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Traditional classification of morphemes

Lecture 2


Morphology as part of grammatical theory faces the two segmental units: the morpheme and the word.

The morpheme is a meaningful segmental component of the word; the morpheme is formed by phonemes; as a meaningful component of the word it is elementary (i.e. indivisible into smaller segments as regards its significative function). Usually it is designated in braces - {}. For example, sawed, sawn, sawing, and saws can be analyzed into the morphemes {saw} + {-ed}, {-n}, {-ing}, {-s}, respectively.

In traditional grammar the study of the morphemic structure of the word was conducted in the light of the two basic criteria: positional (the location of the marginal morphemes in relation to the central ones) and semantic or functional (the correlative contribution of the morphemes to the general meaning of the word). The combination of these two criteria in an integral description has led to the rational classification of morphemes that is widely used both in research linguistic work and in practical lingual tuition.


Traditional classification of morphemes

Stem or root is the basic or core morpheme of a word:

ROOT: roots express the concrete, "material" part of the meaning of the word, the most basic morpheme in a word or family of related words, consisting of an irreducible, arbitrary sound-meaning pairing: electricity, electrical, electric, electrify, electron. This is essentially any bound morpheme, excluding affixes. The roots of notional words are classical lexical morphemes.

STEM: The main portion of a word, the one that prefixes and suffixes are stuck onto. So associated with the root electr- we have stems like electrify and electron, to which we can add further endings to get electrifies and electrons.

In English, stems can also appear as independent words without additional endings. Whereas a root is normally a single morpheme, a stem might contain two or more. For example, a compound noun might function as a stem for the addition of the plural suffix. Stems are most often free in English, but sometimes are bound. Here are some words containing bound stems (or "roots"): ruth-less, grue-some, un-kempt, cran-berry. Sometimes these are called "morphans" (i.e. morphological orphans).

affixes affixes express the specificational part of the meaning of the word, the specifications being of lexico-semantic and grammatico-semantic character, they are treated as being added on: prefixes, suffixes (lexical suffixes (derivations) + grammatical suffixes (inflections)) - are almost always bound. Prefixes and lexical suffixes have word-building functions, together with the root they form the stem of the word. Inflexions (grammatical suffixes) express different morphological categories.

- Inflectional versus derivational

Inflectional morphology creates new forms of the same word (in a relevant sense): the core meaning is the same, but the word reflects new grammatical properties. For example, walk and walked describe the same action, but at different times.

Part of knowing a word in English (or any language) is knowing how to inflect it for various grammatical categories that the language includes, such as singular / plural or past / present tense. One basic distinguishing properties of inflectional morphology is that it creates different forms of the "same" word. Together, this set of related forms is called a paradigm.

Walk walks walked walking

English has only eight inflectional morphemes, as listed in Table 2.1.

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