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Lexical Morphology

Lexical Morphology
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A language's lexicon (vocabulary) comprises words and parts of words that carry different meanings. These meaningful units of language are referred to as morphemes. The study of morphemes in a language is known as morphology. In general, morphology is concerned with how words are created, the structure of words, and how word structure can affect meaning. One type of morphology is lexical morphology.

Lexical Morphology Introduction

Lexical morphology is a specific type of morphology that refers to the lexemes in a language. A lexeme is a basic unit of lexical meaning; it can be a single word or a group of words.

Lexical morphology is the study of lexemes and how they are created. The discipline is particularly interested in neologisms (newly created words from existing words), derivation, and compounding.

Derivation in Lexical Morphology

Derivation refers to a way of creating new words by adding affixes to the root of a word - this is also known as affixation. In case you need reminding: "affix" is a broad term used to refer to a morpheme added to the beginning or end of a root word. Affixes are known as bound morphemes, meaning they must be attached to another word as they do not make sense on their own.

The affix "ing" in the word "turning" is a bound morpheme. On its own, "ing" does not make grammatical sense, so it must be attached to a root word in order to create meaning.

If a morpheme makes sense on its own and doesn't need to be attached to anything else, it is known as a free morpheme.

There are two types of affixes: prefixes and suffixes.

Prefixes are placed at the beginning of a root word to change the word's meaning (e.g., the "re" in "reapply").

Suffixes are placed at the end of a root word to change the word's meaning (e.g., the "ful" in "hopeful").

When affixes are used to create new words with new meanings, they are referred to as derivational affixes. When they are used to create different forms of the same root word (such as to show changes in tense or plurality), they are referred to as inflectional affixes.

Lexical Example of derivation StudySmarterFig. 1 - Impossible is an example of derivation.

For example, the prefix "im" in "impossible" creates a new word from the root word "possible." This gives it a new meaning (the opposite of "possible"), so it is a derivational prefix.

The suffix "s" in "walks" creates a different form of the same root word "walk," so is an inflectional affix.

Compounding in Lexical Morphology

Compounding refers to the creation of new words by combining two or more existing words together.

For example, the nouns "bed" and "room" can combine to create the compound noun "bedroom." It is important to know that compound words do not always have to be nouns. For example, there are also compound adjectives, such as "long-term, "quick-witted," and "rose-tinted."

Lexical Image of a bedroom StudySmarterFig. 2 - Bedroom is an example of a compound noun.

Lexical Morphology Examples

Both derivation and compounding are significant parts of lexical morphology as they are a large source of new words in the English language. Below are some examples of derivation; including the original root words and the types of affixes added to create the derivation:

Root WordDerivation Type of affix added
WriteRewritePrefix
LegalIllegalPrefix
EstablishDisestablishPrefix
FairUnfairPrefix
ExistCoexistPrefix
TreatTreatmentSuffix
JoyJoyfulSuffix
AgreeAgreeableSuffix
FreeFreedomSuffix
ConditionConditionalSuffix

Now here are some examples of compounding:

  • Green + house = Greenhouse

  • Mother + in + law = Mother-in-law

  • Motor + bike = Motorbike

  • Cook + book = Cookbook

  • Foot + ball = Football

  • Sky + scraper = Skyscraper

  • Skate + board = Skateboard

Lexical Morphology Structure

Lexical morphology looks at the structure and form of lexemes. A lexeme can have many different inflected forms, meaning the word can be changed in order to indicate a grammatical role in a sentence, such as to show plurality or tense. For example, take the lexeme "walk." The inflected forms of this verb are:

  • Walked

  • Walking

  • Walks

These are all different forms of the same lexeme; walk. To create these forms, suffixes have been added to the end. Keep in mind that the noun "walker" is NOT an inflected form of "walk" - it is a separate lexeme as it is a different word class.

Lexical Morphology Theory

Lexical Morphology can also refer to the theory first put forward by Pesetsky in 1979 and later developed by Kiparsky in 19821.

It is worth mentioning that there is not only one lexical morphology theory to follow, but each theory contains the key idea that both phonology rules and morphology rules work together when building the lexicon (vocabulary) of a language.

So what is phonology, and how does it work alongside morphology?

Phonology deals with the speech sounds (known as phonemes) of a language and studies how sounds are organized in a language. It also takes into account elements such as:

  • The structure of syllables in a word
  • Stress (the emphasis placed on certain syllables)
  • Tone
  • Accent
  • Intonation (how the voice rises and falls in speech)

Both phonology and morphology look at patterns in language and how they create meaning; phonology focuses on the sounds (phonemes) in a language, whereas morphology focuses on the formation/structure of words (morphemes) in a language. They must both combine in order to communicate, as written and spoken words correlate with one another.

Without morphological rules, we would be unable to create new meaningful words. Without phonological rules, we would be unable to comprehend the sounds that letters make, so we would therefore be unsure how to pronounce written words or spell spoken words.

The relationship between phonology and morphology (and how they affect one another) can also be understood by looking at the Level Ordering Hypothesis, which is further discussed below.

Lexical Morphology Process and Development

A key model to be aware of when looking at the lexical morphology process is the Level Ordering Hypothesis, originally developed by Siegel (1974).2 The hypothesis aims to show that affixation occurs in two different classes.

The different derivational affixes in English can be broken down into class 1 and class 2 affixes.

  • Adding a class 1 affix to a word causes a change in the phonological process (particularly the stress pattern) of a word.

  • Adding a class 2 affix does not change the stress pattern.

An example is as follows:

Take "parental" and "parenthood," both of which are different inflected forms of the lexeme "parent."

When affixation takes place with "parental," the suffix "al" is added to the end. By adding this suffix, the stress you place on the word changes, i.e.

Parent = stress placed on the "a"

VS

Parental = stress placed on the "e"

So, the suffix "al" is an example of class 1 affixation.

When affixation takes place with "parenthood," the suffix "hood is added to the end of the word. When this suffix is added, the stress placed on the word remains the same.

Parent = stress placed on the "a"

VS

Parenthood = stress is still placed on the "a"

This means the suffix "hood" is an example of class 2 affixation.

Another example is as follows:

Take the words "relativity" and "relativeness," both of which are different forms of the root "relative."

Relative = stress placed on "e"

VS

Relativity = stress placed on the "i"

The suffix "ity" is an example of class 1 affixation.

Relative = stress placed on "e"

VS

Relativeness = stress still placed on "e"

The suffix "ness" is an example of class 2 affixation.

Lexical Diagram of the Level Ordering Hypothesis StudySmarterFig. 3 - Affixation is the addition of affixes to a word.

Lexical - Key takeaways

  • Lexical morphology is a specific type of morphology that refers to the lexemes in a language. A lexeme is a basic unit of lexical meaning comprised of a single word or a group of words.
  • Derivation refers to a way of creating new words by adding affixes (prefixes or suffixes) to the root of a word.
  • Compounding refers to a way of creating new words by combining two or more existing words and joining them together to create a new word.
  • A lexeme can have many different inflected forms - the word can be changed in order to indicate a grammatical role in a sentence.
  • Lexical morphology theories share the idea that phonology rules and morphology rules work together when building the lexicon of a language.
  • The Level Ordering Hypothesis aims to show that affixation occurs in two different classes (separated by word stress).

1Paul Kiparsky. Lexical Phonology and Morphology. 1982.

2Dorothy Siegel. Topics in English Morphology. 1974.

Frequently Asked Questions about Lexical Morphology

Lexical morphemes refer to any words in a language that carry meaning by themselves.

An example of lexical morphology is derivation - a way of creating new words by adding affixes to an existing root word.

There are two types of morphemes:


1. Free (make sense on their own)

2. Bound (do not make sense on their own)


Bound morphemes can be classified into:


1. Derivational (creates new word with new meaning)

2. Inflectional (creates another form of the root word)

There isn't a single set theory, but each one shares the idea that both phonology and morphology rules work together when building the lexicon of a language.

Lexicon refers to the vocabulary of a language, and morphology is the study of meaningful units of language (morphemes). Morphemes make up the lexicon of a language.

Final Lexical Morphology Quiz

Lexical Morphology Quiz - Teste dein Wissen

Question

A meaningful unit of language is referred to as a what?

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Answer

A morpheme

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Question

The study of morphemes is referred to as what?

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Answer

Morphology

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Question

What does lexicon refer to?

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Answer

A language's vocabulary

Show question

Question

The study of lexemes is referred to as what?

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Answer

Lexical morphology

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Question

What is a lexeme?

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Answer

A basic unit of lexical meaning comprised of a single word or a group of words.

Show question

Question

What does lexical morphology take into account?

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Answer

The formation of existing words and the construction of neologisms

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Question

The process of derivation in lexical morphology involves adding what to a word?

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Answer

Affixes

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Question

Name the two types of affixes.

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Answer

Prefixes and suffixes

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Question

Which type of affix is added to the end of a word?

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Answer

Suffix

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Question

Which type of affix is added to the beginning of a word?

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Answer

Prefix

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Question

The process of creating new words by combining two or more existing words is known as what?

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Answer

Compounding

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Question

Affixes are...

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Answer

Bound morphemes

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Question

If a word makes sense on its own, it is known as a ____ morpheme

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Answer

free

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Question

According to the Level Ordering Hypothesis, there are two classes of affixation, separated by what?

Show answer

Answer

Stress

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Question

Which type of affixation changes the phonological process of a word?

Show answer

Answer

Class 1 affixation

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Question

Derivation is also called what?

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Answer

Affixation

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Question

Lexical morphology theories propose the idea that phonology rules and morphology rules work _______ when building the lexicon of a language.

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Answer

together

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Question

What does phonology deal with?

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Answer

Phonology deals with the speech sounds of a language.

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Question

Speech sounds are known as...

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Answer

Phonemes

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Question

True or false?


We need both phonology and morphology rules in order to communicate.

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Answer

True

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Question

If a word makes sense on its own, it is known as a...

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Answer

Free morpheme

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Question

Affixes can be either derivational or what?

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Answer

inflectional

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Question

Derivational affixes are used to...

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Answer

Create new words with new meanings

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Question

Inflectional affixes are used to...

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Answer

Create different forms of the same root word

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Question

Which type of affixation does not change the phonological process of a word?

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Answer

Class 2 affixation

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