Mighty Morphemes

January 21, 2010 / by Kimberly Cortes

Morphology is the study of the structure of words. Words can be broken into morphemes. Morphemes are the smallest unit of meaning.

Morphemes can be words; for example giraffe, jump, purple, and quick are all morphemes and also words. However, one word can consist of one or many morphemes. Giraffes, jumped, purplish and quickly are all words but each consists of two morphemes. And, antidisestablishmentarianism is only one word but contains seven morphemes!

A few morphemes like the past tense –ed and plural –s, in English must attach to another morpheme (usually the root word, i.e., jump-ed and giraffe-s). These morphemes are referred to as bound morphemes. Morphemes that are not under this restriction are called free morphemes.

Some languages have a one to one correspondence between word and morpheme. Languages of this type are called isolating languages. For example, Classical Chinese is considered a highly isolating language where each morpheme corresponds to a single syllable and a single character. In contrast to isolating languages, agglutinative languages can form entire sentences by “gluing” affixes to the root word. Turkish is a good example of an agglutinative language. In Turkish, “Cevaplayamadıklarımızdandır” translated, "It must be one of those which we couldn't answer" has nine morphemes!

What is the word with the highest number of morphemes you can come up with in English?

Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Kimberly Cortes

Written by Kimberly Cortes

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