Language is a means of forming and storing ideas as reflections of reality and exchanging them in the process of human intercourse. Language is social by nature; it is insep­arably connected with the people who are its creators and users; it grows and develops together with the development of society.*

Language incorporates the three constituent parts ("sides"), each being inherent in it by virtue of its social nature. These parts are the phonological system, the lexical system, the grammatical system. Only the unity of these three ele­ments forms a language; without any one of them there is no human language in the above sense.

The phonological system is the subfoundation of language; it determines the material (phonetical) appearance of its significative units. The lexical system is the whole set of naming means of language, that is, words and stable word-groups. The grammatical system is the whole set of regular­ities determining the combination of naming means in the formation of utterances as the embodiment of thinking pro­cess.

Each of the three constituent parts of language is stud­ied by a particular linguistic discipline. These disciplines, presenting a series of approaches to their particular objects of analysis, give the corresponding "descriptions" of language consisting in ordered expositions of the constituent parts in question. Thus, the phonological description of language is effected by the science of phonology; the lexical description of language is effected by the science of lexicology; the grammatical description of language is effected by the science of grammar.

Any linguistic description may have a practical or theo­retical purpose. A practical description is aimed at providing the student with a manual of practical mastery of the cor­responding part of language (within the limits determined by various factors of educational destination and scientific possibilities). Since the practice of lingual intercourse, how­ever, can only be realized by employing language as a unity of all its constituent parts, practical linguistic manuals more often than not comprise the three types of description pre­sented in a complex. As for theoretical linguistic descrip­tions, they pursue analytical aims and therefore present the studied parts of language in relative isolation, so as to gain insights into their inner structure and expose the intrinsic mechanisms of their functioning. Hence, the aim of theoret­ical grammar of a language is to present a theoretical des­cription of its grammatical system, i.e. to scientifically analyze and define its grammatical categories and study the mechanisms of grammatical formation of utterances out of words in the process of speech making.

In earlier periods of the development of linguistic knowledge, grammatical scholars believed that the only pur­pose of grammar was to give strict rules of writing and speak­ing correctly. The rigid regulations for the correct ways of expression, for want of the profound understanding of the social nature of language, were often based on purely sub­jective and arbitrary judgments of individual grammar compilers. The result of this "prescriptive" approach was, that alongside of quite essential and useful information, non-existent "rules" were formulated that stood in sheer contradiction with the existing language usage, i.e. lingual reality. Traces of this arbitrary prescriptive approach to the grammatical teaching may easily be found even in to-date's school practice.

Modern linguistics lays a special stress on the system­ic character of language and all its constituent parts. It ac­centuates the idea that language is a system of signs (mean­ingful units) which are closely interconnected and interde­pendent. Units of immediate interdependences (such as classes and subclasses of words, various subtypes of syntactic constructions, etc.) form different microsystems (subsystems) within the framework of the global macrosystem (supersys-tem) of the whole of language.

Each system is a structured set of elements related to one another by a common function. The common function of all the lingual signs is to give expression to human thoughts.

Morphology is the study of word structure, that is, the study of the way words are formed, how the parts of words relate to each other, and how words themselves relate to each other. It is also the study of the way that word structure relates to other areas of grammar, for instance, pronunciation (phonology) and sentence structure (syntax). Finally, an important aspect of morphology which is becoming increasingly important is the study of how the structure of words is related to the meanings of words.

In this chapter I present a brief overview of the basic concepts in morphology and the basic phenomena that morphology deals with. Most of these will be taken up in much more detail in later chapters. We begin by characterizing what we mean by ‘word’. It turns out that the ordinary English word covers a variety of different concepts which need to be teased apart if we are to avoid confusion.

The lexeme concept


How many words are listed in (1)?


(1) {cat, dog}


Clearly two. How many are listed in (2)?


(2) {cat, cats}


In a sense there are also two words here, but in another sense there is only one word, ‘cat’, with two forms, cat and cats. If you look in a dictionary under ‘cat’, you’ll only find the one form, cat. The plural, cats, is formed by a completely general rule of English and there is no need to list it separately. We can describe cat as ‘the singular form of the word “cat”’ and cats as ‘the plural form of the word “cat”’. It is rather useful to have different terms for the two different senses of the word ‘word’ here. We will therefore say that there is a lexeme ‘cat’ which has two word forms, cat and cats. We will write the names of lexemes in small capitals from now on. Thus, we speak of the lexeme CAT. For the present we will think of a lexeme as a single meaning associated with a set of word forms.

The lexeme concept is also valuable for analysing verbs. Consider the examples in (3):


(3) a. Tom will walk to work

b. Tom walks to work

c. Tom is walking to work

d. Tom walked to work


Here we see various forms of the lexeme WALK: {walk, walks, walking, walked}. Again, these forms can all be produced by perfectly regular rules of English grammar. The form walking has a variety of uses and this will be discussed in more detail in Chapter Two. The form walked expresses a tense form (past tense), indicating the time of the event relative to the time of speaking (i.e. some time in the past). The form walks is used just when the subject is of the type Tom, Harriet, the girl, she, i.e. when the subject is third person (not I or you) and singular (ruling out they or the boys). We say that the form walks agrees with the subject for the grammatical properties of person (third) and number (singular).

We will discuss the notion of ‘word’ in more detail later in subsequent chapters, and refine the notion of lexeme considerably. For instance, we will need to know exactly what we mean by saying that a lexeme has a ‘single meaning’ and what it means to be a form of a lexeme.



Morpheme – is the 2d main unit of the language structure. The shortest structural unit which carried a definite gr. meaning. The smallest dependent meaningful unit. Has gr. form and meaning, i.e. is bilateral

1) free (can be used as separate words) and bound (are never used as separate words)

When we consider a word such as printers we can easily break it down into its component parts: print-er-s. Moreover, it seems equally clear that each part has its own meaning which it contributes to the meaning of the whole word: print means whatever it means (let’s say: ‘to cause images to be put upon paper by a specific technological process’), -er means ‘person or thing that ...’ and -s means ‘plural’. The meaning of the whole word is then derived by ‘adding together’ these individual meanings, just as we saw when we discussed derived lexemes in Chapter Two. We can represent the result as something like (1):

print er s

The meaning in (1) is a little easier to appreciate if we write it as in (2):

The important thing here is that the three components, print, -er, -s, can’t be broken down further into smaller meaningful units. The three components we have isolated can be thought of as the indivisible building blocks of the word, morphological elementary particles. Such building blocks, in which a root or affix is paired with its meaning, are called morphemes. A standard definition of morpheme is ‘the smallest indivisible meaningful unit of a word’.

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