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ON MORPHEMES, MORPHS AND ALLOMORPHS OF NZEMA

JOHN NYAME 08-05-2018


UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION, WINNEBA

Introduction

The study of morphemes and how they are constituted ‘structured’ in a language fall under the
linguistic study known as morphology. Morpheme as Yule (2010) defines is a minimal linguistic
unit that carries grammatical function or meaning. Morphemes therefore are in the abstract level
of morphology. The actual forms used to realize morphemes are called morphs (Katamba, 1993).
Morphs are thus phonetic (physical) realizations of morphemes. A group of different morphs that
are all versions of one ‘same’ morpheme are called allomorphs of that morpheme (Yule, 2010).

Morphemes can be said to be free that is, if they can stand alone and make meaning, and bound
if they had to obligatorily attach themselves to other ‘free’ morphemes to derive meaning ‘or
function’.

Free morphemes can further be categorized into lexical and functional. Lexical morphemes carry
the “content” of the message we convey. Some examples in Nzema are: bol] ‘stone’, k[k[l]
‘red’, tia ‘walk’, nd] ‘early’ etc. These morphemes are usually treated as an “open” class of
words. Functional morphemes on the other hand are “closed” types. Examples include: noko
‘but’, nee ‘and’, b] ‘them’, ne ‘the’, saa ‘if/when’, etc.

For the purpose of this work, the following forms are going to be looked at: Plural morphemes,
Morphemes of negation and Morphemes expressing future. These morphemes are selected based
on the type of word they attach and also subject to voicing and place of articulation.

Plural morphemes

Morphemes used to mark plural in Nzema include: a-, m-, n-, -ma, -m[, and -amra. For example,
irregular nouns such as body parts; egyak] ‘leg’, ]nzonl] ‘ear’, ]sal] ‘hand’ and nouns of
relations such as nana ‘grandmother’, awuvuanyi ‘uncle’, egya ‘father’, all select the morpheme
– m[. Example: egyak] m[ ‘legs’, ]nzonl] m[ ‘ears’, nana m[ ‘grandmothers’.

Morpheme a- selects any noun of any kind whether beginning with voiced or voiceless segments.
Examples: a + twea ‘dog’ => ahwea ‘dogs’, a + sua ‘house’ => azua ‘houses’, a + kale ‘car’ =>
ahale ‘cars’, a + sone ‘worm ‘ => azone ‘worms’, a + kpolike ‘pig’ => agbolike ‘pigs’.

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ON MORPHEMES, MORPHS AND ALLOMORPHS OF NZEMA
JOHN NYAME 08-05-2018
UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION, WINNEBA

Morpheme m - selects nouns that begin with labials ‘consonants’. Examples: m + boane ‘sheep’
=> mboane ‘sheep’s’’, m + bulal] ‘metal’ => mbulal] ‘metals’, m + bowule ‘bone’ => mbowule
‘bones’, m + kpolike ‘pig’ => ‘mgbolike’, m + ab[nkye ‘goat’ => mgb[nkye ‘goats’, m + ebia
‘chair’ => mbia ‘chairs’.

Morpheme { n } has the allomorphs ; n - ,which is alveolar and ŋ - which is a velar.

The selection of these morphemes is phonetically determined and based on voicing. Examples:

n + ewula ‘rubbish’ => nwula ‘many rubbish’, n + twea ‘dog’ => ndwea ‘dogs’, n + dw[ma
‘pestle’ => ndw[ma ‘pestles’.

n + kila ‘mouse’ => ngila (realised as ŋgila) ‘mice’, n + kakula ‘child’ => ngakula (realised as
ŋgakula ) ‘children’, n + k]lata ‘paper’ => ng]lata (realised as ŋg]lata) ‘papers’, n + ]hane ‘trap’
=> ngane (realised as ŋgane) ‘traps’.

Morphemes of negation and future

Nzema marks negation with the morpheme {n }, it is however place conditioned and so has these
variants; n-, m -, nr] -, t] -.

Usually, n – is used to negate habitual aspect. Example:

a. Kaku ]-n-li b. Y]-n-g[

Kaku Emph-NEG-eat 1PL-NEG-go

‘Kaku does not eat’. ‘We do not go’.

m - is used when negating the future (1) morpheme ‘ba’. Example:

a. m-ba-n-li, b. m-ba-n-va, ‘

NEG-FUT- NEG- eat NEG-FUT- NEG- take

‘Will not eat’. ‘Wll not take’.

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ON MORPHEMES, MORPHS AND ALLOMORPHS OF NZEMA
JOHN NYAME 08-05-2018
UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION, WINNEBA

nr] is used to negate future (2) morphemes; nw[ and k].

a.i. Me-nw[-li a. ii. Me-nr]-li

1SG-FUT-eat Negated as 1SG-NEG-eat

‘I shall eat’ ‘I shall not eat’

t] is used to negate perfectives. Example:

a. i. Me-h[. a. ii. Me-t]-k[-le.

1SG-go.PERF Negated as 1SG-NEG-go-PAST

‘I have gone’ ‘I have not gone’

Conclusion

As noted from the discussion, a morpheme can be a word which may be either lexical or
functional. It may also be bound or free. Bound morphemes are usually affixes, some of which
function as plural markers, negative markers, future markers, etc. Our discussion considered just
these three. Unlike English and some other languages, Nzema has relatively few instances of
allomorphs. Words select their affixes independently based on the place (of articulation) of the
sound that precede them, and whether they are voiced or voiceless.

Bibliography

Katamba, F. (1993). Morphology. New York: Palgrave.


Yule, G. (2010). The Study of language. UK: Cambridge University Press.