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Morphological patterns, rules and a little more (summary of Ch 3)

Updated: May 8, 2022

Summary of Chapter 3 Understanding Morphology

Morphological patterns

Morphological patterns show correlation between recurrent aspects of meaning and form and are divided into two types - concatenative and non-concatenative. Concatenative operations occur when two or more morphemes are combined, as in affixation (un-relent-ing) or compounding (view-point). All of the other morphological patterns fall under the category of non-concatenative operations, such as base modification and reduplication. However, reduplication as a part of non-concatenative operations creates some confusion and controversy, as it links two morphemes together.

Affixation (concatenative operation)

In affixation, providing the meaning of an affix (e.g. prefixes un- and non- negate a word) does not suffice for its full properties. Even though un- and non- resemble the same meaning, their combinatory potential is different, meaning they attach to different words, which usually (but not always) represent different word-classes. As a result, un- and non- are not interchangeable. Combinatory potentials can be expressed as follows (n.b. ‘_’ stands for the affix and the capital letter - for the word-class; the position of the two morphemes is also indicated):

Combinatory potential of non- [ _N ] non-resident

Combinatory potential of -ing [ V_ ] lov(e)-ing

Combinatory potential of in- [ _A ] in-visible

Combinatory potential of -ly [ A_ ] clear-ly

I would like to add that the examples above provide a single potential combination of these affixes and not the entirety of their possible combinations. Prefix non- can also modify an adjective (non-committal), in- can be attached to a noun (in-action), and -ly can change a noun (or a verb) to an adverb (name-ly).

Base modification (non-concatenative operation)

The definition of base initially provided in Section 2.2 describes it as “the part of a word that an affix is attached to” (p. 36). In the context of non-concatenative operations, the author proposes to redefine base as “the element to which a morphological operation applies” (p. 36).

Base modification (a.k.a. stem modification/alternation) occurs when the base of a word is modified without attaching additional morphemes, as in English verbs sing - sang - sung. Base modification patterns often result from palatalization or vowel fronting, which involve change in place of articulation. Weakening is another way of base modification, which involves change in manner of articulation, in particular lessening (or weakening) the constriction of a sound (e.g. changing a plosive to a fricative). Other types of base modification include gemination (consonant lengthening), lengthening (of vowel) and the opposite of it - shortening (of vowel), tonal change, stress shift, voicing, subtraction (of segment/s), and metathesis (switching of segments). There are more types of base modification that are not included in this chapter. I know that it looks like a lot of terms, but the good news is that most of them are self-explanatory. Looking up etymologies of the terms can make it easier to grasp them. Metathesis meaning "transposition of letters in a word," consists of two parts derived from Greek: meta-, here carrying a meaning “change” and thesis, meaning “position” ("metathesis").

Reduplication (non-concatenative operation or not?)

A morphological operation under which a part of the base or the entire base is duplicated and attached to the base, is called reduplication. When the part that is being attached to the base consists of a reduplicant (copied element) and a fixed element, it is called a duplifix. You can think of a duplifix as a combination of an affix and a reduplicant. An example of a duplifix in Somali that creates plurals is shown below:

buug ‘book’ buug-ag ‘books’

fool ‘face’ fool-al ‘faces’

Despite the fact that reduplication here is defined as a non-concatenative process, it does resemble a concatenative characteristic of attaching another segment to the base. On the other hand, it is a (partial) copy of itself. As matters stand, reduplication can fall under both categories.


Morphological pattern that doesn’t change the form or pronounciation of a word is called conversion. The most common example of conversion in English draws a distinction between verbs and nouns:

Verb Noun

sit sit

work work

step step

love love

Outside the Realm of Morphology

Abbreviations, such as acronyms (e.g. NASA) and alphabetisms (e.g. FBI), clippings (e.g. exam from examination) and blends (e.g. brunch from breakfast and lunch) sometimes can be seen under a category of morphological operations. However, they are not a part of morphology, because their altered forms do not change their meaning.

Two Approaches to Morphological Rules

Here, two approaches will be discussed: the morpheme-based model and the word-based model. The latter emphasizes the “system-external explanation,” and the first focuses on the “inherently restrictive architecture” and draws similarities between syntax and morphology (p. 41).

The morpheme-based model

This approach essentially breaks a word down to morphemes one step at time to describe its morphological structure. This model employs word-structure rules (analogous to phrase-structure rules in syntax), a general formation of which is presented as follows:

Word-structure rules

word-form = stem (+ inflectional suffix)

stem = (i) { (deriv. prefix +) root (+ deriv. suffix) }

(ii) { stem+stem }

inflectional suffix = -s, -er, …

derivational prefix = un-, …

root = bag, event, cheese, board, happy, …

derivational suffix = -ful, -ness, …

You can consider these rules as a set of formulas, where you need to find out what ‘word-form’ amounts to, by identifying the other parts. Having these rules, it is possible to create a complex word following the steps (a) through (f).

The word-based model

As opposed to splitting words into morphemes and describing them as meaningful elements (morpheme-based), the word-based model describes the fundamental meaning of words in their entirety by finding words that resemble the same features. This method uses word-schemas to depict words that express the same morphological pattern (n.t. brackets should cover two line, as depicted in the book):

Words: loves, cares, plays…

Lexical entries for words:

[/lʌvz/ V ] [/kɛɹz/ V ] [/pleɪz/ V ]

[‘loves’ ] [‘cares’ ] [‘plays’ ]


[/Xz/ V ]

[‘plurality of xs’]

The word-schema in (c) has a phonological element, the meaning of which is given below, and it identifies the word-class to which it can be applied. This word-schema is based on the data provided in (b), and can apply to many other words, but not all verbs can match this schema.

The definitions of terms in bold can be found in chapter 3 and in the glossary of the textbook on pages 318-346.

I tried to encompass the main concepts of chapter 3 and make it easier to understand the material. Hope it helped!


Reference List:

Haspelmath, M., & Sims, A.D. (2010). Understanding Morphology (2nd ed.). London, UK: Hodder Education.

metathesis (n.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved from

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