If we describe a wrd as an autonomous unit of language in which a particular meaning is associated with a particular sound complex and which is capable of a particular grammatical employment and able to form a sentence by itself (see p. 9), we have the possibility to distinguish it from the other fundamental language unit, namely, the morpheme.

A morpheme is also an association of a given meaning with a given sound pattern. But unlike a word it is not autonomous. Morphemes occur in speech only as constituent parts of words, not independently, although a word may consist of a single morpheme. Nor are they divisible into smaller meaningful units. That is why the morpheme may be defined as the minimum meaningful language unit.

The term morpheme is derived from Gr morphe form + -eme. The Greek suffix -erne has been adopted by linguists to denote the smallest significant or distinctive unit. (Cf. phoneme, sememe.) The morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of form. A form in these cases is a recurring discrete unit of speech.

A form is said to be free if it may stand alone without changing its meaning; if not, it is a bound form, so called because it is always bound to something else. For example, if we compare the words sportive and elegant and their parts, we see that sport, sportive, elegant may occur alone as utterances, whereas eleg-, -ive, -ant are bound forms because they never occur alone. A word is, by L. Bloomfields definition, a minimum free form. A morpheme is said to be either bound or free. This statement should b taken with caution. It means that some morphemes are capable of forming words without adding other morphemes: that is, they are homonymous to free forms.

According to the role they play in constructing words, morphemes are subdivided into roots and affixes. The latter are further subdivided, according to their position, into prefixes, suffixes and infixes, and according to their function and meaning, into derivational and functional .affixes, the latter also called endings or outer formatives.

When a derivational or functional affix is stripped from the word, what remains is a stem (or astern base). The stem

expresses the lexical and the part of speech meaning. For the word hearty and for the paradigm heart (sing.) hearts (pi.)1 the stem may be represented as heart-. This stem is a single morpheme, it contains nothing but the root, so it is a simple stem. It is also a free stem because it is homonymous to the word heart.

A stem may also be defined as the part of the word that remains unchanged throughout its paradigm. The stem of the paradigm hearty heartier (the) heartiest is hearty-. It is a free stem, but as it consists of a root morpheme and an affix, it is not simple but derived. Thus, a stem containing one or more affixes is a derived stem. If after deducing the affix the remaining stem is not homonymous to a separate word of the same root, we call it abound stem. Thus, in the word cordial proceeding as if from the heart, the adjective-forming suffix can be separated on the analogy with such words as bronchial, radial, social. The remaining stem, however, cannot form a separate word by itself, it is bound. In cordially and cordiality, on the other hand, the derived stems are free.

Bound stems are especially characteristic of loan words. The point may be illustrated by the following French borrowings: arrogance, charity, courage, coward, distort, involve, notion, legible and tolerable, to give but a few.2 After the affixes of these words are taken away the remaining elements are: arrog-, char-, cour-, cow-, -tort, -volve, not-, leg-, toler-, which do not coincide with any semantically related independent words.

Roots are main morphemic vehicles of a given idea in a given language at a given stage of its development. A root may be also regarded as the ultimate constituent element which remains after the removal of all functional and derivational affixes and does not admit any further analysis. It is the common element of words within a word-family. Thus, -heart- is the common root of the following series of words: heart, hearten, dishearten, heartily, heartless, hearty, heartiness, sweetheart, heart-broken, kind-hearted, whole-heartedly, etc. In some of these, as, for example, in hearten, there is only one root; in others the root -heart is combined with some other root, thus forming a compound like sweetheart.

The root word heart is unsegmentable, it is non-motivated morphologically. The morphemic structure of all the other words in this word-family is obvious they are segmentable as consisting of at least two distinct morphemes. They may be further subdivided into: 1) those formed by affixation or affixational derivatives consisting of a root morpheme and one or more affixes: hearten, dishearten, heartily, heartless, hearty, heartiness; 2) compounds, in which two, or very rarely more, stems simple or derived are combined into a lexical unit: sweetheart, heart-shaped, heart-broken or3) derivational compounds where words of a phrase are joined together by composition and affixation: kind-hearted. This last process is also called phrasal derivation ((kind heart) + -ed)).

1 A paradigm is defined here as the system of grammatical forms characteristic of a word. See also p. 23.

2 Historical lexicology shows how sometimes the stem becomes bound due to the internal changes in the stem that accompany the addition of affixes; f. broad : : breadth, clean : : cleanly ['klenli], dear : : dearth [d:θ], grief : : grievous.

There exist word-families with several tmsegmentable members, the derived elements being formed by conversion or clipping. The word-family with the noun father as its centre contains alongside affixational derivatives fatherhood, fatherless, fatherly a verb father to adopt or to originate formed by conversion.

We shall now present the different types of morphemes starting with the root.

It will at once be noticed that the root in English is very often homonymous with the word. This fact is of fundamental importance as it is one of the most specific features of the English language arising from its general grammatical system on the one hand, and from its phonemic system on the other. The influence of the analytical structure of the language is obvious. The second point, however, calls for some explanation. Actually the usual phonemic shape most favoured in English is one single stressed syllable: bear, find, jump, land, man, sing, etc. This does not give much space for a second morpheme to add classifying lexico-grammatical meaning to the lexical meaning already present in the root-stem, so the lexico-grammatical meaning must be signalled by distribution.

In the phrases a mornings drive, a mornings ride, a mornings walk the words drive, ride and walk receive the lexico-grammatical meaning of a noun not due to the structure of their stems, but because they are preceded by a genitive.

An English word does not necessarily contain formatives indicating to what part of speech it belongs. This holds true even with respect to inflectable parts of speech, i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives. Not all roots are free forms, but productive roots, i.e. roots capable of producing new words, usually are. The semantic realisation of an English word is therefore very specific. Its dependence on context is further enhanced by the widespread occurrence of homonymy both among root morphemes and affixes. Note how many words in the following statement might be ambiguous if taken in isolation: A change of work is as good as a rest.

The above treatment of the root is purely synchronic, as we have taken into consideration only the facts of present-day English. But the same problem of the morpheme serving as the main signal of a given lexical meaning is studied in etymology. Thus, when approached historically or diachronically the word heart will be classified as Common Germanic. One will look for cognates, i.e. words descended from a common ancestor. The cognates of heart are the Latin cor, whence cordial hearty, sincere, and so cordially and cordiality, also the Greek kardia, whence English cardiac condition. The cognates outside the English vocabulary are the Russian cep, the German Herz, the Spanish corazon and other words.

To emphasise the difference between the synchronic and the diachronic treatment, we shall call the common element of cognate words in different languages not their root but their radical element.


These two types of approach, synchronic and diachronic, give rise to two different principles of arranging morphologically related words into groups. In the first case series of words with a common root morpheme in which derivatives are opposable to their unsuffixed and unprefixed bases, are combined, f. heart, hearty, etc. The second grouping results in families of historically cognate words, f. heart, cor (Lat), Herz (Germ), etc.

Unlike roots, affixes are always bound forms. The difference between suffixes and prefixes, it will be remembered, is not confined to their respective position, suffixes being fixed after and prefixes fixed before the stem. It also concerns their function and meaning.

A suffix is a derivational morpheme following the stem and forming a new derivative in a different part of speech or a different word class, f. -en, -y, -less in hearten, hearty, heartless. When both the underlying and the resultant forms belong to the same part of speech, the suffix serves to differentiate between lexico-grammatical classes by rendering some very general lexico-grammatical meaning. For instance, both -ify and -er are verb suffixes, but the first characterises causative verbs, such as horrify, purify, rarefy, simplify, whereas the second is mostly typical of frequentative verbs: flicker, shimmer, twitter and the like.

If we realise that suffixes render the most general semantic component of the words lexical meaning by marking the general class of phenomena to which the referent of the word belongs, the reason why suffixes are as a rule semantically fused with the stem stands explained.

A prefix is a derivational morpheme standing before the root and modifying meaning, cf. hearten dishearten. It is only with verbs and statives that a prefix may serve to distinguish one part of speech from another, like in earth n unearth v, sleep n asleep (stative).

It is interesting that as a prefix en- may carry the same meaning of being or bringing into a certain state as the suffix -en, f. enable, encamp, endanger, endear, enslave and fasten, darken, deepen, lengthen, strengthen.

Preceding a verb stem, some prefixes express the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verb: stay v and outstay (sb) vt. With a few exceptions prefixes modify the stem for time (pre-, post-), place (in-, ad-) or negation (un-, dis-) and remain semantically rather independent of the stem.

An infix is an affix placed within the word, like -n- in stand. The type is not productive.

An affix should not be confused with a combining form. A combining form is also a bound form but it can be distinguished from an affix historically by the fact that it is always borrowed from another language, namely, from Latin or Greek, in which it existed as a free form, i.e. a separate word, or also as a combining form. They differ from all other borrowings in that they occur in compounds and derivatives that did not exist in their original language but were formed only in modern times in English, Russian, French, etc., f. polyclinic, polymer; stereophonic, stereoscopic, telemechanics, television. Combining forms are mostly international. Descriptively a combining form differs from an affix, because it can occur as one constituent of a form whose only other constituent is an affix, as in graphic, cyclic.

Also affixes are characterised either by preposition with respect to the root (prefixes) or by postposition (suffixes), whereas the same combining form may occur in both positions. Cf. phonograph, phonology and telephone, microphone, etc.


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