MORPHEME, MORPHS AND ALLOMORPHS


          Minimal units of grammatical structure, such as the four components of un faith fulness are called morphemes. Telephones has three morphemes 

[tele}, phone, and {-s} while telephone has two and phone just one. Morphemes are customarily described as minimal units of grammatical analysis the-units of 'lowest rank of which words, the units of next 'highest rank are composed. So morphemes are those distinct, minimal syntactical units which form words. They can also be defined as the minimal units of meaning out of which meaningful words are composed in various ways. 

          A morpheme thus is a distinct linguistic form. It is a minimal unit of speech that is recurrent. It has a grammatical function. It is a semantically different form other phonemically similar or identical linguistic forms, and is not divisible or analyzable into smaller forms. If we try to break or analyze a morpheme into its constituents, it loses its identity, and we end up with a sequence of meaningless noises, e.g., nation (na+tion, or nati+on). Analyzing the morphomes leads us straight into the realm of phonology.

          Morphemes may or may not have meaning, may or may not have a phonological representation, {un-} has a negative meaning in unfriendly unhealthy, unable, unemployed and many other words, but is meaningless in under. 

{-er} has a constant meaning in teacher, heater, reader, writer, speaker, painter, leader, etc. But it would be difficult to pin down any constant meaning for spect in respect, inspect circumspect, for pre in and spectacle protest, professor, prospective, process, proceed, etc. In plural words like sheep, fish we have two morphemes in each words; the first morpheme in each case has a phonological representation but the second one has no phonological representation and is called morpheme. Morphologically the plural noun sheep is {sheep}+{}, that is to say that the word 'sheep' is made up of two morphemes sheep plus a plural morpheme which is present in the meaning but is not physically present in spelling or pronunciation.

          Morphemes sometimes vary in their phonological manifestations. Pro, for instance, is pronounced different in profess and the noun progress. The plural morpheme is pronounced {s} in words like cats, maps and snacks; {z}in dogs, hands, and ideas; {iz} in words like churches, judges, classes; but it has no phonetic form at all in the plural nouns such as sheep, fish, etc. Then there are completely idiosyncratic forms such as oxen, children, brethren. It is not always clear whether or not a given sound sequence, should be considered a morpheme. For instance, should animal be said to consist of two morphemes anima (a) and (b) I, or just one? consider natural: it has two morphemes {nature} and {-al}. Shouldn't we then regard woman as a word having two morphemes {wo-} and {man}? A sound sequence is a morpheme in some words; it is not in some others. Un clearly in a morpheme in unnatural and unfaithful but it is not a morpheme in under or sun.

          A morpheme may be monosyllabic as {man} and {a/an/the} or polysyllabic as {happy} and {nature}.

          A morpheme has been called 'a grammatical moneme' by Martinet. Another synonym for the morpheme is 'glosseme'.

          Morphemes are usually put into braces, i.e. curly brackets {} { the } { help }{ -less } { boy }{  -s }


MORPHS


          Any phonemic shape or representation of a phoneme is a morph (Hockott). Each morph, like each phone, or each person or each day, happens only once and then it is gone. To quote John Lyons, "When the word can be segmented in to pact, these segments are referred to as morphs." Thus the word shorter is analyzable in two morphs, which can be written orthographically as short and er, and in a phonological transcription /t/ and //. Each morph represents a particular morpheme, but each morpheme does not have a morph. For example, the plural noun sheep has one morph, but it has two morphemes {sheep} and {} went has one morph, but two morpheme {go} and [ed}.


ALLOMORPHS

 

           It frequently happens that a particular morpheme is not represented everywhere by the same morph, but by different morphs in different environments. The alternative phonological manifestation or representations of such a morpheme are called allomorphs or 'morpheme alternats' or 'morpheme variant'. An allomorph, therefore, is a non-distinctive variant of a morpheme. Or, it may be called a family or class of morphs which are phonemically and semantically identical, that is, an allomorph is a family of morphs which are alike in two ways: (1) in the allophones of which they are composed and, (ii) in the meaning which they have" (Nelson Francis).

          The allomorphs are phonologically conditioned. Their forms are dependent on the adjacent phonemes. Or else, they are morphologically conditioned. That is when morphemes are affected by their phonological environment 'sandhi', they become allomorphs. For example, /-z/, /-s/, and  /-iz/, are the various allomorphs of the plural morpheme {-z} in English.

          The study of different shapes of allomorphs is half way between phonology and morphology and is sometimes referred to as morphophonology or morphonology. In America where phonology, is considered as part of descriptive, synchronic linguistics has relied phonemic analysis, the term morphophonemic is used for this aspect of grammar.

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