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4.11: Morphophonology

  • Page ID
    199911
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    4.5.1 Morpho-phonology, from Sarah Harmon

    Video Script

    There's a phrase that we say with respect to language, that language does not occur in a vacuum. What that means is that language doesn't work just on its own. Any given area of language doesn't just change or stay the same on its own. Every aspect of language is related to every other aspect of language. When we talk about morphology, we can't just talk about lexicon and morphemes; we have to also include other aspects of language. The next several sections in this chapter are going to cover combinations of morphology and some other aspect of language. In this case, we're going to focus on sound so morph-phonology.

    Just to give you a little hint, when we were talking about phonological rules in the previous chapter, some of those rules did not have anything to do with morphology at all. Think about, for example, the aspiration rule in English, when consonants are in the front of a stressed syllable, they get aspirated—that little puff of air. That has nothing to do with the morphology—it has only to do with phonology—so that is a morphologically-irrelevant sound change.

    That being said, in phonology we have seen various types of morphologically-relevant rules:

    • Whether it was the Hebrew reflective pronoun [lehit] that swaps places if the next verb it goes with starts with a sibilant;
    • Whether it's Spanish and its epenthesis rule, the fact that an [s] + consonant cannot start off a word or lexicon; you have to epenthesize, you have to add that [e] in front of it;
    • Whether it’s Classical Latin with respect to some of its lengthening;

    these rules have to do with morphology in some way.

    Let me show you something that probably hits a little closer to home. Look at these pluralized nouns. I've written them, both in the English writing system, as well as in IPA.

    • buts,
    • buds,
    • buses,
    • bushes,
    • batches,
    • badges,
    • buys,
    • bins,
    • bills.

    Notice that we technically write the plural of these nouns, the plural affixes, in one of two ways, either as an -s or as an -es. You were probably taught it has something to do with that sound that goes before. However, look at the IPA we have [-s], we also have [-z], and we have [-ɨz]; for us in western North American English, we tend to see [-ɨz] but in many cases, you also can say [-əz], so it's either a schwa [ə] or a barred 'i', that central high vowel [ɨ]. Either way, there's a vowel there in between that [-z] and the previous syllable. We don't actually have two; we have three forms of that plural suffix, the plural inflection. Can you spot the difference? Can you tell when you use each one of those forms? I'll give you a minute; pause here for a second.

    Okay, are you ready to see the answer?

    The rule is if the last constant of the root is a sibilant—an 's' like sound—then you have a dissimilation rule and you use [-ɨz] or [-əz]. If you have a voiceless consonant as that last consonant sound, then you have [-s], an assimilation rule. If you have any voiced constant or vowel or semi consonant/glide, then you have [-z] as the rule. That is it; it depends on the last sound of that root. Is it a sibilant? Is it voiceless? Or, is it voiced? That is an example of a morph-phonologic rule.

    We talked about phonemes in an earlier chapter, which went in slashes and were the default form, and then allophones, which went in square brackets and went to describe what we actually do what we actually pronounce. The phoneme is always one of those variants and then we have multiple versions. We can do the same with morphemes: the morpheme is going slashes and then how they are realized how they are pronounced are the allomorphs and they go in square brackets. We will work with this more towards the end of the chapter when we go to analyze morphological data sets.


    4.11: Morphophonology is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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