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M o r p h o l o g y

Another component of Language/grammar is morphology. Morphology literally means “shape”ology. The shapes of what? The shapes of words. Didn't we do that already with phonology? With phonology, we dealt with sound in itself, irrespective of meaning. But with morphology we are dealing with chunks of necessarily meaningful sound. These meaning-chunks are known as morphemes, the official definition of which is minimal units of meaning. Prototypically speaking, a morpheme is a chunk of sound which, if even the slightest pinch were taken away, would go devoid of meaning.
morpheme: a minimal unit of meaning
A word itself may be just one morpheme, like the word half. A morpheme by itself is not necessarily a word, like the suffix -ling. We can put the two morphemes together to make the word halfling.
free morpheme: a morpheme that is free to stand alone as a lexeme in its own right

bound morpheme: a morpheme that can only be used when connected to a lexeme or other morpheme
We could also take phoneme α

— which by itself is also a morpheme!

— and which by itself is also a lexeme!

…and put this phoneme/morpheme/lexeme α in front of halfling: a halfling. But now we've already suddenly climbed up into the world of syntax, having transcended the morphological clouds into phrase-level space. Let's get back down to morphological business…

Derivation vs. Inflection

The world of morphology can be divided in half in several different ways. Semantically, morphology divided between inflectional vs. derivative morphology — and that is what we shall deal with first. (Later we shall take a look at how the world of morphology divides phonologically.)

Derivational morphology is rightly termed because its defining characteristic is deriving one lexeme from another. In other words, a word is taken, and with this new word — by means of morphology — a new word is formed. We have given an example of this above with word half + morpheme -ling => new word halfling. And so, morphology is that level of morphology relevant to the grammar's lexicon. It creates new members a language's word-bank.

Inflection: Declension

In contrast, inflectional morphology is largely consists of a word's interaction with syntax. And so, on the level of syntax (a sentence) you can have a subject, verb, direct object and direct object (for instance), such as with the sentence the boy gives a bone to the dog, boy being the subject, give being the verb, the direct object being bone, and the indirect object being dog. In many languages, these synatactic or semantic roles are marked vie morphology. A language which possesses rich inflectional morphology is Latin, where our sentence would translate as puer felem canī donat, which word-for-word is boy bone dog gives. He can arrange the words into any order, and the syntactic roles of each word is still perfectly clear: feles canī puer donat does not mean the cat gives a dog to the boy, although word-for-word the translation is cat dog boy gives. The endings of the nouns reveal their semantic roles:
feles “cat” subject
felem “cat” direct object
felī “cat” indirect object
canis “dog” subject
canem “dog” direct object
canī “dog” indirect object
puer “boy” subject
puerum “boy” direct object
puerō “boy” indirect object

Inflection: Conjugation

Inflectional morphology itself divides between declension and conjugation. We have dealt above with declension, which basically is the morphology used on nouns to fit into the syntactic framework of a sentence, though also effects adjectives that describe those nouns, e.g. Latin bonus “good” goes to canis “dog” when subject (technically nominative), but the adjective must agree with the noun it modified, so when the word for dog is the direct object (technically accusative) canem, then bonus turns into bonum; and with the indirect object form (technically the dative) can”, our adjective is now bonō.

Contrasting declensions are conjugations — which are what verbs do at a synactic level (such as to agree with the subject they go with), or to express other categories, such as tense. We do not need to go to Latin to find examples. The Latin verb we used was donat, which translates as gives, both of which have endings that indicate a singular thrid person subject, and the present tense. The form give would indicate the plural third person subject, e.g, they. Where the present sports vowel i, the past shows up with a: gave. Granted, English even conjugational inflections are lacking in richness, as we can see with how gave is used fr both singuar and plural. (We will deal with conjugation at length in the not very far-off future).

Non-Concatenative Morphology

Except with the give~gave example, we have so far given examples from concatenative morphology — which is the linear side of morphology: a string of morphemes placed one after another like cars pulled by a stream engine: half + -ling + -s. The steam engine would be the root of the word, half, which pulls along its “cars”. But just like from the semantic point of view, morphology splits between the inflectional and the derivational, from the point of view of phonology, morphology splits betwee the linear and the non-linear. Indeed, we have already seen this same split in phonology!

So morphology is not always like a tractor pull at your local country fair — it can manifest as a beautiful chameleon whose body (the governing head of the word) changes colors. An example of such a chameleon is the consonantal root √SNG. It has four colors: i, a, u and o. So, this chameleon has four manifestations: the “sing” verb with present tense “color” sing, past tense “color” sang, and perfect aspect “color” sung, as well as even a noun-form song. What I just termed “colors” are technically known as grades of ablaut. (Incidentally, the i~a~u forms are examples of inflectional morphology, and the o form derivational.) Another non-linear and non-concatinative example of morphology is prosodic, e.g, an accent-shift from trochaic to iambic to derive a verb from a noun, as in PROtest (noun) vs. archaic proTEST (verb).
Morphology from the point of view of phonology breaks down into two aspects:

concatinative morphology…
where one morpheme is tacked on to the next in a linear order: A + B + C, where each letter represents a group of one or more phonemes.

non-concatenative morphology…
where a morpheme (which can also be a lexeme, such as a consonantal root) is either (1) not added-to or substracted-from on the phonemic level, but “tweaked” through addition or subtraction or alteration of distinctive features of phonemes, or (2) altered prosodically, e.g, an accent-shift from trochaic to iambic or vice versa.
Whereas concatinative morphology tacks on morphemes composed of one or more whole phonemes, non-concatinative morphology alters the quality of the phonemes themselves, or else the prosody of the lexeme or morpheme. Perhaps a better analysis of the root √SNG is as sVng where V = vowel; but the particular phonological nature of that vowel is itself the morpheme here (this would make the morpheme low on the phonolical ladder, would make it a feature). So morphemes in non-concatinative mophology can be a feature or group of features; or else, they are prosodic, as in archiac PROtest (noun) vs. proTEST (verb).

Interestingly, there are whole languages based on consonantal roots, such as the Semitic ones. An example of a Semitic root is √s(h)-l-m, from which we get the words Salem, (Jeru)salem), shalom, Islam, (Mu)slem et cetera. This is not an isolated example — like I said, the Semitic languages are based on roots.

English, in its ancient history even deeper back than Old English — all the way back to Proto-Indo-European (5,000BC?) — seems to have much if not all of its vocabulary largely derived from consonantal roots. But, whereas the Semitic languages have triconsonantal roots, the Indo-European roots are biconsonantal. For an example: gl. How many words do you know with gl that have to do with a shiny appearance? Gleam, glisten, glitter, glare, glow, glaze and so on and on. Do all gl-words come from some Indo-European biconsonantal root? Or is this a case of some form of onomatopoeia? Dry coincidence? (To investigate this whole business about biconsonantal roots in English, just peruse an etymological dictionary.)

A major characteristic of the Germanic languages is a type of verb, the so-called strong verbs, which have developed a powerful morphology out of certain purely phonological vowel-alternations in the biconsonantal roots of Indo-European. Aforementioned sVng is an excellent example of this. This vowel alternation — i.e, sing~sang~sung — is known as ablaut. (Note: ng counts as one consonant here, the sound of the symbol ŋ we used in the phonology sections.)

The history of ablaut begins in Proto-Indo-European with its biconsonantal roots. We shall take one root, √WR, and trace it through time from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) to Germanic (Gmc), just to see the dynamics of root and ablaut…

Case Study: PIE √WR

√WR is an ancient Indo-European root contained in countless words across the giant Indo-European family of languages, from Ireland to India. It is often seen with a -t formative (=morpheme) attached, and a vowel may pop up within the root, in various forms, in the same phenomenon happening in words like English sing, sang, sung; song, a phonemenon known as vowel alteration or ablaut. The core meaning of √WR(t) is turning. Latin serves as a good representative here for the original Proto-Indo-European language: vert(ere) “to turn” (v=w), whence come English vert(ex) and vort(ex).
Within Proto-Indo-European (PIE)…

(1) root √WR + t => stem wrt-

This first step is concatinative morphology, where formative (a.k.a. morpheme) t is tacked on to root √WR. (Btw, wrt- is a stem because now the word is ready to take on inflectional endings.)

(2) PIE Ablaut

↙↗   ↖↘
wert- wort-
wērt- wōrt-
NOTE: up and down axis from wrt- without a vowel (zero mora) to having a vowel (one mora) to having a long vowel (two moræ) is quantitative ablaut; the left and right axis from front vowel e to back vowel o is qualitative ablaut.

NOTE: Be advised, however, that PIE ablaut was purely phonological. The variation in the length of vowel (quantitative ablaut), and the variation in the timber of the vowel (qualitative ablaut), were two types of allophonic reactions to shifting accent. Stress accent can effect the quantity/length of vowels, and pitch accent can effect the timber/quality of vowels.

In contrast, with the Germanic family of languages (an offshoot of PIE) the ablaut patterns became re-analyzed as morphological — which is to say, as carrying meaning…

What we have in PIE as vowels e~o may have been the same vowel phoneme, let’s call it V, which alternated pitch-wise, e.g, V(pitch1)~V(pitch2), i.e, two allphones V. This timber gets re-interpretted as being a feature of placing (of tongue) in purely (and extremely) stress-based Germanic (and other Indo-European languages, too): e~o (tongue forward ~ back), interpretted not as allophones of one V, but as two phonemes of one morphophoneme — which is to say a morpheme constituted by one and only one phoneme that sort of “flexes,” that sort of “blushes,” to indicate differing meanings, e.g, a vowel articulated in a tight and narrow manner “eeee” alternating with the same vowel going loose and wide “ahhhh.” It is the same vowel not because it is the same phoneme; it is the same because it is a morphophoneme. Phonologically it is recognized as multiple entities (as multiple phonemes), but morphologically as one entity (as one morpheme, a morphophoneme).

Within Germanic…

NOTE: There are various characteristic sound shifts (Lautverschiebungen) when going from PIE to the Germanic family of languages (an offshoot of PIE, as already stated).

We will use Modern German and Old English here to exemplify Germanic. As previously stated, the PIE root had to do with “turning” as evidenced from its Latin reflex vert(ere). The meaning in Germanic must have developed the sense “to turn out (as…)” because the German reflex now means “to become”, and can be used as a future auxiliary just like English will.
PIE unaccented stem (=zero-grade) wrt- >>> German past perfect participle (ge)word(en) “(have) become”, wyrd in Old English as a noun meaning “fate, destiny”, which survived into Modern English as adjective weird.

PIE e-grade Latin vert- >>> German werd(en) “to become” and future helping verb like English “will”; Old English weorð(an) “to become”

PIE o-grade Latin vort- >>> German antiquated ward, past tense “became”, Old English (same meaning) wearð.
With ablaut in Germanic we have taken a look at a productive morphological process involving alterations of features, really, and only non-directly of phonemes (the vowels): thus, ablaut is a non-concatenative morphological process (i.e, when not purely phonological, as it had been in PIE)…


There is another great example of a single distinctive feature that all by itself is a morpheme to be found within the Germanic languages: the feature [+Front] being added to the root vowel 1) to make a nominus (i.e, noun or adjective) into a verb, or 2) to make a causative verb, or 3) with some nouns, to make them plural, or 4) often with verbs, to put them into the subjunctive mood. This sort of morpo|phono|logical (^_~) process is known as UMlaut (compare with ABlaut). Umlaut means to pronounce the vowel just as before but with the one exception of placing the tongue in the [+Front] position, which is to say in the position it would be in when one makes the “eee”-sound. Examples of 1-4: 1) German noun Zahl “number” >>> verb zählen “to count” ; 2) English verb sit >>> set, which is cognate to German sitzen >>> setzen; 3) singular man >>> plural men, cognate to German singular Mann >>> Männ(er); and 4) German indicative war “was” >>> subjunctive wär(e) “would be”.
NOTE: Just as with ablaut, umlaut a.k.a. vocalic fronting was originally a purely phonological process. The fronting of the root vowel was triggered by the appearance of a front vowel in the suffix: e.g, singular noun man + plural-marking suffix i >>> plural noun mani, which in time became meni (vowel a fronting to match the frontness of i); and in turn meni, in time, became just men. The suffix was lost, but the two forms, man and men, stayed; and so now the a~e alteration is interpretted no longer as a phonolical process (triggered by an i ending), but as a morpholical process, the i altogether lost in time.

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