The Morpheme-Phoneme Relationship: Morpho-Phonemic Rules

2021-05-11 12:39:29
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Language is one of the most complex forms of communication comprised of structural underlying rules that determine the nature, structure, meaning, and application of a word. It is composed of five components namely syntax, context, lexemes, morphemes, and phonemes (Finnegan, 2012). They work alongside grammar, pragmatics, and semantics to create a smooth-flowing form of communication among people. A syntax is defined as the set of rules by which people construct full sentences and context are the unity in function of all aspects and components of language. A lexeme denotes the set of all the modified forms of a word. The primary focus of this paper is on morphemes, phonemes, and the relationship between the two. It also seeks to explore the validity of theories on the trends of these two components, and how the two should relate in the present form of language. To first understand the relationship between the two, we need to determine the definition and function of each aspect on its own.

Phoneme

A phoneme is defined as the smallest unit of sound that bears any meaning in language (Finnegan, 2012). They are responsible for changing meaning within the language but lack true sense when on their own. Phonemes vary according to language. For example, the standard British English has 44 phonemes, whereas the Spanish language has only 24.The Arabic language has 34 phonemes. They can be divided into consonant and vowel phonemes, with each representing a different sound. Examples of the application of phonemics in words include the words chef, choir, and cheese. In each of the words, the ch has a different pronunciation represented by three phonemes. The word chef is represented by phoneme //, choir by /k/, and cheese by /t/. Some phonemes may have more than one pronunciation and these are known as allophones. They are however not considered as phonemes because they dont alter the meaning of a word, but are based on how people with different accents pronounce those words. For example, the word butter may be pronounced with phoneme [t] and [], but does not alter its meaning.

A comparison of Spanish and English indicates that Spanish and English have similarities in phonology (Inkelas, 2014). They both use the Roman alphabet which provides a phonemic foundation. Secondly, approximately 40% of all English words have a similar sounding related Spanish one. Thirdly, other than a few word order exceptions, the sentences in both languages have a similar basic structure. However, there still exist phonemic differences between the two. While Spanish has only five vowels, English is comprised of 14 depending on dialects (Inkelas, 2014). The difference makes Spanish speakers struggle to differentiate between vowel phonemes in words. For example, the word "si" means "yes: in Spanish, but it is also the phoneme in the English words "sit" and "seat."

When compared to the Arabic language, English has three times more the number of vowel sounds (Inkelas, 2014). This makes English learners of Arabic language struggle to distinguish words like ship and sheep, bad and bed. There are also consonant-related differences. There is a large overlap between the phonemes in both languages, but some of them fail to map well on the Arabic phonemes. For example, they are unable to pronounce the th Arabs learning English also struggle with consonant clusters. They are unable to pronounce words with two or more adjacent consonant, for example, the phenome spl in split. They tend to add an extra vowel, for instance, pronouncing the word as spilit. Arab speakers also struggle with the stress pattern in English syllables especially in elision of sound. They respond to glottal stopping before vowel phonemes in a staccato for of speech.

Morpheme

A morpheme is defined as the smallest linguistic unit of a word that is not divisible into meaningful parts. It is made up of a word, or part of a word that bears meaning and any alterations made to it renders the word meaningless. It also has a relatively stable similar meaning in each environment. They can be classified as free or bound morphemes. Free morphemes are those that occur as isolated words, and bound morphemes are unable to stand alone as separate words. For example, in any given sentence, any word stands on its own as a morpheme, but this word cannot be divided into smaller parts without losing meaning. In the statement I am hungry, the words I, am, and hungry are free morphemes. The bound ones are made up of two separate classes known as roots or bases and affixes. The base is a morpheme that gives a word its principle meaning. For example, the word womanly has two morphemes, woman and ly. Woman is the free morpheme whereas ly is the bound one. The word woman is also the free base in the word. An example of a bound base is the sent in the word dissent.

An affix is an example of a bound morpheme occurring before or after the root. An affix coming before a base is known as a "prefix." Examples include un-, dis-, pre-, and ante- as in unpopular, disrespectful, prehistoric, and antenatal. One that comes after a base is known as a "suffix." For example, -ly in sadly, -er in worker, -ism in tourism, and ness in madness. Affixes can further be classified as derivational and inflectional affixes. Derivational are those whose purpose is to alter the meaning by building on the base of a word. For example, the affix "-un" in unpopular changes its meaning. Adding "-er" to work to make it "worker" changes the word from a verb to a noun. It is important to note that all English prefixes are derivational. However, suffixes may take either form. An inflectional suffix serves to transform the function of words. For example, -ly in friendly changes the word to an adjective without changing it meaning. There only exists eight inflectional suffixes in English. For example, adding s at the end of a word to change it into plural form as in dogs, adding er to introduce a comparative form as in bigger, and adding ed at the end of a word to transform it into the past tense as in walked.

The article intends to determine whether morphemes are trends of phonemes, and the validity of the theory. To successfully do that, the following section explores the theories and trends in both components and afterwards make a case through comparison as to whether morphemes should be treated as trends to phonemes.

Main Trends in Phoneme Theory

There are three recognized trends in phonetics namely mentalistic or psychological, functional, and physical theories (Pavey, 2010). In the psychological approach, phonemes are regarded as ideal mental images or targets aimed at by speakers. It is also an image that a speaker has in mind when pronouncing variants. The dialogue recognition of a target phoneme digresses from the ideal due to its particularities of the narrator`s expressive organs and the influence of adjacent sounds.

The functional phoneme theory defines a phoneme as a small sound unit that differentiates meaning without regard to the actual pronunciation of the words (Finnegan, 2012). It does not put into consideration the structure or function of allophones. In the functional theory, there exists an abstract point of view stating that this language component is entirely independent of acoustic and articulatory properties linked to phonemes.

The physical theory takes into consideration a group of similar sounds referred to as a family that satisfy specific conditions. These include: the members of the said family must demonstrate phonetic similarities to each other, and no member of the group can occur in the same context as another. In a nutshell, the physical theory defines a phoneme as a mechanical summation of all its allophones. Therefore, the similarity between sounds is used as the main criteria for linking them to particular phonemes.

There is a fourth but minor theory known as the abstract view. In this theory, phonemes are regarded as units that are non-reliant on speech sounds. The aural and physical properties are associated with abstract phenomes. The theory further states that there exist accuphonemes that represent units completely independent of properties ranked higher that the phoneme itself.

Distributional Method of Phonetic Identification

Distributional methods consider it possible to categorize all sounds pronounced by indigenous speakers into groups according to laws of allophonic and phonemic distribution. The laws state that allophones of similar phonemes never appear in the same context whereas those of different ones occur in the same context.

Phonological Analysis via Semantic Method

The semantic analysis method is based on the rule that phonemes can differentiate words and phonemes in opposition to one another (Inkelas, 2014). The method attaches great importance to the meaning of the word. It also consists of a systematic substitution of sounds to determine the instances in which phonetic context remains the same. This type of substitution leads to an alteration in the meaning of a word under a procedure known as the commutation test. The process involves defining minimal pairs of words and their grammatical types.

The different kinds of oppositions can be classified as single, double, and triple. Single opposition occurs when the members differ in one feature whereas double and triple occur when the members differ in two and three features respectively.

Main Trends in Morpheme Theory

The theories in morphology can be classified as Item and- Arrangement and Item-and- Process (Inkelas, 2010). In the first classification, the bases and affixes are treated as morphemes, whereas in the second one the bases are categorized as morphemes and the affixes as rules. Morphological theories can also be classified according to the listing of allomorphs in the lexicon, and according to the phonological conditioning of allomorphs derived from a listed form.

This view of the difference between the two theories and models assumes that it is possible to map an Item-Arrangement model to an Item-Process one. To solidify this point of view, consider the addition of the inflectional suffix s to a plural noun form. In the Item-Process morphology, the suffix might be presented by the following law: [x]n (singular form) --> [x s]n (plural form). The x represents a variable word or noun, s represents the phonology, and n represents the syntax. In the rule of s inflection, the phenome /s/ is attached to the end of any phonological material that the noun is comprised of. The case indicates that there is an explicit mapping between an Item-Process and an Item Analysis. One of the arguments that favor morphemes is that applicative morphology cannot be represented in Item Arrangement terms.

The Relationship between Morphemes and Phonemes

Phonemes and morphemes are both the smallest units of any language. The difference between the two is that a phoneme is the smallest disjunctive unit in how a language sounds while Morphemes are the smallest meaningful or sensible units in language (Pavey, 2010). The former is related to pronunciation and sound in a language while the latter is related to structure and meaning of words. While morphemes carry meaning, phonemes do not necessarily make sense on their own. A morpheme is comprised of a single word whereas a single word can contain a breakdown of several phonemes. Morphemes are components of language studied in morphology whereas the other is examined in phonology. A morpheme is also displayed as several morphs in various environments, and these are known as allomorphs, whereas a phoneme showed as several phonetic sounds produce allophones.

Morphophonemic Rules

A morphophonemic rule takes the form of...

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