In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description of the structure of morphemes and other units of
meaning in a language such as words, affixes, parts of speech,
intonation/stress, or implied context. (words in a lexicon are the
subject matter of lexicology). Morphological typology represents a
way of classifying languages according to the ways by which morphemes are used in a language —from the analytic that use
only isolated morphemes, through the agglutinative
("stuck-together") and fusional languages that use bound
morphemes (affixes), up to the polysynthetic, which compress lots
of separate morphemes into single words.
While words are generally accepted as being (with clitics) the
smallest units of syntax, it is clear that in most languages, if not all, words can be related to other words by rules (grammars). For
example, English speakers recognize that the words dog and dogs
are closely related — differentiated only by the plurality morpheme
"-s", which is only found bound to nouns, and is never separate. Speakers of English (a fusional language) recognize these relations from their tacit knowledge of the rules of word formation in
English. They infer intuitively that dog is to dogs as cat is to cats;
similarly, dog is to dog catcher as dish is to dishwasher, in one
sense. The rules understood by the speaker reflect specific patterns, or regularities, in the way words are formed from smaller units and how those smaller units interact in speech. In this way, morphology is the branch of linguistics that studies patterns of word formation within and across languages, and attempts to formulate rules that model the knowledge of the speakers of those languages.
A language like Classical Chinese instead uses unbound ("free")
morphemes, but depends on post-phrase affixes, and word order to
convey meaning. However, this cannot be said of present-day Mandarin, in which most words are compounds (around 80%), and most roots are bound.
In the Chinese languages, these are understood as grammars that represent the morphology of the language. Beyond the agglutinative languages, a polysynthetic language like Chukchi will
have words composed of many morphemes: The word
"təmeyŋəlevtpəγtərkən" is composed of eight morphemes
t-ə-meyŋ-ə-levt-pəγt-ə-rkən, that can be glossed
1.SG.SUBJ-great-head-hurt-PRES.1, meaning 'I have a fierce
headache.' The morphology of such languages allow for each
consonant and vowel to be understood as morphemes, just as the
grammars of the language key the usage and understanding of
; 1 History
; 2 Fundamental concepts
o 2.1 Lexemes and word forms
; 2.1.1 Prosodic word vs. morphological word
o 2.2 Inflection vs. word formation
o 2.3 Paradigms and morphosyntax
o 2.4 Allomorphy
o 2.5 Lexical morphology
; 3 Models
o 3.1 Morpheme-based morphology
o 3.2 Lexeme-based morphology
o 3.3 Word-based morphology ; 4 Morphological typology
; 5 References
; 6 Further reading
The history of morphological analysis dates back to the ancient
Indian linguist Pāṇini, who formulated the 3,959 rules of Sanskrit
morphology in the text Aādhyāyī by using a Constituency ṣṭ
Grammar. The Greco-Roman grammatical tradition also engaged in morphological analysis. Studies in Arabic morphology, conducted by Marāḥ al-arwāḥ and Aḥmad b. ‘alī Mas‘ūd, date back
 to at least 1200 CE.
The term morphology was coined by August Schleicher in 1859.
Lexemes and word forms
The distinction between these two senses of "word" is arguably the most important one in morphology. The first sense of "word", the one in which dog and dogs are "the same word", is called a lexeme.
The second sense is called word form. We thus say that dog and
dogs are different forms of the same lexeme. Dog and dog catcher,
on the other hand, are different lexemes, as they refer to two different kinds of entities. The form of a word that is chosen conventionally to represent the canonical form of a word is called a lemma, or citation form.
Prosodic word vs. morphological word
Here are examples from other languages of the failure of a single phonological word to coincide with a single morphological word form. In Latin, one way to express the concept of 'NOUN-PHRASE 1
and NOUN-PHRASE' (as in "apples and oranges") is to suffix 2
'-que' to the second noun phrase: "apples oranges-and", as it were. An extreme level of this theoretical quandary posed by some
phonological words is provided by the Kwak'wala language. In
Kwak'wala, as in a great many other languages, meaning relations between nouns, including possession and "semantic case", are formulated by affixes instead of by independent "words". The
three-word English phrase, "with his club", where 'with' identifies its dependent noun phrase as an instrument and 'his' denotes a possession relation, would consist of two words or even just one word in many languages. Unlike most languages, Kwak'wala semantic affixes phonologically attach not to the lexeme they pertain to semantically, but to the preceding lexeme. Consider the
following example (in Kwakw'ala, sentences begin with what
corresponds to an English verb):
kwixʔid-i-da bəgwanəma-χ-a q'asa-s-is t'alwagwayu ii
Morpheme by morpheme translation:
kwixʔid-i-da = clubbed-PIVOT-DETERMINER
bəgwanəma-χ-a = man-ACCUSATIVE-DETERMINER
q'asa-s-is = otter-INSTRUMENTAL-3SG-POSSESSIVE t'alwagwayu = club.
"the man clubbed the otter with his club"
1. accusative case marks an entity that
something is done to.
2. determiners are words such as "the", "this",
3. the concept of "pivot" is a theoretical construct
that is not relevant to this discussion.)
That is, to the speaker of Kwak'wala, the sentence
does not contain the "words" 'him-the-otter' or
'with-his-club' Instead, the markers -i-da
(PIVOT-'the'), referring to man, attaches not to
bəgwanəma ('man'), but instead to the "verb"; the
markers -χ-a (ACCUSATIVE-'the'), referring to otter,
attach to bəgwanəma instead of to q'asa ('otter'),
etc. To summarize differently: a speaker of
Kwak'wala does not perceive the sentence to
consist of these phonological words:
χ-a-q'asa s-is-t'alwagwayu i
"clubbed PIVOT-the-man i
hit-the-otter with-his-club i
A central publication on this topic is the recent volume edited by Dixon and Aikhenvald (2007), examining the mismatch between
prosodic-phonological and grammatical definitions of "word" in various Amazonian, Australian Aboriginal, Caucasian, Eskimo, Indo-European, Native North American, West African, and sign languages. Apparently, a wide variety of languages make use of the hybrid linguistic unit clitic, possessing the grammatical features of
independent words but the prosodic-phonological lack of freedom of bound morphemes. The
intermediate status of clitics poses a considerable challenge to linguistic theory.
Inflection vs. word formation
Given the notion of a lexeme, it is possible to distinguish two kinds of morphological rules. Some morphological rules relate to different forms of the same lexeme; while other rules relate to different lexemes. Rules of the first kind are called inflectional rules, while those of the second kind are called word formation. The English plural, as
illustrated by dog and dogs, is an inflectional rule;
compound phrases and words like dog catcher or
dishwasher provide an example of a word formation rule. Informally, word formation rules form "new words" (that is, new lexemes), while inflection rules yield variant forms of the "same" word (lexeme). There is a further distinction between two kinds of word formation: derivation and compounding.
Compounding is a process of word formation that involves combining complete word forms into a single compound form; dog catcher is therefore a
compound, because both dog and catcher are
complete word forms in their own right before the compounding process has been applied, and are subsequently treated as one form. Derivation
involves affixing bound (non-independent) forms to
existing lexemes, whereby the addition of the affix derives a new lexeme. One example of derivation is clear in this case: the word independent is derived
from the word dependent by prefixing it with the
derivational prefix in-, while dependent itself is
derived from the verb depend.
The distinction between inflection and word formation is not at all clear cut. There are many
examples where linguists fail to agree whether a given rule is inflection or word formation. The next section will attempt to clarify this distinction. Word formation is a process, as we have said, where you combine two complete words, whereas with inflection you can combine a suffix with some verb to change its form to subject of the sentence. For example: in the present indefinite, we use ‘go’ with subject I/we/you/they and plural nouns, whereas for third person singular pronouns (he/she/it) and singular nouns we use ‘goes’. So this ‘-es’ is an inflectional marker and is used to
match with its subject. A further difference is that in word formation, the resultant word may differ from its source word’s grammatical category whereas in the process of inflection the word never changes its grammatical category.
Paradigms and morphosyntax
A linguistic paradigm is the complete set of related word forms associated with a given lexeme. The familiar examples of paradigms are the
conjugations of verbs, and the declensions of
nouns. Accordingly, the word forms of a lexeme may be arranged conveniently into tables, by classifying them according to shared inflectional categories such as tense, aspect, mood, number,
gender or case. For example, the personal
pronouns in English can be organized into tables, using the categories of person (first, second, third),
number (singular vs. plural), gender (masculine, feminine, neuter), and case (subjective, objective,
and possessive). See English personal pronouns
for the details.