The linguistic subdiscipline relating to the internal analysis of words and word formation. Based around the concept of a morpheme.

Morphology is a sub-field of linguistics, concentrating on study of the structure and formation of words.

Words are, linguistically, units of expression in a language that have meaning to speakers of that language. So. Consider the following words in English: blood, lifeblood, blood-red, bloody, and bloodiness. No one would argue that these are not different words, meaning very different things; yet, they can all be broken down and shown to have a common element, blood. Likewise, if one were to look at all these words, they have some meaning associated with that common element.

However, take blood and blow. Although these share a common grouping of letters, blo, they have no meaningful association with each other. Nor do blood and blunt, which share an initial sound bluh. Neither the group of letters blo nor the syllable bluh have any meaning in English as a morpheme.

Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units into which words in English can be broken down and shown to have either meaning or grammatical function. They may refer to the real world and have inherent meaning: blood in the example above, but they also include affixes -- suffixes, prefixes, and infixes (sounds inserted into the middle of a word) -- and rules for the creation of words such as reduplication, a phenomenon found in some languages such as Tagalog which consists of duplicating some syllable of the stem morpheme to create an inflected word. In Tagalog, the first syllable of the verb stem is reduplicated to create the present tense; reduplication and similar rules are, therefore, part of the study of morphology and themselves morphemes. Morphemes do not necessarily have to be linked to a sound, as in the example of reduplication, but often are, as is the case with affixes.

A word, therefore, morphologically, is a construction of one or more morphemes.

Morphemes can be free or bound. A free morpheme, termed a lexeme in certain circles of linguistical study, is one that can occur on its own, as a unique and meaningful word. A bound morpheme, however, can only occur as part of a word. Affixes are exclusively bound morphemes. Affixes also have two categories: derivational, which change the meaning of the word and the way it functions in a sentence, and inflectional, which change only the meaning and not the lexical category, or part of speech.

Allomorphy is the phenomenon that occurs when a morpheme changes sound but not meaning. Allomorphy is characteristic of morphophonemics, the area in which morphology and phonology, the study of sounds and how they interact, overlap. The prefixes in imperfect, irregular, illicit, and incorrect are allomorphs: they sound similar but not the same and they mean the same thing, a negation. However, beware: the -ly and -li- in friendly and friendliness are not allomorphs: they are the same morpheme. Morphology is driven by sound, not the peculiarities of English spelling.

*coughs* 2004.12.31@20:40 fnordian says re: morphology, I believe il/ir- and in- are two different morphemes, as one occurs in level 1 morphology and the other in level 2. the underlying representation for in- is In and it undergoes homorganic nasal assimilation to become im, etc., but there is no rule that could make in- into il-.

I sit corrected. I must note, then, one's Latin teacher's information (even if "Latin" and "Linguistics" both start with "L") is not to be necessarily relied upon in other fields... especially not without applying common sense.

Mor*phol"o*gy (?), n. [Gr. form + -logy: cf. F. morphologie.] Biol.

That branch of biology which deals with the structure of animals and plants, treating of the forms of organs and describing their varieties, homologies, and metamorphoses. See Tectology, and Promorphology.


© Webster 1913.

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