Morphology: A System of Words
Watch the video, complete these sentences on a piece of paper, then check your answers.
- We can represent any idea with a
- Because there is no word for country that sounds like a country, instead we use an
- A meaningful linguistic unit which cannot be divided into
- The word dogs is
- You can
Watch the video, complete the gaps on a piece of paper, then check your answers.
- Morphology is the next level up. Phonology is
- So, the way languages work is it allows for
- How many morphemes does the average speaker know? The answer is fairly startling. The average speaker knows, as a low-ball
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.