LINGUIST List 9.807

Sat May 30 1998

Disc: The Term "Morph"

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Waruno Mahdi, Re: 9.755, Sum: The Term "Morph"/9.791, Disc: Complex Morphemes
  2. Karl V.(van Duyn) Teeter, Re: 9.755, Sum: The Term "Morph"

Message 1: Re: 9.755, Sum: The Term "Morph"/9.791, Disc: Complex Morphemes

Date: Thu, 28 May 1998 15:53:43 +0200
From: Waruno Mahdi <mahdiFHI-Berlin.MPG.DE>
Subject: Re: 9.755, Sum: The Term "Morph"/9.791, Disc: Complex Morphemes

I had originally responded to 9.755 (Sum) directly to Larry Trask, but
seeing discussion continuing in 9.791 (Disc) I thought at least part
of that response message of mine might also interest others:

As for the basic problem itself, this seems to be complicated by other
circumstances which appear to also have confused later investigators,
and that is in my opinion (1) confusing suppletivism with allomorphy,
and (2) mixing together the synchrony with the diachrony.

(1) If a morpheme represents a class of morphs with the same
positional predictability as, say, a phoneme represents a class of
phones, then one may conclude, that a morph is some semantically or
grammatically meaningful string of phonemes, whereas a morpheme is a
correspondingly meaningful string of morphophonemes. As long as one
only includes /s/, /z/, and /Yz/ as allomorphs of the suffix |Z| for
noun plural, one can formulate strict rules, when the morphophoneme
|Z| is reflected as /s/, or /z/, or /Yz/ on the phonemic plane. But
when one includes the plural formants in _children_, _mice_, etc.,
into the set of allomorphs of |Z|, then of course the relationship of
morpheme to morph becomes rather haphazardous. One reason for not
knowing whether a thingummy is a simple or complex "morph" could be
that one is allowing for such "morpheme" suppletivism.

(2) Morphs and morphemes are features of the synchrony, as against
roots which are historical and thus features of the diachrony. In the
synchrony, the first component in _gooseflesh_ and _gooseberry_ should
probably be seen as the same morpheme which we find in the word
_goose_ "kind of fowl, of which the male is a gander". Not so in the
diachrony, where, as everybody knows, the first component in
_gooseberry_ has a different origin. Another reason for not knowing
what that thingummy is could be that one is requiring non-complex
morphemes/morphs on the synchronic plane to derive historically from
unique morphemes/morphs of a proto-language. That _ren_ in _children_
may historically derive from several components reflected respectively
in the _r_ and the _en_, but I don't think modern English offers any
data that allow analysing that _ren_ into anything other than a
simple, non-complex morph.

In other words, I think that one may indeed try to figure out, whether
a certain affix is historically complex or not, but whether some
fragment of a word consists of one or more morphs (reflecting one or
more morphemes) should actually be evident from the synchronically
given data of the language. On a second thought, therefore, I don't
think there is such a thing as "complex morph" or "complex morpheme",
but only "complex affix", or "complex formant" (consisting of more
than one morpheme).

Regards, Waruno

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Waruno Mahdi tel: +49 30 8413-5404
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Message 2: Re: 9.755, Sum: The Term "Morph"

Date: Thu, 28 May 1998 10:06:40 -0400
From: Karl V.(van Duyn) Teeter <>
Subject: Re: 9.755, Sum: The Term "Morph"

Dear Friends:

	One more note on the term "morph", calling attention to Eric
P. Hamp, <italic>A Glossary of American technical linguistic usage
1925-1950</italic>, published by CIPL in 1957. Hamp does cite Hockett
1947 and also points out the analogy (allo)phone : phoneme = morph :
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