Introduction to Linguistics 1
Chapter 2: Morphology: The Words of Language
It is estimated that children of 6 know as many as 13,000 words. 9 new
words a day.
Word: A free sound-meaning lexical unit, which may be simple or complex.
Lexicon: The component of the grammar containing speakers’ knowledge
about morphemes and words; a speaker’s mental dictionary.
In a particular language the form (sounds or pronunciation) and the meaning
of a word are inseparable; they are like two sides of coin.
Homophones: different words with the same sounds but different meanings
o Ex: She can’t bear (tolerate) children. She can’t bear (give birth to)
children. He stood there—bare and beautiful.
Synonyms: Words with the same or nearly the same meaning
Information about the longest or shortest word in the language is not part of
the linguistic knowledge of a language but general conceptual knowledge
about a language.
Since each word is a sound-meaning unit, each word stored in our mental
dictionaries must be listed with its unique phonological representation,
which determines its pronunciation, and with its meaning.
Orthography: the written form of a language; spelling.
Grammatical category: Traditionally called “Part of speech.” Also called
syntactic categories. Expressions of the same grammatical category can
generally substitute for one another without loss of grammaticality, ex: noun
phrase, verb phrase.
Dictionaries grew out of the earlier practice of writing words as translations
or “glosses” about especially difficult words in Latin texts and, later, in
The first dictionary, by Robert Cawdrey, appeared in 1604, with the title A
Table Alphabetical, Containing and Teaching the True Writing, and
Understanding of Hard Usuall English Words, etc.
o It listed some 2,500 “hard words” with their explanations in ordinary
Later, in the 17 century, technical dictionaries giving new terms appeared,
such as that of Edward Phillips, Milton’s nephew, who listed technical
consultants such as Robert Boyle for chemistry and Izaak Walton for fishing.
He also indicated the subject field of each term and gave the language of
It was not until the next century that anyone thought of including in the
dictionary all words in the language.
Nathanael Bailey first included ordinary words in his universal
etymological English dictionary as much for his interest in etymology as
for completeness. Johnsons “great Dictionary of the English Language,” published in 1755 in
2 volumes was intended to serve as such a standard, and indeed it did for
over a century.
He eventually gave up because he stated that he could not construct the
language but only register the language.
By the end of the 18 century, pronouncing dictionaries appeared to show
not only how words were spelled but also how they were pronounced, and
pronunciations became a regular part of dictionaries.
In the US, Noah Webster tried to rival Johnson’s dictionary in his American
Dictionary of the English Language in 2 volumes.
He was fired with the idea that the US should have their own version of
The latest revision of Merriam-Webster is Webster’s Third New
International Dictionary of the English Language: Unabridged,
containing some 450,000 entries.
The End of the 19 century saw the beginning of the Oxford English
Dictionary, which was called the greatest lexicographic work in English
produced to date. The 2 edition was in 1989 and had 20 volumes.
A Dictionary of Canadianism on Historical Principles appeared in
Canada’s centennial year of 1967.
All dictionaries, from the OED to the more commonly used “collegiate
dictionaries,” provide the following information about each word:
o The “standard” pronunciation
o Definitions to represent the words one or more meanings
o Parts of speech.
Content Words and Function Words
Content words: The nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that constitute the
major part of the vocabulary
Open class: The class of lexical content words; a category of words that
commonly adds new words ex: nouns, verbs.
Function Words: A word that does not have clear lexical meaning but has a
grammatical function; function words include conjunctions, prepositions,
articles, auxiliaries, complementizers and pronouns.
Closed Class: A category, generally a functional category that rarely has
new words added to it. Ex: Prepositions, conjunctions
Generic Term: A word that applies to a whole class, such as dog in the dog is
found throughout the world. A word that ordinarily has the semantic feature
(+male) when used to refer to both sexes, ex: mankind meaning the human
The brain treats content and function words differently.
Morphemes: The Minimal Units of Meaning Introduction to Linguistics 3
Chapter 2: Morphology: The Words of Language
Morphemes: Smallest unit of linguistic meaning or function. Ex: sheepdogs
contains 3 morphemes: sheep, dog, and the function morpheme for plural, s.
Morphology: The study of the structure of words; the component of the
grammar that includes the rules of word formation. The science of word
Discreteness: A fundamental property of human language in which larger
linguistic units are perceived to be composed of smaller linguistic units. Ex:
cat is perceived as the phonemes /k/, /ae/, /t/; the cat is perceived as the
o Discrete language units combine in rule-governed ways to form larger
units. Sound units combine to form morphemes, morphemes combine
to form words, and words combine to form larger units—phrases and
Linguistic creativity means that not only can we understand words that we
have never heard before, but also we can create new words.
Bound and Free Morphemes
Prefixes and Suffixes
Free morphemes: A single morpheme that constitutes a word
Affixes: Bound morpheme attaches to a stem or root.
Bound Morphemes: Morpheme that must be attached to other morphemes.
Bound morphemes are prefixes, suffixes, infixes, circumfixes, and some roots,
such as cran in cranberry.
Prefixes: An affix that is attached to the beginning of a morpheme or stem
Suffixes: An affix that is attached to the end of a morpheme or stem. Ex: -er
in Lew is Taller than Bill.
Morphemes are the minimal linguistic signs in all languages, and many
language have prefixes and suffixes.
But languages may differ in how they deploy their morphemes.
A morpheme that is a prefix is one language may be a suffix in another and
Language may also differ in what meanings they express though affixation.
Infixes: A bound morpheme that is inserted in the idle of a word or stem.
English has a very limited set of infixes.
English infixing was a subject of the Linguist List, a discussion group on the
Internet, in November 1993 and in July 1996.
The interest in these infixes in English may be due to the fact that one can
only infix obscenities as full words inserted in other words, usually into
adjectives or adverbs.
The most common infix in North America is the word fuckin. Circumfixes
Circumfixes: Bound morpheme, parts of which occur in a word both before
and after the root.
Discontinuous morphemes: A morpheme with multiple parts that occur in
more than one place in a word or sentence.
Roots and Stems
Roots: The morpheme that remains when all affixes are stripped down from
a complex word.
Stem: The base to which one or more affixes are attached to create a more
complex that may be another stem or a word.
Huckles and Ceives.
The definition of a morpheme has developed problems for linguistic analysis
for many years, although it holds for most of the morphemes in a language.
Bound forms such as huckle-, boysen-, and luke- require a redefinition of the
concept of morpheme.
Some morphemes have no meaning in isolation but acquire meaning only in
combination with other specific morphemes.
Just as there are some morphemes that occur only in a single word
(combined with another morpheme), there are other morphemes that occur
in many words but seem to lack a constant meaning.
Etymemes: A bound base that has etymological relevance. (Ex: -ceive in
Reason for the word strawberry: page 46
The meaning of a morpheme must be constant. The morpheme –er mean