You are on page 1of 21


Morphemes & allomorphs

Lecturer: Daniela Bascuñán


• Morphemes
• The origin of English
• Types of morpheme
• Types of free and
bound morphemes
• Morphs and

• Word: the smallest free form.

• Morpheme: a minimal unit of meaning or grammatical function.

teacher  teach + er
Polymorphemic words
reviewed  re + view + ed (more than 1 morpheme)
rested  rest + ed

The area concerned with the structure of words Can a morpheme be a word?
and with relationships between words involving YES  e.g. Act
the (Monomorphemic words)
morphemes that compose them is called
What permits the same morpheme to be
identified in a variety of different words?

• A morpheme cannot be just any recurring

word-part. To see this, consider the words
attack, stack, tackle and taxi.
• These all contain a syllable pronounced
like the word tack; but it would be absurd
to say that the same morpheme -tack- is
identifiable in each, because the meaning
of tack has nothing to do with the
meanings of the other words, and all of
them must surely be listed separately in
any dictionary.
The origin of English morphemes

• 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 in that they have a free morpheme (like
help) at their core. Compare the two columns of words:

Most of the free morphemes in (a) belong to

that part of the vocabulary of English that
has been inherited directly through the
Germanic branch of the Indo-European
language family to which English belongs,
whereas all the morphemes in (b) have been
introduced, or borrowed, from Latin, either
directly or via French.
Free and bound morphemes

• Free morphemes: They can stand by themselves as single words.

• Bound morphemes: They cannot stand by themselves and are

typically attached to another form.

• Examples:
hunt  FM
-er  BM All affixes (prefixes,
suffixes) are BMs
Stems and roots

• The root is the core of the word, once all affixes are removed. There
should just be one root morpheme, with the rest as identifiable
affixes. A root may not be an independent word.

• A stem is essentially the base form for a lexeme, to

which inflectional affixes are added: plurals, past tense, etc. A stem
must be an independent word.
Stem = root + affix
Fetish Childish

Root Stem
Stems, prefixes and suffixes
We’ll study this in detail in the next two lessons.
Free morphemes

Lexical morpheme Functional morpheme

They carry the ‘content’ of the They are the functional words in a
message. language.

They are an ‘open’ class of They are a ‘closed’ class of words.


E.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, E.g. prepositions, conjunctions,

etc. articles, pronouns, etc.
How to analise words morphologically

V: Verb
N: Noun
A: Adjective
DAff: Derivational Affix It’s fine if at this point you only say “affix”
IAff: Inflectional Affix

An allomorph is one of two or more complementary morphs which

manifest a morpheme in its different phonological or morphological

The allomorphs of a morpheme are derived from phonological rules

and any morphophonemic rules that may apply to that morpheme.
Types of allomorphy

The allomorph may be conditioned by the local

phonological context (phonological conditioning)
or by the specific morphemes forming the context
(morphological conditioning).
Phonological conditioning

• An allomorph is phonologically conditioned when the

form of the allomorph at any given time is dependent on
the adjacent phonemes.

• E.g.
Plural morpheme –s
Past tense morpheme -ed
Plural morpheme -s

o [s] is used when the plural morpheme comes after voiceless sounds except voiceless
fricatives and affricates (sibilants)  cats
o [z] is used when the plural morpheme comes after voiced sounds except voiced fricatives
and affricates (sibilants)  boys
o [əz] is used when the plural morpheme comes after sibilants (/s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/, /ʒ/)
 splashes
Past tense morpheme -ed

o [ɪd] or [əd] is used after the alveolar stops /t/ and /d/  waited
o [d] is chosen after voiced sounds other than /d/  opened
o [t] occurs after voiceless sounds other than /t/  stopped
Morphological conditioning

• An allomorph is morphologically conditioned when its selection is

determined not by the neighbouring sounds in the environment,
but by the specific morpheme or morphemes forming the context.

• For example, morphological conditioning may be applied to

irregular plural and past tense forms.
Morphological conditioning


• Plural morpheme –s in sheep is ∅ (zero affixation)

Allomorph [∅]

• Plural morpheme –s in man is men

Allomorph [ɛ]

• Past tense morpheme –ed in sing is sang

Allomorph [æ]

What’s the morpheme that makes the plural of these words, and
what type of allomorphy is it?:

1. cut • cut + [s]  Phonologically Conditioned

2. cross • cross + [əz]  Phonologically Conditioned
3. furniture • furniture + [∅]  Morphologically Conditioned
4. foot • foot + plural ([ʊ] to [iː])  Morphologically Conditioned

• Work on the handout (in pairs or groups of 3).