A Definition of Morphology

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We shall start off with a definition of morphology:

The area of grammar concerned with the structure of words and with relationships between words, involving the morphemes that compose them.

A key concept in morphology is that of the morpheme. Morphemes have two characteristics:

1) A morpheme must be identifiable from one word to another in a consistent fashion (i.e. in similar positions)

2) A morpheme must also contribute in some way to the meaning of the whole word

Note that we must add the second condition, because elements may be recognisable from one word to another, but not contribute to the meaning in any way.

For example, while /ɪʃ/ is present in all the following words, it does not contribute to the meaning, and therefore cannot be considered to be a morpheme.


Wish

/wɪʃ/

Abolish

/əˈbɒlɪʃ /

Accomplish

/əˈkʌmplɪʃ/

Anguish

/ˈæŋgwɪʃ/

Fish

/fɪʃ/

Consider the following examples:


Compare with

Reddish

Red

Yellowish

Yellow

Foolish

Fool

Danish

Dane

Turkish

Turk

Jewish

Jew

In these examples we see /ɪʃ/ at the end of the words, however, unlike wish, abolish etc. when we eliminate /ɪʃ/, we are left with a recognisable word. Note that red, yellow are both adjectives and we can add other adjectives to the list (blackish, hottish etc.); '-ish' contributes to the meaning of the word by adding making the quality less definite. Reddish is less red than red.

The other examples fool, Dane etc. are nouns, the adjectives formed mean 'with the quality of being an X', e.g. foolish = with the quality of being a fool.

Wish, Abolish, Accomplish, Anguish and Fish are simple, or monomorphemic words.

Reddish, Yellowish, Foolish, Danish, Turkish and Jewish are complex, or polymorphemic words.


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