3 Introducing morphology
In order to take a look at how words are built, we can draw on morphology, one of the technical terms you will learn in language study. It means the study of how words are put together, and the different shapes they take. For example, if you look in most English dictionaries, you will find entries for the following words:
But there are other forms of these words which most dictionaries don’t give separate entries for:
- make: makes, making, made
- fight: fights, fighting, fought
- easy: easier, easiest, easily
One part of morphology explains how these different forms of a word relate to each other. That is, how we can make fighting from fight and how we understand the relationship between these two forms.
Another part of morphology looks at how more complex words can be formed from simpler ones:
- make: remake, make-up, makeshift
- fight: fightback, firefight, firefighter
- easy: uneasy, uneasiness, speakeasy
Morphemes are the smallest meaningful unit of a language and they are the building blocks of words. For example, uneasy is un- + easy, and firefighter is fire + fight + er.
Activity 4 Let’s make some words
Take a look at the list of morphemes below and give yourself two minutes to make as many different words from them as you can.
When the two minutes are up, take a closer look at the words you have made. Do you notice any patterns? Could some morphemes stand on their own while others couldn’t? Could some only go at the beginning of a word? Note down your findings.
You may have come up with some of the following: childish, badness, sadly, feelings, singing, appealing, appealed, bottles, friendly, friends, unfriendly, walked, lovely, etc. You might have found several more.
Taking a closer look at the words, child, sad, sing, appoint, friend, bad, love, appeal, and bottle make sense on their own, while -ing, -ly and un- need to be attached to another morpheme. You can also see that morphemes like un- and dis- tend to occur at the beginning of words, while -ment and -s tend to occur at the end. This shows that how we combine morphemes is not random. You’ll learn more about this in the next section.