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Morpheme. Derivation morphemes and inflection morphemes

Most word-forming morphemes are ambiguous, that is, they do not with

certainty point to any definite part of speech but leave some choice which has

to be decided by other criteria. The morpheme is one of the central notions

of grammatical theory, without which no serious attempt at grammatical

study can be made. Definition of a morpheme is not an easy matter, and it

has been attempted many times by different scholars. Without going into

particulars of the discussions that have taken place, we may briefly define

the morphemesas the smallest meaningful units into which a word form

may be divided.

For instance, if we take the form writers, it can be divided into three

morphemes: (1) writ, expressing the basic lexical meaning of the word, (2) -er-,expressing the idea of agent performing the action indicated by the root of

the verb, (3) -s, indicating number, that is, showing that more than one

person of the type indicated is meant. Similarly the form advantageously

can be divided into three morphemes: advantage + ous + ly, each with a

special meaning of its own.

Two additional remarks are necessary here: (1) Two or more

morphemes may sound the same but be basically different, that is, they may

be homonyms. Thus the -er morpheme indicating the doer of an action as in

writer has a homonym the morpheme -er denoting the comparative

degree of adjectives and adverbs, as in longer. Which of the two

homonymous morphemes is actually there in a given case can of course only

be determined by examining the other morphemes in the word. Thus, the

morpheme -er in our first example, writer, cannot possibly be the morpheme

of the comparative degree, as the morpheme writ- to which it is joined on is

not the stem of an adjective or adverb, and so no comparative degree is to

be thought of here.

(2) There may be zero morphemes, that is, the absence of a

morpheme may indicate a certain meaning. Thus, if we compare the forms

book and books, both derived from the stem book-, we may say that while

books is characterised by the -s-morpheme as being a plural form, book is

characterised by the zero morpheme as being a singular form.

In grammar, we are of course concerned with the grammatical, or

structural, meaning of morphemes: we do not here study the meanings of root

morphemes, which are necessarily lexical, and as to derivation morphemes, i.

e. those which serve to build words, we are only interested in them in so far as

they are grammatically relevant, and that is the case if they show that the

word belongs to a certain part of speech, and if they serve to distinguish one part of

speech from another. This grammatical significance of derivation morphemes, if it

is there at all, is always combined with their lexical meaning. For instance, if

we take this pair of words: write v. and writer n., the derivative morpheme -er

has a grammatical significance, as it serves to distinguish a noun from a verb,



and it has its lexical meaning, as the lexical meaning of the noun writer is

different from that of the verb write.

Inflection morphemeshave no lexical meaning or function. There is not

the slightest difference in the way of lexical meaning between live and lived, or between house and houses. However, an inflection morpheme can acquire a

lexical meaning in some special cases, for instance if the plural form of a noun

develops a meaning which the singular form has not; thus, the plural form

colours has a meaning, 'flag', which the singular form colour has not. These are

cases of lexicalisation.


Date: 2015-12-17; view: 2084


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