Linguistic Signs – arbitrary relationship between form & meaning

Lexicon: mental database of roots, inflectional and derivational morphemes

What does our morphological knowledge consist of?

Morphemes (smallest units of meaning)
Morphological Rules (how to combine morphemes)

Types of morphemes:

Free morphemes: can stand alone as  a word
Bound morphemes: always appear as part of a word

none in English
-able none in English

Better example of English infix: Minne-frigging-sota (A. Spokane)

Roots & Stems

Root: a lexical content morpheme that cannot be analyzed into smaller parts



    • Bound forms with no meaning in isolation: huckle-, boysen-, luke-


  • Roots which have lost their meaning: -ceive, -mit

Monomorphemic words: words which have only one morpheme
Derivational  morphemes: create a new word with a different meaning, such as un- when added to a noun, thus  creating the opposite meaning
Derived word: a word that has had a derivational morpheme added to it
Derivation is governed by rules reflecting a hierarchical structure
Tree diagrams for representing a word

Inflectional morphemes: create words with a different grammatical meaning, such as ‘make’ becoming makes’ when the third person singular suffix is added.
Lexical gaps: Not all possible words are formed by a language
*I admire  your coolth.
Heard of cranberry morphemes?

Sign Language Morphology

Sign languages have root morphemes, affixes, free and bound morphemes, and morphological rules.
Derivation is accomplished through modification of the hand movement and the space in which the signs are articulated. (Sign uses a rectangular space in front of the body for signing)

Word Coinage


    • new words can enter a language through a derivational process


    • some are created


  • two words can be combined into a compound

Compound words

Right-most word is the head (determines the meaning and grammatical category)


Words derived from initials of several words.
Pronunciation can be based on the letters, sounded out as a word or just sounding out each letter.


Created because of incorrect morphological analysis: pease –> pea


Words abbreviated then the abbreviation becomes lexicalized: facsimile –> Fax; pianoforte -> piano
Dis (from disrespect) = clipping

Words from Names

Words that came from a person’s name; sandwich, jumbo, paparazzi


Two words are combined and parts deleted; smog, motel, infomercial

Grammatical Morphemes

Function words, such as it or to only have a grammatical meaning


  • function words are free morphemes

Inflectional Morphemes

    • bound morphemes


    • do not change meaning


  • follow derivational morphemes in most cases (except compounds)

Exceptions and Suppletions

Suppletive forms are irregular and are treated differently by the grammar; their inflections may even be “invisible”
New words, however, come into the language usually with regular inflections, such as geek(s), fax(es). But sometimes  borrowed words come in to the language with the plural form of their native grammar; datum/data
SO, these words have to be memorized – regular rules don not apply. See lists of irregular plurals in English

Morphology and Syntax
Some languages allow affixes to grammatical relationships, while others rely on word order.

There is often more than one way to express grammatical relations

Fun with Morphological Analysis

The Martian linguist – where does this idea come from? It’s from Chomsky; he uses it this way:

Take language, one of the few distinctive human capacities about which much is known. We have very strong reasons to believe that all possible human languages are very similar; a Martian scientist observing humans might conclude that there is just a single language, with minor variants. (from a 1995 interview with  Kevin Doyle)
To this day his only message is: see, think, judge and decide for yourself. This is Chomsky’s own particular talent: he is very good at stepping back and thinking about what it is he’s actually seeing. That’s why he asks questions other people don’t ask. It’s no accident that Martians regularly crop up in everything he writes, whether the topic is language or power. What would Martians see if they could observe us from afar? (from a 2003 interview with Liesbeth Koenen)

More Paku vocabulary can be found here – scroll down to the bottom of page