WORD STRUCTURE IN MODERN ENGLISH
I. The morphological structure of a word. Morphemes. Types of morphemes.
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.
There are two levels of approach to the study of word- structure: the
level of morphemic analysis and the level of derivational or
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
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
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 derivation).
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
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
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
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 words.
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
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
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 [-nэs] found in a countless number of
nouns, such as unhappiness, blackness, sameness, etc. the IC [-nэs] 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 [frendlэ-] is next broken into the ICs
[-lэ] 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 [rэ-], [dэ-] 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 [rэ-] or [dэ-], nor the [-teэn] or [-sэ:v] possess any
lexical or functional meaning of their own. Yet, these sound-clusters
are felt as having a certain meaning because [rэ-] distinguishes retain
from detain and [-teэn] 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
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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