What Is Morphology?

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  • Topic: Affix, Morpheme, Word
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What is Morphology?
Morphology – the internal structure of words

The term morphology is Greek and is a makeup of morph- meaning 'shape, form', and -ology which means 'the study of something'. The term is used not only in linguistics but also in biology as the scientific study of forms and structure of animals and plants, and in geology as the study of formation and evolution of rocks and land forms. We are going to stick to morphology in linguistics, as the scientific study of forms and structure of words in a language.[1] Morphology as a sub-discipline of linguistics was named for the first time in 1859 by the German linguist August Schleicher who used the term for the study of the form of words.[2] Today morphology forms a core part of linguistics.

What is a word?

If morphology is the study of the internal structure of words, we need to define the word word before we can continue. That might sound easy - surely we all know what a word is. In texts they are particularly easy to spot since they are divided by white spaces. But how do we identify words in speech? A reliable definition of words is that they are the smallest independent units of language. They are independent in that they do not depend on other words which means that they can be separated from other units and can change position.[3] Consider the sentence:

The man looked at the horses.

The plural ending –s in horses is dependent on the noun horse to receive meaning and can therefore not be a word. Horses however, is a word, as it can occur in other positions in the sentence or stand on its own:

The horses looked at the man.
- What is the man looking at? - Horses.

Words are thus both independent since they can be separated from other words and move around in sentences, and the smallest units of language since they are the only units of language for which this is possible.

Morphemes - the building blocks of morphology

Although words are the smallest...
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