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Morphophonemics Analysis Essay


Although there is less empirical research regarding the role that morphological awareness plays in writing extended text compared to reading it, there is research documenting the frequency of various morphological forms in children's written narratives. As in oral language, where children develop inflectional morphology knowledge (tense and plural markers; e.g., walked and birds) by ages six to eight (Menyuk, 1988), children's use of written inflectional forms also precedes their use of all but the most common derivational forms (Carlisle, 1996; Green, McCutchen, Schwiebert, Quinlan, Eva-Wood, & Juelis, 2003). Children's productive use of derivational (i.e., lexical) morphology develops later than their use of inflectional morphology in writing, typically beginning in the early elementary years (Berninger, Abbott, Nagy & Carlisle, 2010; Carlisle, 1996) and continuing to develop throughout the middle elementary years and beyond (Green et al., 2003; McCutchen & Stull, 2015).

In addition, theoretical models of writing suggest some important possible roles for morphological skill during the production of extended text. Hayes and Flower (1980) offered a model of the writing process that consists of three major processes: planning, translating, and reviewing. Planning includes generating ideas, organizing them, and setting goals; translating includes transforming ideas into language; and reviewing includes reading and revising the existing text. Recognizing the increased challenges that translation processes present for young developing writers, Berninger and Swanson (1994) further articulated subcomponents of translating: text generation and transcription. Text generation involves transforming ideas into language whereas transcription involves converting that language into written symbols. Transcription processes thus include spelling, handwriting, and typing, whereas text generation entails more fundamental lexical, syntactic, and rhetorical processes involved in translating ideas into words, sentences, and extended multi-sentence texts.

According to Berninger and Amtmann's simple view of writing (2003), transcription, text generation processes, and higher order executive processes (e.g., planning, goal-setting, revising) all compete for limited working memory resources during writing, especially for young writers. By such an account, increased fluency of transcription and/or text generation (resulting from increased morphological skill) could result in improved writing either because of specific aspects of the language generated (e.g., more precise word choice and accurate spelling, more varied or sophisticated syntactic structures) or because of increased ability to attend to higher level goals, such as planning and revising, as a result of increased available working memory resources (see also McCutchen, 2000). Consistent with this view, Berninger and Swanson (1994) documented that both transcription and text generation skills contributed significantly to composition quality across the intermediate and junior high school years.

Thus, morphological skill may be implicated in children's syntactic development. With the complex syntax that is common of academic language, the syntax that children are asked to read and write becomes increasingly complex as they progress through school (Hunt, 1970; Lawrence et al., 2010; Nagy & Townsend, 2012). Younger children often write by stringing together independent clauses (Hunt, 1970; Crowhurst, 1983), whereas somewhat older children tend to use more clausal subordination. Still more mature writers (indexed by age and writing skill) are able to vary their syntax to suit their intentions, often packing more information into fewer words by reducing clauses into more semantically dense phrases within syntactically simpler sentences. In a linguistic analysis of adolescents' writing, Myhill (2008) found that weaker writers tended to use less variety in their word choice and syntax, often relying on common organizational markers such as when, also, and because. Stronger writers, in contrast, effectively used a greater variety of organizational markers and syntactic structure (see also Dobbs, 2014).

Knowledge of lexical morphology (Jarmulowicz & Taran, 2013), with its morpho-syntactic aspects, could help a writer manage syntactic choices by assisting with the fluent change of verbs into nominalizations, or the reverse, via manipulation of suffixes. Consistent with such an account, Berninger, Nagy, and Beers (2011) found that, among first-grade students, morphological awareness explained unique variance in a sentence-writing task that required syntactic manipulations, and McCutchen and Stull (2015) reported similar findings among fifth-grade students. Additionally, morphological instruction has also been shown to improve children's use of morphologically complex forms in sentences and in multi-sentence written responses (McCutchen, Stull, Herrera, Lotas, & Evans, 2014). McCutchen and Stull's (2015) data also suggested that children use their morphological skill not only to retrieve words they know but also to construct novel morphological forms to fit the developing syntax of their sentences (e.g., solidize, presumably by analogy with crystallize). If students can manipulate words that they already know by altering suffixes, they may be better able to express their intended meaning more precisely and succinctly. Thus, morphemes may serve as a bridge that relates the word level to the sentence level, with word-level manipulations assisting with sentence-level syntax.

Consistent with Berninger and Amtmann's simple view of writing (2003), influences of morphological skill during the generation of extended multi-sentence text could also help writers manipulate written language more effectively to achieve larger rhetorical goals, as well as maintain syntactic accuracy, by freeing working memory resources to attend to those goals. For example, revising the phrase the people who lived in the colonies in America to the American colonists does much more than smooth the syntax; it conveys a more nuanced meaning about the emerging identity of the colonists, which could influence interpretation of entire sections of text and thus help achieve the writer's rhetorical goals. As did Clemens with his use of the word “sentimentering,” a skilled writer can accomplish much with a single word. Thus, while morphological skill has been found to have well documented relationships with reading at the word, sentence and text level, morphological skill may similarly contribute to writing across words, sentences and extended text.

Morphophonology (also morphophonemics or morphonology) is the branch of linguistics that studies the interaction between morphological and phonological or phonetic processes. Its chief focus is the sound changes that take place in morphemes (minimal meaningful units) when they combine to form words.

Morphophonological analysis often involves an attempt to give a series of formal rules that successfully predict the regular sound changes occurring in the morphemes of a given language. Such a series of rules converts a theoretical underlying representation into a surface form that is actually heard. The units of which the underlying representations of morphemes are composed are sometimes called morphophonemes. The surface form produced by the morphophonological rules may consist of phonemes (which are then subject to ordinary phonological rules to produce speech sounds or phones), or else the morphophonological analysis may bypass the phoneme stage and produce the phones itself.

Morphophonemes and morphophonological rules[edit]

When morphemes combine, they influence each other's sound structure (whether analyzed at a phonetic or phonemic level), resulting in different variant pronunciations for the same morpheme. Morphophonology attempts to analyze these processes. A language's morphophonological structure is generally described with a series of rules which, ideally, can predict every morphophonological alternation that takes place in the language.

An example of a morphophonological alternation in English is provided by the plural morpheme, written as "-s" or "-es". Its pronunciation alternates between [s], [z], and [ɪz], as in cats, dogs, and horses respectively. A purely phonological analysis would most likely assign to these three endings the phonemic representations /s/, /z/, /ɪz/. On a morphophonological level, however, they may all be considered to be forms of the underlying object //z//, which is a morphophoneme. The different forms it takes are dependent on the segment at the end of the morpheme to which it attaches: the dependencies are described by morphophonological rules. (The behaviour of the English past tense ending "-ed" is similar: it can be pronounced /t/, /d/ or /ɪd/, as in hoped, bobbed and added.)

The plural suffix "-s" can also influence the form taken by the preceding morpheme, as in the case of the words leaf and knife, which end with [f] in the singular/but have [v] in the plural (leaves, knives). On a morphophonological level, the morphemes may be analyzed as ending in a morphophoneme //F//, which becomes voiced when a voiced consonant (in this case the //z// of the plural ending) is attached to it. The rule may be written symbolically as /F/ -> [αvoice] / __ [αvoice]. This expression is called Alpha Notation in which α can be +(positive value) or -(negative value).

Common conventions to indicate a morphophonemic rather than phonemic representation are double slashes (//  //) (as above, implying that the transcription is 'more phonemic than simply phonemic'), pipes (|  |), double pipes (‖  ‖)[1] and curly brackets ({  }).[2]

For instance, the English word cats may be transcribed phonetically as [ˈkʰæts], phonemically as /ˈkæts/ and morphophonemically as //ˈkætz//, if the plural is argued to be underlyingly //z//, assimilating to /s/ after a voiceless nonsibilant. The tilde ~ may indicate morphological alternation, as in //ˈniː~ɛl+t// for kneel~knelt (the plus sign '+' indicates a morpheme boundary).[3]

Types of changes[edit]

Inflected and agglutinating languages may have extremely complicated systems of morphophonemics. Examples of complex morphophonological systems include:

  • Sandhi, the phenomenon behind the English examples of plural and past tense above, is found in virtually all languages to some degree. Even Mandarin, which is sometimes said to display no morphology, nonetheless displays tone sandhi, a morphophonemic alternation.
  • Consonant gradation, found in some Uralic languages such as Finnish, Estonian, Northern Sámi, and Nganasan.
  • Vowel harmony, which occurs in varying degrees in languages all around the world, notably Turkic languages.
  • Ablaut, found in English and other Germanic languages. Ablaut is the phenomenon wherein stem vowels change form depending on context, as in English sing, sang, sung.

Relation with phonology[edit]

Until the 1950s, many phonologists assumed that neutralizing rules generally applied before allophonic rules. Thus phonological analysis was split into two parts: a morphophonological part, where neutralizing rules were developed to derive phonemes from morphophonemes; and a purely phonological part, where phones were derived from the phonemes. Since the 1960s (in particular with the work of the generative school, such as Chomsky and Halle's The Sound Pattern of English) many linguists have moved away from making such a split, instead regarding the surface phones as being derived from the underlying morphophonemes (which may be referred to using various terminology) through a single system of (morpho)phonological rules.

The purpose of both phonemic and morphophonemic analysis is to produce simpler underlying descriptions of what appear on the surface to be complicated patterns. In the purely phonemic analysis the data is just a set of words in a language, while for the purposes of morphophonemic analysis the words must be considered in grammatical paradigms to take account of the underlying morphemes. It is postulated that morphemes are recorded in the speaker's "lexicon" in an invariant (morphophonemic) form, which, in a given environment, is converted by rules into a surface form. The analyst attempts to present as completely as possible a system of underlying units (morphophonemes) and a series of rules that act on them, so as to produce surface forms consistent with the linguistic data.

Isolation forms[edit]

The isolation form of a morpheme is the form in which that morpheme appears in isolation (when not subject to the effects of any other morpheme). In the case of a bound morpheme, such as the English past tense ending "-ed", it will generally not be possible to identify an isolation form, since such a morpheme does not occur in isolation.

It is often reasonable to assume that the isolation form of a morpheme provides its underlying representation. For example, in some varieties of American English, plant is pronounced [plænt], while planting is [ˈplænɪŋ], where the morpheme "plant-" appears in the form [plæn]. Here the underlying form can be assumed to be //plænt//, corresponding to the isolation form, since rules can be set up to derive the reduced form [plæn] from this (while it would be difficult or impossible to set up rules that would derive the isolation form [plænt] from an underlying //plæn//).

That is not always the case, however; sometimes the isolation form itself is subject to neutralization that does not apply to some other instances of the morpheme. For example, the French word petit ("small") is pronounced in isolation without the final [t] sound, but in certain derived forms (such as the feminine petite), the [t] is heard. If the isolation form were adopted as the underlying form, the information that there is a final "t" would be lost, and it would be hard then to explain the appearance of the "t" in the inflected forms.

Assume that the grammar of a language has two rules, rule A and rule B, with A ordered before B. If, in a given derivation, the application of rule A creates the environment for rule B to apply, which was not present before the application of rule A, rule A and B are in a feeding relationship so rule A feeds rule B.

Assuming again rule A and B, with A ordered before B in the derivation in which rule A destroys the environment to which rule B shall apply, one says A and B are in a bleeding order.

If it is assumed again that a pair of rules A and B, with A ordered before B and B creating an environment to which A could have applied, B is said to counterfeed A, and the relationship is counterfeeding.

If one assumes a pair of rules A and B and A ordered before B is in a counterbleeding relationship if B destroys the environment that A applies to and has already applied, therefore, B ordered after A has missed its chance to bleed A.

Conjunctive ordering is the ordering that ensures that all rules are applied in a derivation before the surface representation is arrived at. One says that rules applied in a feeding relationship are conjunctively ordered.

Disjunctive ordering is a rule that applies and prevents the other rule to apply up to the surface representation. Such rules have a bleeding relationship and are disjunctively ordered.


The principle behind alphabetic writing systems is that the letters (graphemes) represent phonemes. However, in many orthographies based on such systems the correspondences between graphemes and phonemes are not exact, and it is sometimes the case that certain spellings better represent a word's morphophonological structure rather than the purely phonological. An example of this is that the English plural morpheme is written -s regardless of whether it is pronounced as /s/ or /z/; we write cats and dogs, not dogz.

The above example involves active morphology (inflection), and morphophonemic spellings are common in this context in many languages. Another type of spelling that can be described as morphophonemic is the kind that reflects the etymology of words. Such spellings are particularly common in English; examples include science/saɪ/ vs. unconscious/ʃ/, prejudice/prɛ/ vs. prequel/priː/, sign/saɪn/signature/sɪɡn/, nation/neɪ/ vs. nationalism/næ/, and special/spɛ/ vs. species/spiː/.

For more detail on this topic, see Phonemic orthography, in particular, the section on Morphophonemic features.



  • Hayes, Bruce (2009). "Morphophonemic Analysis" Introductory Phonology, pp. 161–185. Blackwell

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