Introduction to Word Formation
At the simplest level, a sentence is a house for words
and words are like families living in the house.

Words contain two types of element – consonants
and vowels – just as a family contains male and
female members.


Consonants and vowels may combine to produce a
sound, just as husband and wife produce children.

But male siblings – brothers for example – may
cooperate in various jobs, from a simple one like
carrying wood from the forest to the fireplace, to a
complex one like repairing the family car.

Sisters likewise may do simple things like bake cakes
or more difficult ones like make dresses. In this

poem we can hear about Seamus Heaney’s aunt
making scones.
The text is beautiful, even if it contains many words
you do not know.

Mossbawn: Sunlight
There was a sunlit absence.
The helmeted pump in the yard
heated its iron,
water honeyed
in the slung bucket
and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling
against the wall
of each long afternoon.
So, her hands scuffled
over the bakeboard,
the reddening stove
sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.
Now she dusts the board
with a goose’s wing,
now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails

and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the tick of two clocks.
And here is love
like a tinsmith’s scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.
The presentations which follow will, amidst much else, explain what
words are, what consonants are, what vowels are…
We will also examine what sort of things to look out for in words. Just
as someone might tell you that if you meet a family with a red-headed
father who likes to drink and noisy children, look out for trouble; but
if you meet a calm, well-dressed family walking to church, probably


We will see that it is easier if we look at groups of
consonants working together – or groups of vowels
working together – those brothers and sisters in the
family which is the word – and think of them as just
extended vowels – extended consonants.
Like when two children combine to play the
pantomime horse.

This will mean that in the end we will have an
alphabet of more than 26 letters and within that
alphabet there will be more than 5 or 6 vowels and 19
or 20 consonants.
Far more, probably. We will find many right away!

If we sing a kind of ABC song or a BCDFG song (if you want a song only
about consonants) [did somebody say ‘consongants’?] we will have to find
many more interesting notes and note combinations for the new elements.
But I think it is worth it to see just how extensive English is.
Like me as a child, you have probably wondered where the edge of the
Universe is. A long way away, and around it is a wall, yes?
But beyond that wall of course – a bit more Universe! Never stops!
English will probably turn out to be like that! That’s my guess!
There will be a lot to it: a lot to see and visit on the way!
We will be like cosmonauts, space walkers! You are welcome to join me
on my journey! There is no charge – but no guarantee of return!


(I will keep this picture of ‘dark flow’ – an unexpected
rushing of many things at the edge of the Universe to
an unexpected and un-understandable ‘hot spot’ – as
a symbol of our course…)
Some things some people know, but others, no-one
knows. Or at least, no-one yet… Let’s think about
them! Let’s look for them!
With luck, we may even find a few for ourselves…!)