Research in Morphology
Find out more about how linguists research Morphology through looking at some example research.
Shouldn’t it be Breakfunch?
A really interesting example of research on morphology is a journal article which looks into blending and blend structure. But before looking at this research, you need to know what these things mean!
What is Blending and Blend Structure?
Blending is a process where a new word is created by combing non-morphemic parts (see column on the right for explanation) of two or more already existing words. These are either shortened and put together or are already overlapping. As you can see in the examples below blends are usually made up by the first part of one word and the last part of another. Some well-known examples in English are:
brunch (breakfast + lunch)
Most speakers don’t realise that blends are actually fusions of words as they are often very well integrated in the language. Did you know that the computer term bit is actually a blend of binary and digit, and modem it put together by modulator and demodulator?
Therefore, the Blend Structure is the way in which the two source words have been put together (blended) to form the new word.
Examples of blending in English
While blending may not be considered one of the most productive forms of new word formation, it nonetheless gives us some valuable new words – some of which can be very entertaining!
We’ve all heard of words such as brunch (breakfast + lunch) and smog (smoke + fog), and probably are very aware that these are the result of blending- but some words become so much a part of our language that we forget their origins!
Glimmer = gleam + shimmer
Moped= motor + pedal
Sitcom= situation + comedy
And then there are the blends that make obscure words, words that wouldn’t come about if it weren’t for the development of new technology and a developing social culture:
Chexting= cheating + texting
Textpectation = texting + expectation
Flirtationship = Flirting + relationship
Most of these kinds of constructions are made for slang use, whereas ones such as glimmer and moped have earned their places in dictionaries and are now considered words within their own right!
Shouldn’t it be Breakfunch? – The journal article
So now you’re all clued up on the process of blending and the concept of blend structure and how Blendiferous it all is we can now give you a real example of linguistic research into this morphological phenomenon. The research is presented in a Journal Article entitled:
Shouldn’t it be Breakfunch? A quantitative analysis of blend structure in English by Stefan Th. Gries.
As you will find out if you go to university, journal articles can be really wordy and really long and rather difficult to get your head around! This is because they are written by researchers for other researchers to read so the writing style is very different to what you would find in textbooks. However, in this case we have just summarised the main points of the research to enable you to understand it.
- The research investigates the word-formation process of blending in English and its main aim is to find out what factors determine why certain words are blended together in such a way.
- The paper analyses the orthographic and phonemic structure of blends on a quantitative basis. The table below, taken from the journal article, shows the blend structure of the word Brunch which has been formed from the source words Breakfast and Lunch. It indicates the percentages of each word that appear in the blend.
- The main factors discussed in relation to the blend structure of words are:
- the amount of information each source word contributes.
- the similarity of the source words to the blend.
- The method that was used by Gries (the researcher) to produce the results included statistical tests using quantitative data. Mathematical equations and statistics are often important aspects of Linguistic Research when analysing data.
- The results show that the amount of material contributed by the words is determined by the degree of recognisability of the source words and that the similarity of source words to the blend plays a vital role in blend formation.
Here you can download and read the whole journal article.
 O’Grady, W., (1997). Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction. London: Longman.
 Gries, S. T., (2004). Shouldn’t it be Breakfunch? A Quantitative Analysis of Blend Structure in English. New York: Walter de Gruyter & Co.
The Journal article (Bauer, 2004) summarises the morphological process of word-formation as well as distinguishing Inflectional and Derivational morphology. This short article firstly examines the question of the function of word formation and gives an explanation in relation to:
- Lexical enrichment function e.g., new words are coined to denote new concepts.
- Transpositional function: words with fixed word class are able to appear in a new word class and thus the same meaning can be transferred to a new function in the sentence.
This then leads to a question of the difference between Inflectional and Derivational morphology.
Bauer (2004) defines word-formation as a process with the result of a new lexeme. A lexeme is the form of the word which is considered to be the ‘standard form’, it is the form of the word which it is categorized as within dictionary. There are two types of word-formation:
Compounding is the formation of a new word by combining tow or more existing words.
E.g. Green + House = Greenhouse
Derivational morphology is ‘the formation of a word from another word or base’ (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/derivation). There a are a number of different types of derivation including:
E.g., network (noun) – to network (verb)
E.g., editor (noun) – edit (verb)
E.g., smoke (noun) + fog (noun) = smog (noun)
Embedded below is a brief video which outlines the process of word-formation and gives a description of the difference between inflectional and derivational morphology:
Inflectional Morphology Vs. Derivational Morphology
Plank: “categories of inflection and derivation are prototypical categories, from which the categories of individual languages may differ”
Anderson: “inflectional morphology is what is relevant to the syntax”
Inflection= Grammatical changes e.g., Pluralisation Dog – Dogs
Derivation= Lexical changes e.g., Respect – Respectful
Function is to expand the lexicon by modifying the meaning of existing lexemes.
- Gender marking- Princess from Prince
- Morphology which marks agents, patients, instruments, location- Kill to killer, interview to interviewee, blend-blender, dine to diner
Below is a list of possible affixes categorised as either derivational or inflectional:
The table below shows the differences between inflectional and derivational morphology:
Haspelmath (1996) argues that it's possible to have word class changing inflection e.g., adverbs -ly.
* quick – quickly
* free – freely
* swift – swiftly
Chomsky (1970) argues that nominalisation isn’t inflectional and that it changes a verb to a noun.
* believe – belief
*laugh – laughter
* marry – marriage
These two processes are very different.
- Follows a regular and conventional pattern by adding –ly
- General and productive
- More irregular and unpredictable e.g., believe – belief
- Semantics of English nominalisations are neither regular nor constrained by the affix or morphological process used
What can be concluded from this?
- Bauer (2004) concludes that by approaching the initial question of the ‘function of word formation’, through the analysis of both lexical enrichment and transpositional function, one is able to provide a solution to the problem of what word formation’s purpose is (forming new words and allowing words to appear in different contexts within a sentence).
- This is because the two allow you to differentiate between inflectional and derivational morphology due to the fact that lexical enrichment relates to derivational morphology whilst the transpositional function focuses on inflectional morphology (relevant to the syntax).
 Bauer, L. (2004). The function of word-formation and the inflection-derivation distinction. In: H. Aertsen et al.(eds.). (2004). Words in their Places. Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit. pp: 283-292.
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