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Lecture 2. The basic units of language

The morphological system of language reveals its properties through the morphemic structure of words. It follows from this that morphology as part of grammatical theory faces the two segmental units: the morpheme and the word. But, as we have already pointed out, the morpheme is not identified otherwise than part of the word; the functions of the morpheme are effected only as the corresponding constituent functions of the word as a whole.

It is very difficult to give a rigorous and at the same time universal definition to the word. This difficulty is explained by the fact that the word is an extremely complex and many-sided phenomenon. The word is defined as the minimal potential sentence, the minimal free linguistic form, the elementary component of the sentence, the articulate sound-symbol, the grammatically arranged combination of sound with meaning, the meaningfully integral and immediately identifiable lingual unit, the uninterrupted string of morphemes, etc.

The notional one-stem word and the morpheme should be described as the opposing polar phenomena among the meaningful segments of language; it is these elements that can be defined by their formal and functional features most precisely and unambiguously. As for functional words, they occupy intermediary positions between these poles, and their very intermediary status is gradational. In particular, the variability of their status is expressed in the fact that some of them can be used in an isolated response position(for instance, words of affirmation and negation, interrogative words, demonstrative words, etc.), while others cannot (such as prepositions or conjunctions).

The phoneme is the smallest distinctive unit. The phoneme has no meaning, its function is purely differential; it differentiates morphemes and words as material bodies. The phoneme /b/ is the only distinctive marking the difference between tale /teil/ and table /teibl/.

The morpheme is the elementary meaningful part of the word. It is build up by phonemes so that the shortest morphemes include only one phoneme. The study was formed on the basis of two criteria: positional (the location of marginal morphemes in relation to the central ones) and functional (the correlative contribution of the morphemes to the general meaning of the word). Morphemes of the upper level are divided into root-morphemes and affixal morphemes. The roots express the concrete, material part of the meaning of the word while affixes express the specificational part of the meaning of the word, the specifications being of lexico-semantic and gramatico-semantic character.

The word is a nominative unit of language; it is formed by morphemes; it enters the lexicon of language as its elementary component (i.e. a component indivisible into smaller segments as regards its nominative function); together with other nominative units the word is used for the formation of the sentence — a unit of information in the communication process.

Morphemes on the upper level are divided into root-morphemes (roots) and affixal morphemes (affixes).

The roots of notional words are classical lexical morphemes. The affixal morphemes include prefixes, suffixes, and inflexions.

The root is obligatory for any word, while affixes are not obligatory. Therefore one and the same morphemic segment of functional (i.e. non-notional) status, depending on various morphemic environments, can in principle be used now as an affix (mostly, a prefix), now as a root.


· out — a root-word (preposition, adverb, verbal postposition,adjective, noun, verb);

· throughout — a composite word, in which -out serves as one of the roots (the categorial status of the meaning of both morphemes is the same);

· outing — a two-morpheme word, in which out is a root, and -ing is a suffix;

· outlook, outline, outrage, out-talk, etc. — words, in which out-serves as a prefix;

· look-out, knock-out, shut-out, time-out,etc. — words(nouns), in which-out serves as a suffix

The morphemic composition of modern English words has awide range of varieties; in the lexicon of everyday speech the preferable morphemic types of stems are root-stems (one-root stems or two-root stems) and one-affix stems. With grammatically changeable words, these stems take one grammatical suffix (two "open" grammatical suffixes are used only with some plural nouns in the possessive case, cf.: the children's toys, the oxen's yokes).Thus, the abstract complete morphemic model of the common English word is the following: prefix + root + lexical suffix+grammatical suffix.

Lingual units are described by means of two types of terms: allo-terms and eme-terms. Eme-terms denote the generalised invariant units of language characterised by a certain functional status: phonemes, morphemes. Allo-terms denote the concrete manifestations, or variants of the generalised units dependent on the regular co-location with other elements of language: allophones, allomorphs.

In the distributional analysis on the morphemic level, phonemic distribution of morphemes and morphemic distribution of morphemes are discriminated. The study is conducted in two stages.

At the first stage, the analysed text (i.e. the collected lingual materials, or "corpus") is divided into recurrent segments consisting of phonemes. These segments are called "morphs", i.e. morphemic units distributionally uncharacterised, e.g.: the/boat/s/were/gain/ing/speed.

At the second stage, the environmental features of the morphs are established and the corresponding identifications are effected.

As a result of the application of distributional analysis to the morphemic level, different types of morphemes have been discriminated which can be called the "distributional morpheme types".

On the basis of the degree of self-dependence, "free" morphemes and "bound" morphemes are distinguished. Bound morphemes cannot form words by themselves, they are identified only as component segmental parts of words. As different from this, free morphemes can build up words by themselves, i.e. can be used "freely".

For instance, in the word handful the root hand is a free morpheme, while the suffix -ful is a bound morpheme.

There are very few productive bound morphemes in the morphological system of English.

These morphemes are the following:

· the segments -(e)s [-z, -s, -iz]: the plural of nouns, the possessive case of nouns, the third person singular present of verbs;

· the segments -(e)d [-d, -t, -id]: the past and past participle of verbs;

· the segments -ing: the gerund and present participle;

· the segments -er, -est: the comparative and superlative de-grees of adjectives and adverbs.


On the basis of formal presentation, "overt" morphemes and "covert" morphemes are distinguished. Overt morphemes are genuine, explicit morphemes building up words; the covert morpheme is identified as a contrastive absence of morpheme expressing a certain function.

On the basis of segmental relation, "segmental" morpheme sand "supra-segmental" morphemes are distinguished. Interpreted as supra-segmental morphemes in distributional terms are intonation contours, accents, pauses.

On the basis of grammatical alternation, "additive" morphemes and "replacive" morphemes are distinguished. Interpreted as additive morphemes are outer grammatical suffixes, since, as a rule, they are opposed to the absence of morphemes in grammatical alternation. Cf. look+ed; small+er,etc. In distinction to these, the root phonemes of grammatical interchange are considered as replacive morphemes, since they replace one another in the paradigmatic forms. Cf. dr-i-ve — dr-o-ve — dr-i-ven; m-a-n — m-e-n; etc.

On the basis of linear characteristic, "continuous" (or "lin-ear") morphemes and "discontinuous" morphemes are distinguished.

By the discontinuous morpheme, opposed to the common, i.e. uninterruptedly expressed, continuous morpheme, a two-element grammatical unit is meant which is identified in the analytical grammatical form comprising an auxiliary word and a grammatical suffix. These two elements, as it were, embed the notional stem; hence, they are symbolically represented as follows:

· be ... ing — for the continuous verb forms(e.g.is going);

· have ... en — for the perfect verb forms (e.g.has gone);

· be... en — for the passive verb forms (e.g.is taken)



1. What segmental units does the grammatical theory face?

2. Give definition of the morpheme and phoneme? Explain the difference between them?

3. How morphemes are divided on the upper level?

4. What do affixal morphemes include?

5. What is the morphemic model of the common English word?

6. Give the names of the terms of lingual units and describe them.

7. Can “bound” morphemes form the word by themselves?

8. Which morphemes are distinguished on the basis of grammatical alternation?

9. Which morphemes are distinguished on the basis of linear characteristic?

10. What is the difference between «continuous» and «discontinuous» morphemes?



1.What ways of formation of grammatical forms are used in these words?

Will go, beautiful, am, uncomfortable, happiness, built, began, illegal, worse, director, communist, least, more beautiful, membership, mice, better, most difficult, geese, seizure, teeth, Polish, frosty, feet, characterize, blacken, convertible. Unforgettable, Turkish, windy, more realistic, men.

2. Give your own examples illustrating four ways of formation of grammatical forms.

3. Give the morphemic structure of the following words indicating wether the morphemes are bound or free, derivational or inflexional:

Black-bearded, shoemaker, opera-glasses, reading- room, purify, courageous, helplessly, rereads, unlocked. Air-base, market place, well – paid, boyfriend.

4. Find the word formed with the help of a dialectal suffix:

1) doggy 2) dogeen 3) Charley 4) antie

5. In which of the suffixated words a root-morpheme has transformed into an affixational morpheme?

1) actress 2) friendship 3) question 4)childish

6.Find a noun built with the help of a suffix diminutiveness:

a) 1. Cutter 2. Booklet 3. Decorator 4. Hostess

b) 1. Duckling 2. Marriage 3. Breadth 4. Colonnade

7. Use suffix –ion (-ation, -tion, -sion, -ssion) to form verbs out of nouns.

To collect –

To combine –

To dictate –

To include –

To introduce –

To produce –

To restrict –

To submit –

To transmit –

To revolute –

To immigrate –

To decorate –

To recommend –

To cooperate –


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