Why is Morphology studied?

Aims of Morphology

The traditional concern of morphology is the identification of morphemes. Linguists interested in morphology look at the parts that words are divided into and study the meaning of these individual parts. The main aim of morphology is to assign meaning to parts of words, so for example:


This is divided into two morphemes- one free morpheme (borrow) and one bound morpheme (-ing). Once a linguist can tell that '-ing' is a bound morpheme, they know this will be the case in all situations where that particular morpheme arises. 

Types of bound morphemes

There are two types of bound morphemes- inflectional and derivational. 
Inflectional morphemes are a combination of the root and affix usually resulting in a word of the same class as the original root. Inflectional morphemes don't tend to change the meaning of the root word either, it just turns the original word into a plural, past tense etc word. 
The addition of these types of affixes are there to mark grammatical functions. The highlighted parts are examples of inflectional morphemes  found in the following words: 

                running, jumped, eaten, funner, dogs

Derivational morphemes are also a combination of the root and an affix, but in this case  the meaning or word class of the original word often changes. An example of this is below:


Here, adding '-ness' to the root 'happy' changes the word from an adjective to a noun.
Inflectional and derivational morphology are how many new words enter the language. 

Morphology vs. Syntax

'Grammar' is often used as a blanket term to cover both morphology and syntax (actually, morphology is the study of word forms, and syntax the study of sentence structure).

Morphology and syntax are however closely related, and there is often an argument as to whether learning morphology leads to the acquisition of syntax, or if syntax provides the features and structures upon which morphology operates.

It is possible to have the syntax right, but the morphology wrong- for example, in children's language the child will often put together their sentence perfectly well, but use the wrong affix, or apply an affix where there needn't be one- for example, 'I felled over' instead of 'I fell over'.
From this example we can see how morphology is in fact very irregular- the past tense inflection '-ed' that is found in words such as 'walked', 'danced' or 'jumped' is not applied to all past tense constructions. This is one of the major differences between morphology and syntax, syntax follows strict rules, while morphology is often inconsistent with many exceptions to the rules. 

Other Languages and Morphology

English Morphology is in fact very dull in comparison to that of other languages. In Turkish, for example, a huge array of words can be created by adding suffixes to just one root, and because of this the number of words in the language is very high. 
The morphology of other languages also seems to be more rule governed- for example, in Turkish the use of suffixes is dependent on 'vowel harmony'. The distribution of plurals is dependent on whether the sound is a back vowel or a front vowel- so the Turkish word for 'candle' which is 'mum' becomes 'mumlar' (candles), while 'kibrit' (the Turkish word for match) becomes 'kibritler' (matches) because it is a front vowel.

Key terms

: The smallest units of language that carry meaning or function.

Free morphemes: words that can stand alone and still make sense.

Bound morphemes: Morphemes that cannot stand alone, they need to be attached to a free morpheme in order to be a proper, meaningful word. 

Affixes: A morpheme attached to something else. 

Root: The core of the word. What's left when affixes are taken away. 

Syntax: The study of sentence structure. 

Vowel Harmony: The first vowel of the suffix depends on the last vowel of the word that the suffix is being attached to.