At the very outset we need to establish the nature of the subject we are going to be examining. So. Chapter 2 discusses the nature of words. Then the next three chapters delve deep inside words and investigate their internal structure. In the process, traditional morphological concepts of structural linguistics are introduced and extensively exemplified.

Morphology is not a stand-alone module. After the introductory chapters, in Chapter 6 you are introduced to a theory where morphology is an integral part of the LEXICON or DICTIONARY. This chapter focuses on the interaction of phonology and morphology in word-formation.

Chapter 7 explores the relationship between words in speech and in writing. What is the relationship between saying words and writing them down? Is writing simply a mirror of speech-and an apparently distorting one in the case of English?



  1. We put all the big _________ splets on the table
  2. We put all the bigon the table.

The study of word-formation and word-structure is called MORPHOLOGY. Morphological theory provides a general theory of word-structure in all the languages of the world. Its task is to characterise the kinds of things that speakers need to know about the structure of the words of their language in order to be able to use them to produce and to understand speech.

We will see that in order to use language, speakers need to have two types of morphological knowledge.

First, they need to be able to analyse existing words (e.g. they must be able to tell that frogs contains frog

plus -s for plural). Usually, if we know the meanings of the elements that a word contains, it is possible to

determine the meaning of the entire word once we have worked out how the various elements relate to each

other. For instance, if we examine a word like nutcracker we find that it is made up of two words, namely

the noun nut and the noun cracker. Furthermore, we see that the latter word, cracker is divisible into the

verb crack and another meaningful elementer (roughly meaning “an instrument used to do X’), which,

however, is not a word in its own right. Numerous other words are formed using this pattern of combining

words (and smaller meaningful elements) as seen in [1.3]:


[tea]Noun strain-er]]Noun

[lawn]Noun -[mow-er]]Noun

[can Noun [open-er]]Noun


Given the frame [[Noun- _er]] Noun, we can fill in different words with the appropriate properties and get another compound word (i.e. a word containing at least two words). Try this frame out yourself. Find two more similar examples of compound words formed using this pattern.

Second, speakers need to be able to work out the meanings of novel words constructed using the word- building elements and standard word-construction rules of the language. Probably we all know and use more words than are listed in dictionaries. We can construct and analyse the structure and meaning of old words as well as new ones. So, although many words must be listed in the dictionary and memorised, listing every word in the dictionary is not necessary. If a word is formed following general principles, it may be more efficient to reconstitute it from its constituent elements as the need arises rather than permanently commit it to memory. When people make up new words using existing words and wordforming elements, we understand them with ease providing we know what the elements they use to form those words mean and providing the word-forming rules that they employ are familiar. This ability is one of the things explored in morphological investigations.

In an average week, we are likely to encounter a couple of unfamiliar words. We might reach for a dictionary and look them up. Some of them may be listed but others might be too new or too ephemeral to have found their way into any dictionary. In such an event, we rely on our morphological knowledge to tease out their meanings. If you heard someone describe their partner as ‘a great list maker and a ticker-off, you would instantly know what sort of person the partner was although you almost certainly have never encountered the word ticker-off before. And it is certainly not listed in any dictionary. The -er ending here has

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