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Morphology: A System of Words

Watch the video, complete these sentences on a piece of paper, then check your answers.

  1. We can represent any idea with a
    sign
    .
  2. Because there is no word for country that sounds like a country, instead we use an
    arbitrary
    name.
  3. A meaningful linguistic unit which cannot be divided into
    smaller
    units is called a morpheme.
  4. The word dogs is
    two
    morphemes.
  5. The
    daily
    average number of words learned by children is nine.
  6. You can
    access
    these words in less than a second.

Watch the video, complete the gaps on a piece of paper, then check your answers.

  1. Morphology is the next level up. Phonology is
    sounds
    . Morphology is words. And human language uses this amazing trick described by Ferdinand de Saussure, the great linguist, as "the
    arbitrariness
    of the sign." And what this means is we can use — take any
    arbitrary
    idea in the world, the idea of a chair or a story or a country, and make a sound or a sign to connect to it. And the
    link
    is
    arbitrary
    . You might choose to use a word for "dog" as "woof woof" because it sounds like a dog but you can’t use a word for "country" that sounds like a country. You could use a sign language thing for "drink" that looks sort of like the act of drinking but you can’t use a sign language word for "country" that looks like a country, or for "idea" that looks like an idea.
  2. So, the way languages work is it allows for
    arbitrary
    naming. It allows for this map between a
    symbol
    , say a spoken word, and any sort of thought we want to use. And those
    arbitrary
    mappings, as we come to learn them, make up the
    vocabulary
    of a language. I’m talking about words but the more
    technical
    term is "morpheme." And what a morpheme is is the smallest
    meaningful
    unit in a language. Now often, this is the same thing as a word. So, "dog" is a word. And "dog" is also a morpheme, but not always because there are single morphemes and then there are words that are
    composed
    of many morphemes. So, "dogs" and "complained" are one word, but two morphemes and what this means is that you make the word by putting together two morphemes. To put it differently, in order to know what "dogs" means, you never had to learn the word "dogs." All you had to know is the word "dog" and the plural morpheme ‘s’ and you could put them together to
    create
    a word.
  3. How many morphemes does the average speaker know? The answer is fairly startling. The average speaker knows, as a low-ball
    estimate
    , about 60,000 words. I think the proper
    estimate
    is closer to 80,000 or 100,000. What this means, if you
    average
    it out, is that since children start learning their first words at about their first year of life, they learn about nine new words a day. And it’s not a
    continuous
    nine words every day. It goes up and down
    depending
    on the age. But still, the amount of words we know is staggering. How many of you know more than one language pretty fluently? Those of you who know other languages might have in your heads 200,000 words or 300,000 words and you’re
    accessing
    them in a fraction of a second. It is — could
    legitimately
    be seen as one of the most astonishing things that people do.

  1. Morphology is the next level up. Phonology is sounds. Morphology is words. And human language uses this amazing trick described by Ferdinand de Saussure, the great linguist, as "the arbitrariness of the sign." And what this means is we can use - take any arbitrary idea in the world, the idea of a chair or a story or a country, and make a sound or a sign to connect to it. And the link is arbitrary. You might choose to use a word for "dog" as "woof woof" because it sounds like a dog but you can’t use a word for "country" that sounds like a country. You could use a sign language thing for "drink" that looks sort of like the act of drinking but you can’t use a sign language word for "country" that looks like a country, or for "idea" that looks like an idea.
  2. So, the way languages work is it allows for arbitrary naming. It allows for this map between a symbol, say a spoken word, and any sort of thought we want to use. And those arbitrary mappings, as we come to learn them, make up the vocabulary of a language. I’m talking about words but the more technical term is "morpheme." And what a morpheme is is the smallest meaningful unit in a language. Now often, this is the same thing as a word. So, "dog" is a word. And "dog" is also a morpheme, but not always because there are single morphemes and then there are words that are composed of many morphemes. So, "dogs" and "complained" are one word, but two morphemes and what this means is that you make the word by putting together two morphemes. To put it differently, in order to know what "dogs" means, you never had to learn the word "dogs." All you had to know is the word "dog" and the plural morpheme ‘s’ and you could put them together to create a word.
  3. How many morphemes does the average speaker know? The answer is fairly startling. The average speaker knows, as a low-ball estimate, about 60,000 words. I think the proper estimate is closer to 80,000 or 100,000. What this means, if you average it out, is that since children start learning their first words at about their first year of life, they learn about nine new words a day. And it’s not a continuous nine words every day. It goes up and down depending on the age. But still, the amount of words we know is staggering. How many of you know more than one language pretty fluently? Those of you who know other languages might have in your heads 200,000 words or 300,000 words and you’re accessing them in a fraction of a second. It is - could legitimately be seen as one of the most astonishing things that people do.

Paul Bloom, Introduction to Psychology (Yale University: Open Yale Courses), https://oyc.yale.edu (Accessed 10 June 2013). Licence: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA. Terms of Use