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Morphemes [the smallest particles of language]

The fundamentals of the English language, or most languages in fact, simmer down to how the
words we read, speak, and write every day form and function. The study of this fundamental
aspect of linguistics is called morphology. The English language, being as complex as it is,
actually isnt as nonsensical as it might appear simply because
morphology gives us the ability to examine words closely by
taking them apart to their simplest forms, which are
morphemes. Origin
Words The word morpheme comes from a
combination of French and Greek.
In order to understand what morphemes are, we must Morph means form or shape, and
know what words are. Words are the smallest units of eme is a shortened version of
language that can function alone to convey meaning. For phoneme, which means unit of
example, anybody can say the word house, and any sound. The term morpheme was
English speaker would understand what that word means. coined in 1896 by linguist Jan
All words can change into different variations of the same Baudouin de Courtney (Douglas).
word. Nouns can be singular or plural. The word house
can also be houses, indicating another meaning that
there is more than one house. Verbs change tenses, which

morph eme
in turn changes meaning. Walk can be walking or
walked, once again altering meaning of the word. But
words are not the smallest particles of language
morphemes are.

Morphemes
Words can be reduced to smaller units called morphemes. Every word consists of one or
more morphemes. Each morpheme is either a base or an affix. The best way to
understand this is that the affix means anything that is a prefix or suffix; whatever is left
is the base, or the part that either functions as a word by itself or receives meaning for the
affix. For example, the word houses has two morphemes: house and s. House is a
base because that is the primary meaning of the word. S is a suffix, added to the base to
change the meaning from singular to plural.

Types of Morphemes How can you tell if a


Words with only one morpheme are called simple, meaning they
word is complex?
cannot be broken down further into particles that help add meaning
Once you find the base, look to
to the word. For example, a simple word with one morpheme is
see if there is an affix. If an
house or walk. Words with more than one morpheme are
affix is present, you know the
called complex, meaning they are attached to one or more affix. A
word is complex!
few complex words are morphology, walked, and houses.
Bases
Base morphemes can be classified as either free or bound.
Free morpheme bases are words that are independent; they have meaning and can stand
alone, like house in the example above. In the word hopeful, the free base is hope. It
functions properly as a word. The affix in this case is ful, and it changes the noun hope to the
adjective hopeful.
A bound base differs from a free base in that a bound base is not a word. It cannot function
alone. It needs to be attached to an affix to work as a word. For example, the word instruct is
composed of a bound base and an affix. The bound base is struct, and it is not a word until it is
attached to the prefix in, and gets its meaning: to teach.

Affixes
Besides being simply classified as prefix and suffix, affixes are
classified as inflectional or derivational.

Inflectional morphemes are easy to recognize as there are only eight of


them, and they are never prefixes. Inflectional affixes never change the
meaning of the wordthey only change the form. The dogs woof
changes form when the inflections s, ing, and ed are added.

Derivational morphemes can function as either prefixes or suffixes.


There are hundreds of different variations, but they all function the same
way. Derivational affixes change the meaning of the word or its part of
speech. For example, the word activity has two derivational suffixes: -
ive, -ity. Each of these changes the meaning and form of the noun act,
which becomes an adjective, active, and then changes again to become a
noun, activity.

To make this somewhat easier, linguists and teachers have


come up with morphology trees. This simply entails
diagramming different words and branching them according References
to their parts and functions in the word. First, you locate the What is Morphology? All About Linguistics.
different morphemes, as shown in step one: School of English. Web. 5 February 2017.
HOUSES morpheme. Online Etymology Dictionary.
Then you identify how the morphemes function. House is the Douglas Harper, Historian. 10 Feb. 2017.
base, and s is the inflectional suffix because all it does is Dictionary.com.
change the form of house to houses. Once you do this, you Image
draw lines to indicate what each morpheme is. If its a word, https://www.braincert.com/bcscorm/a6949c25b9
then label the part of speech. If its just an affix, put aff. 89ad653ba3e85260ac6f46/Linguistics_print.html
Noun

Noun Aff

HOUSES
And theres your morphology tree!
By: Milica Mijatovic