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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

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Query Details

Query Subject:   Early Sense of the Word 'Morpheme'
Author:   Stephen Anderson
Submitter Email:  click here to access email

Linguistic LingField(s):  Morphology
History of Linguistics
Discipline of Linguistics

Query:   Wells (1947:8) says that "the term morphème was current in
Saussure's day, but with a specialized significance: the 'formative'
elements of a word (affixes, endings, etc.) as opposed to the root." On
the other hand, there is consensus that the word was invented by
Baudouin de Courtenay, and his 1895 definition is "that part of a word
which is endowed with psychological autonomy and is for the very
same reason not further divisible. It consequently subsumes such
concepts as the root (radix), all possible affixes, (suffixes, prefixes),
endings which are exponents of syntactic relationships, and the
like" (translation from Stankiewicz's Anthology).

I vaguely recall something like the usage Wells reports, but I can't find a
source. In particular, everything in Baudouin, Kruszewsky, and other
work of that vintage seems to use Baudouin's general sense rather
than the limited one. Can anyone enlighten me about some early
linguist who used 'morpheme' in a way that excluded roots?
Steve Anderson
LL Issue: 22.2346
Date posted: 03-Jun-2011


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