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Ruxandra Vișan


What is morphology?
The term “morphology” is a Greek based word from the word morphe (=form/structure) and logie (=account/study). Morphology can
apply to any domain of human activity that is concerned with the structure or form of something.

In linguistics, morphology is the sub-discipline that accounts for the internal structure of words. Nowadays morphology is
regarded as a synchronic discipline focusing on the study of word structure rather than on the evolution of words.

The structure of language can be analysed in terms of levels of representation. For any utterance there are:

- a phonological level – strings of phonemes

- a morphological level – morphemes and words
- a syntactic level- phrases and sentences
- a semantic level – objects, things, processes, activities
- a pragmatic level –meaning is seen as action

Language as an object of study has been approached from different perspectives: traditional, structuralist, generative (language is a
body of rules by means of which all the sentences can be obtained)

Morphology deals with the internal structure of words.

There are two types of complexity of word-structure: one is due to the presence of inflections and another due to the presence of
derivational elements.
Inflectional morphology vs Derivational morphology

Morpheme (a structuralist notion)

The smallest meaningful element in a language.

Types of morphemes

Morpheme distinction A
(i) free morphemes (-morphemes that can stand on their own)
(ii) bound morphemes (roots typ- (typical, un-, able, ness-)

A salient characteristic of English – a respect in which English differs from many other languages – is that a high proportion of complex
words are like helpfulness and un-Clintonish in that they have a free morpheme (like help and Clinton) at their core (Carstairs 19)

Morphemes and their allomorphs

Many morphemes have two or more different pronunciations, called allomorphs, the choice between them being determined by the

The plural morpheme for nouns: -s when the preceding sound is a sibilant (the kind of ‘hissing’ or ‘hushing’
sound heard at the end of horse, rose, bush, church and judge), the [ɪz] allomorph occurs otherwise, when the preceding sound is
voiceless, i.e. produced with no vibration of the vocal folds in the larynx (as in cat, rock, cup or cliff ),
the [s] allomorph occurs - otherwise (i.e. after a vowel or a voiced consonant, as in dog or day), the
[z] allomorph occurs.

Inflection versus Derivation

(1) This pianist performs in the local hall every week.

(2) Mary told us that this pianist performed in the local hall every week.
(3) The performance last week was particularly impressive.

All these words contain a suffix: perform-s, perform-ed, and perform-ance. However, the suffixes -s and -ed are dependent on the
grammatical context in a way that the suffix -ance is not.
(Carstairs 28)

performs and performed = ‘grammatically conditioned variants’ or ‘inflected forms’ of ‘the verb perform’.

Lexeme (abstract kind of word)

performs, performed and perform are all inflected forms of the lexeme PERFORM,

a. third person singular present tense: performs

b. past tense: performed
c. progressive participle: performing
d. perfect or passive participle: performed
e. basic form (used everywhere else): perform


Cat and cats are different words, but forms of the same lexeme. The idea is that they are the same as far as the dictionary is concerned:
the difference is purely grammatical. They are covered under a single dictionary entry, and in most dictionaries there is no explicit
mention of cats. The difference between the various forms of a lexeme is a matter of inflection.
Cat and cats, then, are different inflectional forms of the same lexeme - the singular and plural forms respectively (Huddleston and
Pullum 15)

Morpheme distinction B
(i) lexical morpehmes or lexemes (that denote objects or states of affairs)
(ii) inflectional morphemes that express grammatical relations in sentences

Inflection encompasses the grammatical markers for number, gender, case, person, tense, aspect, mood, comparison and is defined as
“a change in the form of a word to express its relation to other words in the sentence”.
Inflectional operations do not change the category they operate on. They are formal markers that help us delimit the lexical category of
a word.

Derivation refers to word formation processes such as affixation, compounding and conversion.
Derivational processes typically do induce a change in the lexical category of the item they operate on and even introduce new

The notion of lexical category; identification of parts of speech


The traditional term 'parts of speech' applies to what we call categories of words and lexemes. The term lexical category stands for what
traditional grammarians called parts of speech. The term itself is built on analogy with the term lexical item and it indicates the part of
speech – noun, verb, adjective, adverb etc. – to which a lexical item belongs.

Traditional grammars identified parts of speech on the basis of several criteria: meaning, inflectional variation, syntactic function in
sentence. However, they arrived at different classifications. In traditional grammars, parts of speech are identified on the basis of their
meaning as well as on the basis of the inflectional endings that characterise them. To these we also add the criterion of syntactic
function. The last two criteria are formal. The belief that each part of speech was to be defined by characteristic concepts rested on the
assumption that language mirrored the structure of the universe. However, this is wrong (for example, we say the verb expresses an
action and the adjective a quality, but we can express a quality or an action as a thing as well, i.e. by means of a noun: the height of a
building, the fall of an apple). Besides, language does not convey information about the real world, it conveys information about the
projected world (i.e. the experienced or phenomenal world).

Parts of speech as categories (the generative framework).

Returning to the identification of lexical categories, each lexical category has a corresponding syntactic phrase - N → NP. In other
words, syntactic phrases are projections of lexical categories.
Categories are described categorially (functionally) and thematically (in terms of properties/features, which may be phonological,
semantic or syntactic). First, all parts of speech system sanction the opposition verbal / nominal:


The connection between syntax and morphology: a category is the head of a syntactic phrase.

Clause, word, phrase, head

The most basic kind of clause consists of a subject followed by a predicate. In the simplest case, the subject (Subj ) is a noun and the
predicate (Pred) is a verb:

People complain. //They left.

More often, the subject and/or the predicate consist of more than one word while still having a noun and verb as their most important

All things change. //Kim left early. // Some people complained about it.

“Expressions such as all things and some people are called noun phrases - phrases with a noun as their head. The head of a phrase is,
roughly, the most important element in the phrase, the one that defines what sort of phrase it is. The other elements are dependents.
Similarly, left early and complained about it are verb phrases, phrases with a verb as head. Again, early and about it are dependents
of the verb.
Traditional grammars and dictionaries define a phrase as containing more than one word. But it's actually more convenient to drop this
requirement, and generalise the category 'noun phrase' so that it covers things, Kim and people in [2], as well as all things and some
people in [3] . There are lots of places besides the subject position where all these expressions can occur: compare We need clients and
We need some clients or This is good for clients and This is good for some clients, and so on.
It would be tedious to have to talk about 'nouns or noun phrases' in all such cases. So we prefer to say that a noun phrase (henceforth
NP) normally consists of a noun with or without various dependents. (In other words, the head is accompanied by ZERO OR MORE
It's much the same with other categories of phrase, e.g., verb phrases. Complained in [2] , just like complained about it in [3], can be
regarded as a verb phrase (VP). And the same general point will hold for the rest of the categories we introduce below: although they C
A N contain more, they sometimes contain just a head and nothing else.” (Huddleston and Pullum 13)

VP read a book the head – i.e. read.

Also in the NP destruction of the city the head is destruction.
As a rule the Head is the only obligatory element in a constituent.

Functions and categories

In our example Some people complained about it we have said that some people is subject and that it is an NP. These are two quite
different kinds of concept. Subject is a function, while NP is a category. Function is a relational concept: when we say that some people
is subject we are describing the relation between it and complained, or between it and the whole clause. It is THE SUBJECT OF THE
CLAUSE,not simply a subject. A category, by contrast, is a class of expressions which are grammatically alike. An NP is (setting aside
a narrow range of exceptions) simply a phrase with a noun as head (it's not the NP of anything, it's just an NP). The class of NPs thus
includes an indefinitely large set of expressions like the following (where underlining marks the head noun): some people, all things,
Kim, people (as used in People complained), the people next door, the way home, and so on. The reason we need to distinguish so
carefully between functions and categories is that the correspondence between them is often subtle and complex. Even though there are
clear tendencies (like that the subject of a clause is very often an NP), a single function may be filled by expressions belonging to
different categories, and expressions belonging to a single category may occur in different functions. We can see this in the following
examples :

His guilt was obvious. // That he was guilty was obvious. (one function, different categories)
Some customers complained.// Kim offended some customers (one category, different functions)
(Huddleston and Pullum 14-15)


A second opposition, which is universally acknowledged, is that between lexical and functional categories. This opposition is in part
the same as the structural distinction between open classes (N, V, A etc.) and closed classes (Determiner, Inflection, Complementiser
etc) of items. The open classes are defined as classes containing indefinitely many items and which allow conscious coining, borrowing
etc. On the other hand, functional categories form a closed set of items which

I D Deg C
0N +N 0N +N
+V -V 0V 0V
never occur alone,
- have a unique Complement,
- lack descriptive semantic content,
- act as operators placing the Complement in time, in the world,
- are heads of lexical categories.

Inflectional variation
Some words (lexemes) have more than one word form, depending on the grammatical context or on choices that grammar forces us to
make (for example, in nouns, between singular and plural). This kind of word-formation is called ‘inflectional’. In so far as grammar
affects all words alike, the existence of inflected word forms does not have to be noted in the dictionary; however, the word forms
themselves must be listed if they are irregular. Inflection affects nouns, verbs, adjectives and a few adverbs, as well
as some of the functional categories (the closed classes). (Carstairs 42)

Nouns vary inflectionally for case, number, gender, and determination.//Verbs vary inflectionally tense, aspect, mood, number and
person// Pronouns vary inflectionally for number and – some – gender //Adjectives vary inflectionally for comparison.


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