An overview paper about: Morphology (word-formation processes)

Essay, 2000

26 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)



1 Morphology
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Language Structure
1.2.1 Signs (Saussure)
1.3 Peirce
1.3.1 The mental dictionary
1.3.2 Function and content words
1.3.3 Morphemes
1.4 Lexical Morphology
1.4.1 Derivation
1.4.2 Word-Coinage
1.4.3 Compounds and Phrases
1.4.4 Conversion (zero-derivation)
1.4.5 Blends (portmanteau words)
1.4.6 Acronyms
1.4.7 Back-formation
1.4.8 Clippings (abbreviations)
1.5 inflectional (grammatical) morphology
1.5.1 Inflection
1.5.2 Inflectional morphemes
1.5.3 meaning-based approaches (Bybee, Beard, Szymanek)
1.6 Morphology and Syntax
1.7 productivity in morphology
1.7.1 What is productivity?
1.7.2 How does it work?
1.7.3 Acceptance and Indicators of productivity

2 Selected Bibliography
2.1 Internetquellen

3 Appendix
3.1 Saussure

1 Morphology

1.1 Introduction

This paper deals with a fundamental branch of linguistic research. The term fundamental is justified insofar as the ability to analyse a continuous string of sounds into discrete units constitutes a central part of language comprehension. The analysis of morphological structures is situated right at the basic level of a language because it reveals deeper insight into how the smallest meaningful parts of a language are organized. A morphological description includes information about the internal structure of words, the rules that govern these structures and the relationship among words. Furthermore, the linguists' interest in morphology is not just concerned with a mere description of that what already exists – it is also aimed to show in how far a language may be viewed as potentially creative with regard to the invention of new words on the basis of a given set of rules. This process is traditionally referred to as productivity and equated with “linguistic creativity” or “creativity in language”. The corresponding field of linguistic reserach deals with the study of words which goes beyond the limitations of dictionary entries. In this context words, phrases and texts must be seen as larger, complex or non-primitive units that are built up from morphemes in successive stages.

1.2 Language Structure

Traditionally, there is a distinction between three basic ways the morphological system of a language may be structured. First, there are isolating languages that have their meaningful units separated from each other in a string of isolated words (Chinese, Vietnamese). Second, inflecting languages have the word at the centre of a complex unit that carries the basic grammatical categories and information (German, Spanish, Latin, Italian). A third type are agglutinative languages that also have complex words but more loosely connected morphemic elements - these are not so closely associated with the individual words (Turkish, Finnish).

Morphology is a term for that branch of linguistics which deals with the internal structure of the words of a language, the rules that govern these internal structures and the relationship among words.

descriptive theory

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1.2.1 Signs (Saussure)

The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure points out that language is the most important of several systems to express ideas, and that a science that studies the life of signs within society is well conceivable: “On peut donc concevoir une science qui die la vie des signes au sein de la vie sociale'” (Saussure, 1916, p. 33). This new science would be a part of social psychology and consequently of general psychology:

``I shall call it semiology (from the Greek seme 'sign'). Semiology would show what constitutes signs, what laws govern them. Since the science does not yet exist, no one can say what it would be; but it has a right to existence, a place staked out in advance. Linguistics is only a part of the general science of semiology; the laws discovered by semiology will be applicable to linguistics, and the latter will circumscribe a well-defined area within the mass of anthropological facts.''

Ferdinand de Saussure sharply distinguished the diachronic from the synchronic study of language. In order to make his synchronic studies persuasive, Saussure was forced to draw another sharp distinction. He argued for dividing language into three levels,

- (langage,) by which he meant the human capacity to evolve structured communication systems,
- (langue,) what we think of as a language, such as English or French, and
- (parole,) any individual speaker's particular use of the language.

Langue is, according to Saussure, a self-contained whole and thus appropriate object of synchronic study; it refers to the system of rules and conventions which is independent of, and pre-exists, individual users (Colapietro. 1993, p. 86), (Glen & Chandler, 2001). Accordingly, Saussure was chiefly interested in langue as an a-historical phenomenon. Parole, however, refers to the use of this system in particular instances.

In contemporary semiotics, the distinction langue - parole has been generalized to a differentiation between the semiotic system and its usage in specific (con-)texts: ''The distinction is one between between code and message, structure and event or system and usage (in specific texts or contexts)'' (Glen, Chandler, 2001). The system includes rules of use which constrain but do not determine usage (this is analogous to Chomsky's distinction between competence and performance (Chomsky, 1979). To the traditional, Saussurean semiologist, what matters most are the underlying structures and rules of a semiotic system as a whole rather than specific performances or practices which are merely instances of its use (Colapietro, 1993, p. 86).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure: The Saussurean sign model. Source: (Saussure, 1967, p. 78).

While the Saussurean definition of semiology may have inspired much semiotic research of this century, it falls short for many contemporary semioticians. For Saussure, the sign is a composition of the signifier, /dog/ and the signified (our concept of a dog). The real animal (in semiotic terminology, the reference) does not interest him as a linguist (Eco, 1977, p. 31). In the context of natural language, Saussure stressed that there is no necessary, or inherent connection between the signifier and the signified - between the sound or shape of a word and the concept to which it refers. The relationship is purely conventional - dependent on social and cultural conventions. This is not to suggest that the form of a word is random, of course: While the words fish and man are unmotivated, composita like fishermen illustrate the relative arbitrariness of language: the intra-linguistic determination of grammar (Nöth, 2001, p. 340).

Saussure emphasized the differences between signs. He argued that concepts are purely differential and defined not by their positive content but negatively by their relations with the other terms of the system: Their most precise characteristic is in being what the others are not (Saussure, 1967, p. 128). The Saussurean model, with its emphasis on internal structures within a sign system, can be seen as supporting the notion that language does not ``reflect''

reality but rather constructs it (Whorf, 1956).

1.3 Peirce

Peirce's semiotic triangle has become the counter-model to Saussure's dichotomy signified/ signifier. The American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), indeed, was the other key figure in the classic development of semiotics:

''I am, as far as I know, a pioneer, or rather a backwoodsman, in the work of clearing and opening up what I call semeiotic, that is, the doctrine of the essential nature and fundamental varieties of possible semiosis...'' (Peirce, 1935, 5.488).

This semiosis is ''an action, an influence, which is, or involves, a cooperation of three subjects, such as a sign (representamen, MN), its object, and its interpretant, this thri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into action between pairs'' (Peirce, 1935, 5.484). While Saussure's system needs an active sender of signals to make the semiotic process work, Peirce's semiosis-trias can be applied to phenomena that have no sender, such as natural symptoms of an illness that can be detected and interpreted by a medic.

Peirce was clearly fascinated by tripartite structures and made a phenomenological distinction in his three universal categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness: ''Everything is something in itself; this Peirce calls firstness. We might call this initselfness. Everything either actually or potentially reacts against, or opposes itself, to other things; this he calls secondness (over-againstness). Everything is, in some measure, intelligible, if only because it can be related by me to something else'' (Colapietro, 1993, p. 194). Formally and abstractly defined, thirdness is betweenness or mediation.

In contrast to Saussure's self-contained two-termed model of sign (sign as an arbitrary correlation between signifier and signified), Peirce offered a triadic relation between the representamen, the interpretant and the object. Nadin has substituted these terms for more intuitive terminology: the sign vehicle, the sense and the reference object.

1. The representamen [1] (sign vehicle) is the broadest form in which the sign takes place. In Peircean terminology, ''a sign, or representamen, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity'' (Peirce, 1935, 2.228).

2. The interpretant [2] of a sign is the sense made of the sign. Apart from mental interpretants (for example a concept in the Saussurean sense), the Peircean pansemiotic view of the world also considers not-mental interpretants (for example, the plant turning towards the sun) (Colapietro, 1993, p. 171). The interpretant should not be confused with the interpreter: The interpretant is that in which a sign as such results, whereas the interpreter is a personal agent who takes part in and presumably exerts control over a process of interpretation.

3. The (reference) object is that to which the sign points. The difference between the rather conceptual sense of the sign and the concrete referent can be shown in an easy example: The reference semiotician includes the historic persons Charles S. Peirce, Ferdinand de Saussure, Charles Morris, Roland Barthes, and the like; these are some of the beings to whom this sign refers. In contrast, the meaning of semiotician is anyone who investigates, especially in a self-conscious way, the nature and properties of signs.

What might seem like the same triad already offered by Platon and Aristoteles as semainon, semainomenon and pragma, is more complex. The triadic model of the sign and the concept of the semiosis was expanded by Umberto Eco to designate the process by which a culture produces signs and/or attributes meaning to signs. Eco and others criticize the simplified variants of Peirce's triad which keep reappearing under the name ''semiotic triangle'' (Morris, 1938, p. 406). While there seems to be a broad consensus on the triangular shape of the model, the names of the three poles are not only terminological differences: They represent different ways of seeing the process as a whole. Nadin calls this lack of consistent terminology the post-Morris syndrome, ''an intellectual disaster from which semiotics does not seem to recover. The consequences are obvious: the outcome of applied semiotics rarely justifies expectation'' (Nadin, 2001).

1.3.1 The mental dictionary

The words we know are stored in a kind of mental dictionary (lexicon). It includes information about the form and the meaning as well as information about the grammatical category (syntactic class) it belongs to. It is necessary to distinguish between word as a

lexeme, which is the fundamental unit of the lexicon of a language, and word as it refers to the actual word-form (in pronunciation or writing). Word-forms that differ from each other may be referred to as types; the total number of occurrences in a given text is the total number of tokens.


[1] "A Sign, or Representamen, is a First which stands in such a genuine triadic relation to a Second, called its Object, as to be capable of determining a Third, called its Interpretant, to assume the same triadic relation to its Object in which it stands itself to the same Object (, 12.03.03)

[2] The Sign creates something in the Mind of the Interpreter, which something, in that it has been so created by the sign, has been, in a mediate and relative way, also created by the Object of the Sign, although the Object isessentially other than the Sign. And this creature of the sign is called the Interpretant (, 12.03.03).

Excerpt out of 26 pages


An overview paper about: Morphology (word-formation processes)
University of Hamburg  (FB Anglistics)
Seminar II
1,7 (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
481 KB
Morphology, Seminar
Quote paper
Hanno Frey (Author), 2000, An overview paper about: Morphology (word-formation processes), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: An overview paper about: Morphology (word-formation processes)

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free