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What is the definition of morpheme? The smallest grammatical or meaningful unit?

asked 2016-11-09 16:43:51 -0500

kf0134 gravatar image

“In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit in a language. In other words, it is the smallest meaningful unit of a language.” Yet, this definition sometimes appears to be troublesome because ‘the smallest grammatical unit’ and the smallest meaningful unit’ do not seem to be in a one-to-one relation. Past tense
(1) walk-past = walk-ed
semantic unit [past] = grammatical unit [-ed]

(2) a. burn-past =burned/burnt (similar: Dreamed or dreamt) semantic unit [past] = grammatical unit [ed] / [t] b. Knitted vs. knit Knit-[past] = grammatical unit [ed]/[0] In (1) the smallest semantic unit [past] is the equivalent of the smallest grammatical unit. They are in one-to-one relation. On the other hand in (2) the smallest semantic unit [past] has two grammatical forms. What is the morpheme for the past tense in (2)? Is it [past] or /ed/? If the latter is the answer, why is [past] wrong/not used as a morpheme? Why is the definition of “grammatical unit” used, independently from “semantic unit” even though the semantic unit [past] appears to be the equivalent of the “abstract” grammatical unit /ed/? Why is it the case that the two types of concepts for a morphine needed? One more relating question is regarding allomorphs. “Allomorphs are variants of a morpheme that differ in pronunciation but are semantically identical.” The word ‘morpheme’ appears to mean “abstract grammatical unit” that is uniquely connected with a specific semantic unit. Is this interpretation correct? If so, again why is it the case that the two types of concepts for a morphine needed?

Thanks KF

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answered 2018-11-12 00:51:05 -0500

“In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit in a language. In other words, it is the smallest meaningful unit of a language.” The "smallest meaningful unit" statement is patently incorrect. As you have pointed out, the smallest "meaningful unit" is lexical rather than grammatical, and thereby expressed by the stem of the target word rather than by the grammatical morpheme.

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Asked: 2016-11-09 16:43:51 -0500

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Last updated: Nov 09 '16