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Lexicology. Word structure in Modern English

Lexicology. Word structure in Modern English


I. The morphological structure of a word. Morphemes. Types of

morphemes. Allomorphs.

II. Structural types of words.

III. Principles of morphemic analysis.

IV. Derivational level of analysis. Stems. Types of stems.

Derivational types of words.

I. The morphological structure of a word. Morphemes. Types of

Morphemes. Allomorphs.

There are two levels of approach to the study of word- structure: the

level of morphemic analysis and the level of derivational or word-formation


Word is the principal and basic unit of the language system, the

largest on the morphologic and the smallest on the syntactic plane of

linguistic analysis.

It has been universally acknowledged that a great many words have a

composite nature and are made up of morphemes, the basic units on the

morphemic level, which are defined as the smallest indivisible two-facet

language units.

The term morpheme is derived from Greek morphe “form ”+ -eme. The Greek

suffix –eme has been adopted by linguistic to denote the smallest unit or

the minimum distinctive feature.

The morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of form. A form in these

cases a recurring discrete unit of speech. Morphemes occur in speech only

as constituent parts of words, not independently, although a word may

consist of single morpheme. Even a cursory examination of the morphemic

structure of English words reveals that they are composed of morphemes of

different types: root-morphemes and affixational morphemes. Words that

consist of a root and an affix are called derived words or derivatives and

are produced by the process of word building known as affixation (or


The root-morpheme is the lexical nucleus of the word; it has a very

general and abstract lexical meaning common to a set of semantically

related words constituting one word-cluster, e.g. (to) teach, teacher,

teaching. Besides the lexical meaning root-morphemes possess all other

types of meaning proper to morphemes except the part-of-speech meaning

which is not found in roots.

Affixational morphemes include inflectional affixes or inflections and

derivational affixes. Inflections carry only grammatical meaning and are

thus relevant only for the formation of word-forms. Derivational affixes

are relevant for building various types of words. They are lexically always

dependent on the root which they modify. They possess the same types of

meaning as found in roots, but unlike root-morphemes most of them have the

part-of-speech meaning which makes them structurally the important part of

the word as they condition the lexico-grammatical class the word belongs

to. Due to this component of their meaning the derivational affixes are

classified into affixes building different parts of speech: nouns, verbs,

adjectives or adverbs.

Roots and derivational affixes are generally easily distinguished and

the difference between them is clearly felt as, e.g., in the words

helpless, handy, blackness, Londoner, refill, etc.: the root-morphemes help-

, hand-, black-, London-, fill-, are understood as the lexical centers of

the words, and –less, -y, -ness, -er, re- are felt as morphemes

dependent on these roots.

Distinction is also made of free and bound morphemes.

Free morphemes coincide with word-forms of independently functioning

words. It is obvious that free morphemes can be found only among roots, so

the morpheme boy- in the word boy is a free morpheme; in the word

undesirable there is only one free morpheme desire-; the word pen-holder

has two free morphemes pen- and hold-. It follows that bound morphemes are

those that do not coincide with separate word- forms, consequently all

derivational morphemes, such as –ness, -able, -er are bound. Root-morphemes

may be both free and bound. The morphemes theor- in the words theory,

theoretical, or horr- in the words horror, horrible, horrify; Angl- in

Anglo-Saxon; Afr- in Afro-Asian are all bound roots as there are no

identical word-forms.

It should also be noted that morphemes may have different phonemic

shapes. In the word-cluster please , pleasing , pleasure , pleasant the

phonemic shapes of the word stand in complementary distribution or in

alternation with each other. All the representations of the given morpheme,

that manifest alternation are called allomorphs/or morphemic variants/ of

that morpheme.

The combining form allo- from Greek allos “other” is used in linguistic

terminology to denote elements of a group whose members together consistute

a structural unit of the language (allophones, allomorphs). Thus, for

example, -ion/ -tion/ -sion/ -ation are the positional variants of the same

suffix, they do not differ in meaning or function but show a slight

difference in sound form depending on the final phoneme of the preceding

stem. They are considered as variants of one and the same morpheme and

called its allomorphs.

Allomorph is defined as a positional variant of a morpheme occurring in

a specific environment and so characterized by complementary description.

Complementary distribution is said to take place, when two linguistic

variants cannot appear in the same environment.

Different morphemes are characterized by contrastive distribution, i.e.

if they occur in the same environment they signal different meanings. The

suffixes –able and –ed, for instance, are different morphemes, not

allomorphs, because adjectives in –able mean “ capable of beings”.

Allomorphs will also occur among prefixes. Their form then depends on

the initials of the stem with which they will assimilate.

Two or more sound forms of a stem existing under conditions of

complementary distribution may also be regarded as allomorphs, as, for

instance, in long a: length n.

II. Structural types of words.

The morphological analysis of word- structure on the morphemic level

aims at splitting the word into its constituent morphemes – the basic units

at this level of analysis – and at determining their number and types. The

four types (root words, derived words, compound, shortenings) represent the

main structural types of Modern English words, and conversion, derivation

and composition the most productive ways of word building.

According to the number of morphemes words can be classified into

monomorphic and polymorphic. Monomorphic or root-words consist of only one

root-morpheme, e.g. small, dog, make, give, etc. All polymorphic word fall

into two subgroups: derived words and compound words – according to the

number of root-morphemes they have. Derived words are composed of one root-

morpheme and one or more derivational morphemes, e.g. acceptable, outdo,

disagreeable, etc. Compound words are those which contain at least two root-

morphemes, the number of derivational morphemes being insignificant. There

can be both root- and derivational morphemes in compounds as in pen-holder,

light-mindedness, or only root-morphemes as in lamp-shade, eye-ball, etc.

These structural types are not of equal importance. The clue to the

correct understanding of their comparative value lies in a careful

consideration of: 1)the importance of each type in the existing wordstock,

and 2) their frequency value in actual speech. Frequency is by far the most

important factor. According to the available word counts made in different

parts of speech, we find that derived words numerically constitute the

largest class of words in the existing wordstock; derived nouns comprise

approximately 67% of the total number, adjectives about 86%, whereas

compound nouns make about 15% and adjectives about 4%. Root words come to

18% in nouns, i.e. a trifle more than the number of compound words;

adjectives root words come to approximately 12%.

But we cannot fail to perceive that root-words occupy a predominant

place. In English, according to the recent frequency counts, about 60% of

the total number of nouns and 62% of the total number of adjectives in

current use are root-words. Of the total number of adjectives and nouns,

derived words comprise about 38% and 37% respectively while compound words

comprise an insignificant 2% in nouns and 0.2% in adjectives. Thus it is

the root-words that constitute the foundation and the backbone of the

vocabulary and that are of paramount importance in speech. It should also

be mentioned that root words are characterized by a high degree of

collocability and a complex variety of meanings in contrast with words of

other structural types whose semantic structures are much poorer. Root-

words also serve as parent forms for all types of derived and compound


III. Principles of morphemic analysis.

In most cases the morphemic structure of words is transparent enough

and individual morphemes clearly stand out within the word. The

segmentation of words is generally carried out according to the method of

Immediate and Ultimate Constituents. This method is based on the binary

principle, i.e. each stage of the procedure involves two components the

word immediately breaks into. At each stage these two components are

referred to as the Immediate Constituents. Each Immediate Constituent at

the next stage of analysis is in turn broken into smaller meaningful

elements. The analysis is completed when we arrive at constituents

incapable of further division, i.e. morphemes. These are referred to

Ultimate Constituents.

A synchronic morphological analysis is most effectively accomplished by

the procedure known as the analysis into Immediate Constituents. ICs are

the two meaningful parts forming a large linguistic unity.

The method is based on the fact that a word characterized by

morphological divisibility is involved in certain structural correlations.

To sum up: as we break the word we obtain at any level only ICs one of

which is the stem of the given word. All the time the analysis is based on

the patterns characteristic of the English vocabulary. As a pattern showing

the interdependence of all the constituents segregated at various stages,

we obtain the following formula:

un+ { [ ( gent- + -le ) + -man ] + -ly}

Breaking a word into its Immediate Constituents we observe in each cut

the structural order of the constituents.

A diagram presenting the four cuts described looks as follows:

1. un- / gentlemanly

2. un- / gentleman / - ly

3. un- / gentle / - man / - ly

4. un- / gentl / - e / - man / - ly

A similar analysis on the word-formation level showing not only the

morphemic constituents of the word but also the structural pattern on which

it is built.

The analysis of word-structure at the morphemic level must proceed to

the stage of Ultimate Constituents. For example, the noun friendliness is

first segmented into the ICs: [frendl?-] recurring in the adjectives

friendly-looking and friendly and [-n?s] found in a countless number of

nouns, such as unhappiness, blackness, sameness, etc. the IC [-n?s] is at

the same time an UC of the word, as it cannot be broken into any smaller

elements possessing both sound-form and meaning. Any further division of

–ness would give individual speech-sounds which denote nothing by

themselves. The IC [frendl?-] is next broken into the ICs [-l?] and [frend-

] which are both UCs of the word.

Morphemic analysis under the method of Ultimate Constituents may be

carried out on the basis of two principles: the so-called root-principle

and affix principle.

According to the affix principle the splitting of the word into its

constituent morphemes is based on the identification of the affix within a

set of words, e.g. the identification of the suffix –er leads to the

segmentation of words singer, teacher, swimmer into the derivational

morpheme – er and the roots teach- , sing-, drive-.

According to the root-principle, the segmentation of the word is based on

the identification of the root-morpheme in a word-cluster, for example the

identification of the root-morpheme agree- in the words agreeable,

agreement, disagree.

As a rule, the application of these principles is sufficient for the

morphemic segmentation of words.

However, the morphemic structure of words in a number of cases defies

such analysis, as it is not always so transparent and simple as in the

cases mentioned above. Sometimes not only the segmentation of words into

morphemes, but the recognition of certain sound-clusters as morphemes

become doubtful which naturally affects the classification of words. In

words like retain, detain, contain or receive, deceive, conceive, perceive

the sound-clusters [r?-], [d?-] seem to be singled quite easily, on the

other hand, they undoubtedly have nothing in common with the phonetically

identical prefixes re-, de- as found in words re-write, re-organize, de-

organize, de-code. Moreover, neither the sound-cluster [r?-] or [d?-], nor

the [-te?n] or [-s?:v] possess any lexical or functional meaning of their

own. Yet, these sound-clusters are felt as having a certain meaning because

[r?-] distinguishes retain from detain and [-te?n] distinguishes retain

from receive.

It follows that all these sound-clusters have a differential and a

certain distributional meaning as their order arrangement point to the

affixal status of re-, de-, con-, per- and makes one understand -tain and

–ceive as roots. The differential and distributional meanings seem to give

sufficient ground to recognize these sound-clusters as morphemes, but as

they lack lexical meaning of their own, they are set apart from all other

types of morphemes and are known in linguistic literature as pseudo-

morphemes. Pseudo- morphemes of the same kind are also encountered in

words like rusty-fusty.

IV. Derivational level of analysis. Stems. Types of Stems.

Derivational types of word.

The morphemic analysis of words only defines the constituent morphemes,

determining their types and their meaning but does not reveal the hierarchy

of the morphemes comprising the word. Words are no mere sum totals of

morpheme, the latter reveal a definite, sometimes very complex

interrelation. Morphemes are arranged according to certain rules, the

arrangement differing in various types of words and particular groups

within the same types. The pattern of morpheme arrangement underlies the

classification of words into different types and enables one to understand

how new words appear in the language. These relations within the word and

the interrelations between different types and classes of words are known

as derivative or word- formation relations.

The analysis of derivative relations aims at establishing a correlation

between different types and the structural patterns words are built on. The

basic unit at the derivational level is the stem.

The stem is defined as that part of the word which remains unchanged

throughout its paradigm, thus the stem which appears in the paradigm (to)

ask ( ), asks, asked, asking is ask-; thestem of the word singer ( ),

singer’s, singers, singers’ is singer-. It is the stem of the word that

takes the inflections which shape the word grammatically as one or another

part of speech.

The structure of stems should be described in terms of IC’s analysis,

which at this level aims at establishing the patterns of typical derivative

relations within the stem and the derivative correlation between stems of

different types.

There are three types of stems: simple, derived and compound.

Simple stems are semantically non-motivated and do not constitute a

pattern on analogy with which new stems may be modeled. Simple stems are

generally monomorphic and phonetically identical with the root morpheme.

The derivational structure of stems does not always coincide with the

result of morphemic analysis. Comparison proves that not all morphemes

relevant at the morphemic level are relevant at the derivational level of

analysis. It follows that bound morphemes and all types of pseudo-

morphemes are irrelevant to the derivational structure of stems as they do

not meet requirements of double opposition and derivative interrelations.

So the stem of such words as retain, receive, horrible, pocket, motion,

etc. should be regarded as simple, non- motivated stems.

Derived stems are built on stems of various structures though which

they are motivated, i.e. derived stems are understood on the basis of the

derivative relations between their IC’s and the correlated stems. The

derived stems are mostly polymorphic in which case the segmentation results

only in one IC that is itself a stem, the other IC being necessarily a

derivational affix.

Derived stems are not necessarily polymorphic.

Compound stems are made up of two IC’s, both of which are themselves

stems, for example match-box, driving-suit, pen-holder, etc. It is built by

joining of two stems, one of which is simple, the other derived.

In more complex cases the result of the analysis at the two levels

sometimes seems even to contracted one another.

The derivational types of words are classified according to the

structure of their stems into simple, derived and compound words.

Derived words are those composed of one root- morpheme and one or more

derivational morpheme.

Compound words contain at least two root- morphemes, the number of

derivational morphemes being insignificant.

Derivational compound is a word formed by a simultaneous process of

composition and derivational.

Compound words proper are formed by joining together stems of word

already available in the language.


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