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Caterina Donati, Advanced English a.a.

2008/2009 lesson 6
Morphology is the field of linguistics that studies the internal structure of
words. (Words as units in
the lexicon are the subject matter of lexicology.) While words are generally
accepted as being the
smallest units of syntax, it is clear that in most (if not all) languages, words
can be related to other
words by rules. For example, English speakers recognize that the words dog, dogs,
and dog catcher
are closely related. English speakers recognize these relations from their tacit
knowledge of the
rules of word formation in English. They infer intuitively that dog is to dogs as
cat is to cats;
similarly, dog is to dog catcher as dish is to dishwasher. The rules understood by
the speaker reflect
specific patterns (or regularities) in the way words are formed from smaller units
and how those
smaller units interact in speech. In this way, morphology is the branch of
linguistics that studies
patterns of word formation within and across languages, and attempts to formulate
rules that model
the knowledge of the speakers of those languages.
A morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit. In a word, the morpheme that carries
the core
meaning of the word itself is called lexical morpheme or lexeme.
In the 19th century, philologists devised a now classic classification of
languages according to their
morphology. According to this typology, some languages are isolating, and have
little to no
morphology; others are agglutinative, and their words tend to have lots of easily
morphemes; while others yet are inflectional or fusional, because their
inflectional morphemes are
"fused" together. This leads to one bound morpheme conveying multiple pieces of
information. The
classic example of an isolating language is Chinese; the classic example of an
language is Turkish; both Latin and Greek are classic examples of fusional
languages. Italian is as
English used to be a fusional language but is tending towards becoming isolating,
just like Chinese.
This classification refers to inflectional morphology, not derivational
morphology, which does not
vary so much across languages and is very rarely fusional.
Given the notion of a lexeme, it is possible to distinguish two kinds of
morphological rules. Some
morphological rules relate to different forms of the same lexeme; while other
rules relate to
different lexemes. Rules of the first kind are called inflectional rules, while
those of the second
kind are called word formation. The English plural, as illustrated by dog and
dogs, is an
inflectional rule; compounds like dog catcher or dishwasher provide an example of
a word
formation rule. Informally, word formation rules form "new words" (that is, new
lexemes), while
inflection rules yield variant forms of the "same" word (lexeme).
There is a further distinction between two kinds of word formation: derivation and
Compounding is a process of word formation that involves combining complete word
forms into a
single compound form; dog catcher is therefore a compound, because both dog and
catcher are
complete word forms in their own right before the compounding process has been
applied, and are
subsequently treated as one form. Derivation involves affixing bound (non-
independent) forms to
existing lexemes, whereby the addition of the affix derives a new lexeme. One
example of
derivation is clear in this case: the word independent is derived from the word
dependent by
prefixing it with the derivational prefix in-, while dependent itself is derived
from the verb depend.
Caterina Donati, Advanced English a.a. 2008/2009 lesson 6
Words come in two varieties: functional words, and lexical words. The difference
has to do with
their meaning (purely grammatical vs. lexical and referential), and with what you
cam do out of
them: you can invent a new lexical word, but you have no power on functional
words. Functional
words usually evolve from lexical words through a process called
Ex. Will.
What is the longest word of the English language? Some have mentioned the
(1) a. antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters)
b. floccinaucinihilipilification (29 letters)
c. pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis (45 letters)
As it turns out, there is no longest word in English. To see this, consider simply
the following two
series, each of
which can be continued without limit to create a potentially infinite number of
new words:
(2) a. great-grandmother
b. great-great-grandmother
c. great-great-great-grandmother
(3) a. sensation
b. sensational
c. sensationalize
d. sensationalization
e. sensationalizational
f. sensationalizationalize
The simplest way to form new words out of old elements is by compounding.
Compounding in English normally has the following properties:
(i) Compounds have a head, which gives them their main semantic and syntactic
-syntactically, the expression blackboard is a noun, as is its head board
-semantically, the expression blackboard refers to things that are kinds of
boards, as the noun
(ii) The head comes last
(iii) The stress comes first
(iv) The meaning of the whole is not entirely predictable on the basis of the
meaning of the parts.
In the following examples, the syllable with the main stress is indicated in bold.
In each pair, a. is
not a compound because (a) it has its main stress on the final element, and (b)
the meaning of the
whole is entirely predictable from the meaning of the parts (e.g. a black board is
simply a board
that is black). By contrast, b. is a compound: the main stress is on the first
element, and the meaning
of the whole is not entirely predictable from the meaning of the parts (a
blackboard may not be
black, but for instance green, as is the case in many classrooms).
(4) a. a black board:
a board that is black
Caterina Donati, Advanced English a.a. 2008/2009 lesson 6
b. a blackboard:
a board for writing on with chalk in front of a class. It may or may not be black.
(5) a. a dark room: a room that is dark
b. a darkroom: a room from which daylight is excluded so that photographs can be
There are sometimes instances of structural ambiguity in morphology. Thus a
California history
teacher may be someone that teaches California history, or it may be a history
teacher from
California. The first meaning is obtained by making California history a
morphological constituent.
The second meaning is obtained by the morphological tree found on the right.
(6) California history teacher
a. N b. N
teacher California
California history history teacher
Types of compounds: how they are written
Since English is a mostly analytic language, unlike most other Germanic languages,
it creates
compounds by concatenating words without case markers. As in other Germanic
languages, the
compounds may be arbitrarily long. However, this is obscured by the fact that the
representation of long compounds always contains blanks. Short compounds may be
written in
three different ways, which do not correspond to different pronunciations,
1. The ‘solid’ or ‘closed’ forms in which two usually moderately short words
appear together as
one. Solid compounds most likely consist of short (monosyllabic) units that often
have been
established in the language for a long time. Examples are housewife, lawsuit,
wallpaper, etc.
2. The hyphenated form in which two or more words are connected by a hyphen.
Compounds that
contain affixes, such as house-build(er) and single-mind(ed)(ness), as well as
compounds and verb-verb compounds, such as blue-green and freeze-dry, are often
Compounds that contain articles, such as mother-of-pearl and salt-and-pepper, are
also often
3. The ‘open’ or ‘spaced’ form consisting of newer combinations of usually longer
words, such as
distance learning, player piano, lawn tennis, etc.
Usage in the US and in the UK differs and often depends on the individual choice
of the writer
rather than on a hard-and-fast rule; therefore, open, hyphenated, and closed forms
may be
encountered for the same compound noun, such as the triplets container
containership and particle board/particle-board/particleboard
Types of compounds: how they are interpreted
In general, the meaning of a compound is a specialization of the meaning of its
head. The modifier
limits the meaning of the head. This is most obvious in descriptive compounds, in
which the
modifier is used in an attributive or appositional manner. A blackboard is a
particular kind of board,
which is (generally) black, for instance.
In determinative compounds, however, the relationship is not attributive. For
example, a footstool is
Caterina Donati, Advanced English a.a. 2008/2009 lesson 6
not a particular type of stool that is like a foot. Rather, it is a stool for
one's foot or feet. (It can be
used for sitting on, but that is not its primary purpose.) In a similar manner,
the office manager is
the manager of an office, an armchair is a chair with arms, and a raincoat is a
coat against the rain.
These relationships, which are expressed by prepositions in English, would be
expressed by
grammatical case in other languages. Both of the above types of compounds are
called endocentric
compounds because the semantic head is contained within the compound itself -- a
blackboard is a
type of board, for example, and a footstool is a type of stool.
However, in another common type of compound, the exocentric compound, the semantic
head is
not explicitly expressed. A redhead, for example, is not a kind of head, but is a
person with red
hair. Similarly, a blockhead is also not a head, but a person with a head that is
as hard and
unreceptive as a block (i.e. stupid). And, outside of veterinary surgery, a
lionheart is not a type of
heart, but a person with a heart like a lion (in its bravery, courage,
fearlessness, etc.).
Note in general the way to tell the two apart:
1. Can you paraphrase the meaning of the compound "[X . Y]" to A person/thing that
is a Y, or ...
that does Y, if Y is a verb (with X having some unspecified connection)? This is
an endocentric
2. Can you paraphrase the meaning if the compound "[X . Y]" to A person/thing that
is with Y, with
X having some unspecified connection? This is an exocentric compound.
Exocentric compounds occur more often in adjectives than nouns.
These types account for most compound nouns, but there are other, rarer types as
Coordinative, copulative or dvandva compounds combine elements with a similar
meaning, and
the compound meaning may be a generalization instead of a specialization. Bosnia-
for example, is the combined area of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but a fighter-bomber
is an aircraft
that is both a fighter and a bomber. Iterative or amredita compounds repeat a
single element, to
express repetition or as an emphasis. Day-by-day and go-go-go are examples of this
type of
compound, which has more than one head.
In the case of verb+noun compounds, the noun may be either the subject or the
object of the verb.
In playboy, for example, the noun is the subject of the verb (the boy plays),
whereas it is the object
in callgirl (someone calls the girl).
Types of compounds: nouns, adjectives, verbs
Compound Nouns
• Boyfriend, hatchback
• Cut-throat, breakfast
• Sunshine, birth control
• Software, fast food
• In-crowd, overkill
• Drop-out, put-on
• Noun + Noun
• Verb + Noun
• Noun + Verb
• Adjective + Noun
• Particle + Noun
• Verb + Particle
Compound Verbs
Caterina Donati, Advanced English a.a. 2008/2009 lesson 6
• Carbon-copy, sky-dive
• Fine-tune
• Overbook
• Bad-mouth
• Noun + Verb
• Adjective + Verb
• Particle + Verb
• Adjective + Noun
Compound Adjectives
• Capital-intensive
• Deaf-mute
• Coffee-table
• Roll-neck
• White-collar
• Before-tax
• Go-go
• Noun + Adjective
• Adjective + Adjective
• Noun + Noun
• Verb + Noun
• Adjective + Noun
• Particle + Noun
• Verb-verb
Phrasal verbs
English syntax distinguishes between phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs.
Consider the following:
I held up my hand.
I held up a bank.
I held my hand up.
*I held a bank up.
The first three sentences are possible in English; the last one is unlikely. When
to hold up means to
raise, it is a prepositional verb; the preposition up can be detached from the
verb and has its own
individual meaning "from lower to a higher position". As a prepositional verb, it
has a literal
meaning. However, when to hold up means to rob, it is a phrasal verb. A phrasal
verb is used in an
idiomatic, figurative or even metaphorical context. The preposition is
inextricably linked to the
verb; the meaning of each word cannot be determined independently but is in fact
part of the idiom.
The Oxford English Grammar distinguishes seven types of prepositional or phrasal
verbs in
1. intransitive phrasal verbs (e.g. give in)
2. transitive phrasal verbs (e.g. find out [discover])
3. monotransitive prepositional verbs (e.g. look after [care for])
4. doubly transitive prepositional verbs (e.g. blame [something] on [someone])
5. copular prepositional verbs. (e.g. serve as)
6. monotransitive phrasal-prepositional verbs (e.g. look up to [respect])
7. doubly transitive phrasal-prepositional verbs (e.g. put [something] down to
Caterina Donati, Advanced English a.a. 2008/2009 lesson 6
[attribute to])
Definition: Similar to compounds, but parts of the words are deleted.
• Examples:
Motor + hotel Motel
Breakfast + lunch Brunch (1896)
Wireless + Fidelity Wi-fi
Sheep + goat Shoat
Tanganyika + Zanzibar Tanzania (1964)
Spanish + English Spanglish
Oxford + Cambridge Oxbridge
Eletric + execute electrocute
Black + exploitation Blaxploitation (film genre)
Bill + Hillary Billary (referring to the two Clintons)
Tom + Katie Tomkat (referring to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes)
Many blends have been created in recent years as names for new forms of exercise
regimes, many
of them trade names: Aquarobics, Callanetics (the first name of Callan Pinckney
blended with
athletics), Jazzercise (jazz + exercise), aquacise, dancercise, sexercise, and
slimnastics. Among
sports we have terms like parascending (parachute + ascending) and surfari, and
nonce adjectives
such as sportsational or swimsational which blend words with the last element of
The media, advertising and show business have been responsible for an especially
large crop:
advertorial (an advertisement written as though it were an editorial);
docutainment (a documentary
written as entertainment, with variable felicity concerning actual events), which
is also known as a
dramadoc, from dramatised documentary, though this is a clipped compound, not a
blend); an
infomercial is a television commercial in the form of an information announcement;
is a blend, in reality as well as etymology, of information and entertainment; a
magalogue is a cross
between a magazine and a catalogue; a televangelist is a television evangelist.
From the
entertainment field we have animatronics (a blend of animated and electronics),
(camera + recorder), rockumentary (a rock documentary) and, for a while in
Britain, squarial (a
square aerial, used to receive satellite television signals).
Politics and the economy have a fair representation in the list. We have
Reaganomics, and Rogernomics which all combine the name of a political figure with
the word
economics. In similar vein are stagflation, a near-disastrous combination of
stagnation and
inflation, and slumpflation (slump + inflation). The US has punning blends like
Science and technology has been responsible for large numbers of new blends. Some
ones are transistor (transfer + resistor), Chunnel (Channel + tunnel), smog (smoke
fog); nucleonics (nucleon + electronics), and transputer (transistor + computer).
However, there is
a set of new scientific words which fall somewhere in the same territory as blends
but which also
could also be said to look like extended abbreviations or acronyms. An excellent
example is
amphetamine, which comes from its full chemical name of alpha methyl phenyl ethyl
amine. Such
creative mangling of names is now common when making up the vast number of trade
and generic
names needed for new drugs: zidovudine, the generic name of the AIDS drug AZT, is
formed from
azidodeoxythymidine with the letters vu inserted for no obvious reason;
ranitidine, used to treat
stomach ulcers and better known by its trade name Zantac, is furan + nitro + –