An Introduction to English Morphology: Words and Their Structure
The term ‘word’ is part ofeveryone’s vocabulary. We all think we understand what words are. What’s more, we are right to think this, at some level. In this book I will not suggest that our ordinary notion of the word needs to be replaced with something radically different. Rather, I want to show how our ordinary notion can be made more precise. This will involve teasing apart the bundle ofingredients that go to make up the notion, showing how these ingredients interact, and introducing ways oftalking about each one separately. After reading this book, you will still go on using the term ‘word’ in talking about language, both in everyday conversation and in more formal contexts, such as literary criticism or English language study; but I hope that, in these more formal contexts, you will talk about words more conﬁdently, knowing exactly which ingredients ofthe notion you have in mind at any one time, and able where necessary to use appropriate terminology in order to make your meaning absolutely clear.
This is a textbook for students ofthe English language or of English literature, not primarily for students oflinguistics. Nevertheless, what I say will be consistent with mainstream linguistic views on word- structure, so any readers who go on to more advanced linguistics will not encounter too many inconsistencies.
A good way ofteasing apart the ingredients in the notion ‘word’ is byexplicitly contrasting them. Here are the contrasts that we will be looking at, and the chapters where they will be discussed:
• words as units of meaning versus units of sentence structure (Chapters 2, 6, 7)
• words as pronounceable entities (‘word forms’) versus more abstract entities (sets of word forms) (Chapters 3, 4, 5)
• inﬂectionally related word forms (forms of the same ‘word’) versus deriva-tionally related words (different ‘words’ with a shared base) (Chapters 4, 5)
• the distinction between compound words and phrases (Chapters 6, 7)
• the relationship between the internal structure of a word and its meaning (Chapter 7)
• productive versus unproductive word-forming processes (Chapter 8)
• historical reasons for some of the contemporary divisions within English morphology, especially Germanic versus Romance word-formation processes (Chapter 9).
These various contrasts impact on one another in various ways. For example, if one takes the view that the distinction between compound words and phrases is unimportant, or is even perhaps a bogus distinction fundamentally, this will have a considerable effect on how one views the word as a unit of sentence-structure. Linguistic scholars who specialize in the study of words (so-called ‘morphologists’) devote considerable effort to working out the implications of different ways of formulating these distinctions, as they strive to discover the best way (that is, the most illuminating way, or the way that seems to accord most accurately with people’s implicit knowledge of their native languages). We will not be exploring the technical ramiﬁcations of these efforts in this book. Never- the less, I will need to ensure that the way I draw the distinctions here yields a coherent overall picture, and some cross-referencing between chapters will be necessary for that.
Each of Chapters 2 to 9 inclusive is provided with exercises. This is designed to make the book suitable for a course extending over about ten weeks. Relatively full discussions of the exercises are also provided at the end of the book. For those exercises that are open-ended (that is, ones for which there is no obvious ‘right’ answer), these discussions serve to illustrate and extend points made in the chapter.
As beﬁts a book aimed at students of English rather than linguistics students, references to the technical literature are kept to a minimum. However, the ‘Recommendations for reading’ at the end of each chapter contain some hints for any readers who would like to delve into this literature, as well as pointing towards more detailed treatments of English morphology in particular.
Finally, I would like to encourage comments and criticisms. My choice of what to emphasise and what to leave out will inevitably not please everyone, nor will some of the details of what I say. I hope, how- ever, that even those who ﬁnd things to disagree with in this book will also ﬁnd it useful for its intended introductory purpose, whether as students, teachers or general readers.