix
- Inflectional affix
The primary distinction between the two is that while inflectional affixes are added to the end of an existing word for purely grammatical reasons, derivational affixes are added to morphemes to create new words that may or may not share the same part of speech.
The other type of bound morphemes are called bound roots. These are morphemes (and not affixes) that must be attached to another morpheme and do not have a meaning of their own. Some examples are ‘ceive’ in perceive and ‘mit’ in submit.
Let us have a look at a few examples of morphology words:
- Book = book + s
- Painted = paint + ed
- Trainings = train + ing + s
- Tallest = tall + est
- Unbreakable = un + break + able