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Terms and Definitions

Ling/Engl 215 is about the systematic study of words in English.

Such systematic study relies on a body of knowledge and
concepts that are well established in the field of Linguistics.
Although the course is not designed to teach the field of
Linguistics, we need to rely on the terminology and associated
concepts established in Linguistics to a certain extent, especially
in the parts of the course dealing with word structure and
There is a glossary in our textbook that starts on page 277. I
decided to give my own definitions for many of the concepts
because some of the book's definitions are a little overly technical
in my opinion, and there is more space on the web to explain and
to give examples. You can use both glossaries, or whichever you
find most helpful. Mine is less complete than the book's. I am
gradually adding more definitions.
So, the definitions below are designed to help with the acquisition
of the concepts that the course introduces. I will not ask you to
define the technical concepts yourself in the exams; but I may
ask you to recognize the correct definition in a multiple choice
type question. The most important thing is to understand the
concept: recognize examples of it, reason about how concepts
relate (e.g. morpheme and allomorph; root and affix), and
recognize true vs. false statements about the concepts.

initialism. A word formation process in which the first letters of a

phrase, often a title, are strung together and formed into a new
word. Initialisms may be pronounced as a sequence of letters, as
in FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) or BYOB (Bring Your Own
Booze); or they may be pronounced as an ordinary word by the
rules of English spelling, in which case they are acronyms (as
in radar; see under acronym). Initialisms are the result of a

shortening process turning phrases into words. Unlike

abbreviations, they are not just shortenings of a written form that
still has its full pronunciation (like cont. for 'continued'). The
pronunciation is actually shorter than the phrase.
acronym. A word formation process in which the first letters
(sometimes the first few letters) of the words in a phrase are
extracted and put together to form a word, pronounced as a word
by the usual rules of English spelling, with the same meaning as
the original phrase. Acronyms provide a way of shortening
phrases into words. Our book classifies acronyms as a subtype of
initialism. Examples: radar (RAdio Detection And
Ranging), snafu (Situation Normal All Fucked Up,
andsonar (SOund Navigation And Ranging).
blend. A new word formed by joining the start of one word with
the end of another. Example: Dunkretaries 'Duncan secretaries',
formed from Duncan and secretaries.
clipping. Another word formation process that shortens words.
In this case, a longer word is made into a shorter one by
dropping off part of the original word. Info, exam are examples.
Sometimes people's names are clipped to form nicknames,
e.g. Jen from Jennifer. (Nicknames like Bill in which a different
sound is substituted for one of the consonants are not technically
clippings; but they are often historically old clippings based on
baby talk/sound simplifications and/or old pronunciations,
e.g. Bill; Dick for Richard)
novel creation. A word formation process in which a new word
is creating 'from scratch', that is, without using other words to
create it via other word formation processes. Occasionally slang
words are formed this way (bling, krunk) and sometimes even
words for new objects (blimp). Sometimes sound symbolism
seems to play a role. The words either imitate sounds associated
with the thing, or else they sound in part like some other word or
words in the same concept family.

conversion. A type of derivation in which a word usually used

in one part of speech is converted to a word having another part
of speech. The company name Google underwent conversion
when it began to be used as a verb to mean 'to search via
Google'. Conversion is often called zero-derivation. The idea
here is that it is a type of derivation in which no morphemes are
morpheme. A meaningful element in a word that cannot be
broken down further into meaningful subparts. Morphemes are
thus minimal units of meaning in a word. They are units that link
a form, which is a distinctive string of sounds, with a meaning or
a function. A morpheme is uniquely identified by its form and
meaning together, e.g. bi 'two', or pol'community, city', or bi 'life'.
So we can't just say "the morpheme bi," because that does not
fully identify the morpheme. We need the meaning too. As it
happens there are two morphemes that sound the same, bi 'life'
and bi- 'two'. (Because the second one is an affix, not a root, we
write it with a hyphen showing its point of attachment to the
roots it appears with.)
Two different morphemes can have the same form, as in the case
of bi and bi- above and libr 'weigh, balance' and libr'book'. Or,
two morphemes can happen to have the same meaning, for
example, the Latin morpheme uni 'one' and Greenmono 'one'. So
similarity or identity of form does not mean that two items are
the same morpheme, nor does similarity or identity of meaning (if
meanings can ever be identical) indicate that two items are the
same morpheme.
The book distinguishes between morphs ("simple (minimal)
meaningful components") and morphemes ("simple (minimal)
meaningful components that speakers understand as the same
unit"). This means that a morpheme is a cognitive or
psychological unit, and such a unit may have variants in
pronunciation that speakers pretty much ignore, or are even
unaware of. Morphs, on the other hand, are simple meaningful

components without regard to whether or not they are grouped

together as a single unit.
We won't focus on the difference between morphs and
morphemes. The important concept for our purposes is the
concept of morphemes. They are linguistic units and sometimes
these units get expressed in different ways. The result is variant
forms, called allomorphs. For example, the morpheme an- 'not'
appears in two forms: a- and an-. These forms are allomorphs of
the same morpheme.
compound A word containing more than one root. In English,
roots are typically free morphemes so compounds are composed
of free morphemes: sandbox is composed of two free
morphemes, sand and box. In Latin and Greek, most roots were
bound: they could not appear by themselves, but had to have
affixes of various kinds (inflectional or derivational) to form a
whole word. So in many English words from Latin and Greek, two
roots combine to form a compound, and these roots do not
generally occur by themselves.
Occasionally we find cases in which it appears as though a
Latinate root occurs as a free morpheme. Generally in these
cases some other process has occurred such as clipping, in which
case the clipped item is no longer the same as the original bound
For example, the English loanword photograph is a compound
formed of two bound roots from Greek, phot/phos andgraph, with
a linking morpheme -o- between them. The
allomorph phot- meaning 'light' is a bound root. However, the
English word photo 'a snapshot or image taken by means of
photography' is an independent word formed from a clipping
of photograph. Neither phot nor photo occured as independent
words in Greek. English photo has only become an independent
root by acquiring a different meaning, and thus status as a
different morpheme from phot/phos. A similar process has
happened with auto 'car', and hyper 'hyperactive', both the result

of clipping. With photo and auto, the linking morpheme was

reanalyzed along with the prefix as a new root; in the case
of hyper, the prefix hyper- and the new roothyper sound exactly
the same. Nevertheless they are two morphemes, with different
meaning and different function in a word (prefix vs. root).
compounding. the word formation device that creates
compounds (see under compound): it puts two (or more) roots
together. In some languages a linking morpheme is required
between the roots.
root. The most meaningful part of a word. It is the least
dispensible part and also has a meaning more concrete than that
of most affixes. See the page Roots and affixes. Roots can in
some languages stand alone as a word, like the root giraffein
English. But in some languages roots need inflectional affixes to
form whole words.
affix. A morpheme that cannot stand alone as a separate word
and must be attached to a root. Because an affix is dependent on
a root, it must be a bound morpheme by definition. Another
important feature is that affixes do not have the kind of specific
and concrete meanings that roots have. The meanings of affixes
are generally grammatical meanings, like a part of speech (-y ADJ
suffix), or noun grammatical categories like plural, or person and
number categories on verbs. Such meanings depend semantically
on the meaning of the root, so affixes are not only formally
dependent, but also semantically dependent on roots. See Roots
and affixes for a more complete characterization.
prefix. An affix whose position is preceding a root.
Examples: de-, pre-, in-, ab-, infra-. Prefixes are conventionally
written with a hyphen following. The hyphen shows where the
root is attached.
suffix. An affix whose position is following a root. Examples: able, -ate, -ify, -ion, -er. Suffixes are written with a hyphen

preceding them. The hyphen shows where the suffix attaches to

its root.
free. Able to occur alone as a word. Term is used of morphemes.
In English, and some other Germanic languages, many roots are
free morphemes. In Latin and Greek, on the other hand, roots do
not generally stand alone; they have to have some inflectional
suffixes to make a complete word.
bound. Requiring another element to form a complete word.
Bound elements are unable to stand alone. Roots in some
languages, like English, are free morphemes characteristic of
some roots and all affixes and linkers)
Sometimes elements that start out as bound can LOOK free, for
example, words like hyper 'hyperactive', auto'automobile',
and photo 'picture taken by photographic methods'. However,
these cases come from larger words that have undergone
clipping. The clipped form as the same meaning as the older,
larger word, and that meaning is different from the meaning of
the clipping. (Contrast the root phot 'light' in the word
photograph, with the word photo, which not only was clipped with
the linker morpheme from photograph, but actually now has the
meaning 'photograph' and not 'light'. In these clipped words, the
free morpheme has become independent of the bound form and
is no longer the same morpheme as the bound one.
inflection A lexical process that does not create another word,
but merely another form of a word. Inflection is usually done by
affixation (e.g. shoe vs. shoes, walk vs. walks vs. walking. ), but
there are also cases of inflection where the new form of the word
is created via vowel changing (ride vs. rode). Sometimes the
word inflection can be used to meaninflectional affix , see next.
inflectional affix A bound morpheme used to signal some
grammatical meaning such as plural or 3rd person singular.
A word formation process that involves turning one word into

another. Most derivation is done by the addition of affixes

(affixation), but other derivation processes include making no
formal change at all (this is called zeroderivation orconversion, as in run (v.) becoming run (n.)) and
changing the stress of a word (e.g. contract (n.), stressed on first
syllable, vs. contract (v.), stressed on second syllable).
derivational affix
An affix that changes the meaning or the part of speech of a
word. Example: Penury 'poverty' vs. penurious'impoverished'. ous is the derivational affix added to penury to produce the
derived word.
parsing Division of a word into its component morphemes. A
good parsing indicates all morpheme boundaries, has each
morpheme defined, and contains a definition of the whole word.
See the examples on the page Parsing.
etymology. The study of the history of words. Also, the
particular history associated with a word. A full etymology is an
attempt to trace a word back as far as we can get in history. The
parsing of a word has some things in common with an etymology,
namely an attempt to identify original meanings of its word parts;
but a parsing does not give a full word history. It just focuses on
how the word is constructed from parts.
part of speech the syntactic category of a word. Words have
various functions in syntax, such as serving as nouns, verbs,
adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions. Ancient
grammarians already analyzed the words in a sentence into
categories of these types. Each language has its own set of
syntactic categories (and definitions of them), but there are some
strong similarities at least across the European languages, so we
use in large part the same terms for English as the Romans did
for describing Latin. (The term "parts of speech" goes back to
antiquity. "Parts" meant 'kinds' then. ) Modern linguists have
added more syntactic categories to describe English better, but
these additions will not generally concern us. One I mentioned in

class was verb particle which is the class of words that look like
prepositions but actually form part of the verb they refer to. The
second word in each of the following constructions is a verb
particle: give up, spread out, goof off, look up, throw up, fool
around, stand up.
linker or linking morpheme. A morpheme whose only function
is to stand between other morphemes. There is no particular
meaning to a linker, making it very unusual as morphemes go.
The book uses the terms empty morph.
stem the part of a word that an inflectional affix attaches to.
Stems include minimally a root, but they often have additional
morphology such as derivational affixes; or they can include more
than one root, as in a compound.
variety or language variety a particular way of using language
associated with a group of language users or with a type of
context. If we think of a language as a system of norms for
speaking or writing, then a variety is a subsystem within the
language as a whole. "Norms" means 'usual practices'. Norms are
also thought of as observable features of the variety, like
particular pronunciations or phonological rules, or use of
particular sets of words or phrases or even spellings. Varieties are
not sharply distinguished from other varieties, but are simply
loose groupings of norms that tend to co-occur together. The
defining features of a variety are generally stated in linguistic
terms; but the variety also has as part of its definition who uses
the variety and/or under what circumstances. For example,
internet language (the variety of language that characteristically
appears in email, chat, blogging, and text messaging) has
particular words associated with it (LOL,BRB, etc.) and particular
spelling conventions (substitution of numbers for homonymous
parts of the spoken word, like4get for forget). AND it is
associated with internet usage. Varieties can partially overlap. So,
for example, internet language partially overlaps with the
language of computer gaming, which is understandable since a
lot of gaming occurs over the internet. Yet the two varieties are

not co-extensive. Many usages are specific to gaming

(e.g. pwn 'beat or destroy in a computer game' and not
characteristic of more general internet use.)
zero derivation Another name for conversion. See
also derivation.
Suzanne Kemmer