Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • So let’s talk about words. Now, you probably think that words are one of the biggest things

  • a linguist could care about. After all, words are the little Lego pieces of language,

  • right? You connect them together, and you suddenly have bigger meanings, whole sentences

  • and conversations. That’s all true, but when it comes to the tiniest

  • meaningful bits, we usually want to aim a little smaller than the word. I’m Moti Lieberman,

  • and this is the Ling Space.

  • So of course, since I’m a linguist, I love words. Theyre amazing and cute, and they

  • often sound really cool. But the thing is, when we want to look at meaning, words can

  • just be too big. A single word can have a whole bunch of different meanings wrapped

  • up inside it. So, just think about a word likerekillable", as inThe Others are rekillable.”

  • It might be one word, but inside, you can see three different pieces that have their

  • own meanings – “re,” or do again; “kill”, so to cause to die; andable,” or can

  • be done. So when we put all the different meanings together, we get something likecan be killed again”.

  • That’s one word, but it’s got three different pieces of meaning inside.

  • So if we really want to talk about meaning, we need to dig down past the word level and look at

  • the different parts inside the word. We need to make it down to where we can’t go any farther

  • without breaking up the raw ore of meaning. When weve removed everything extraneous,

  • and all that we're left with are sets of sounds that are paired up with one individual meaning

  • each, weve hit the bottom.

  • Then weve managed to find the morpheme. A morpheme is the smallest pairing between

  • sound and meaning. So that means if you split off any more of the sound, you

  • wouldn’t keep the same meaning anymore. Something likeStarkis a morpheme

  • by itself, because even if you can see another morpheme likestarinside it, you can’t

  • cut off that [k] without changing meaning. That [k] is an essential

  • part of Starkness; without it, youve ended up with something completely different. Starks

  • aren’t stars.

  • Now, this goes the other way, too. Just because you can put some sounds together doesn’t

  • mean that they make up a morpheme. There has to be a meaning attached to those sounds, too. So

  • in the Stark example from before, another reason you can’t cut off that [k]

  • is that [k] doesn’t even mean anything in English. So you can't just attach

  • it as its own morpheme to something else.

  • Or take something likekhaleesi .” Now, that’s a perfectly fine combination of sounds right

  • there, and any English speaker will tell you that’s an okay word, even if they don’t

  • necessarily know what it means. But it’s not until you pair that sound with a meaning that

  • it becomes a morpheme. If you said khaleesi in 1995, that wouldn’t have been a morpheme,

  • because it didn't mean anything.

  • But now, a lot of people know what that isthe sounds have been paired with a meaning,

  • and voila! A morpheme is born.

  • Not all morphemes are the same, of course. There are a few distinctions between different

  • kinds of morphemes that should just jump out at you. The one well talk about this week

  • is that some morphemes can stand on their own, and other ones can’t. Let’s consider

  • a word likeTickler.” Now this word has two morphemes in it, “tickleander”.

  • The first part, “tickle”, can stand on its own, like “I’ll tickle the information

  • out of him.” But that second part, “er”, can’t be by itself like that. It clearly

  • has a meaning of its own – “someone that doeswhatever thing it’s attached to”,

  • so a tickler tickles and a hunter hunts, etc. But it needs that piece to attach toif

  • someone asks you what your job is, you can’t say “I’m an er.” It can’t be independent.

  • Morphemes liketickleorhoundorredthat can stand on their own like

  • that are known as free morphemes. Theyre free-standing meaning bits, or at least, they

  • can be. But things likeerorunorde”, those aren’t strong enough

  • to stand by themselves. They need to attach to something, and so these are known as bound

  • morphemes.

  • But there’s no fundamental rule that says any morpheme, or even any type of morpheme, has

  • to be free or bound in any given language. We can find free morphemes in English that are bound

  • in other languages. Takethein Englishnow that’s a free morpheme, like inthe

  • cat.” But in Hebrew, thattheis boundit’s the [ha] in [haxatul] - החתול.

  • And we can find things that are bound in English that are free in other languages.

  • So, how about theer we use for comparison in English? Now, that’s bound, as inIt’s

  • colder on the Wall.” But in Japanese, that comparative is its own wordit’s the [motto] in

  • kabe-ga motto samui desu.”

  • Beyond these examples, there are languages where basically every morpheme is free,

  • like Mandarin or Vietnamese. These languages don’t really have bound morphemes at all. Other

  • languages, like Miqmaq or Mohawk, basically have all their morphemes bound. These

  • are languages where an entire sentence gets rolled up together into a single word.

  • So a sentence likeShe made the thing that one puts on one’s body ugly for himis just

  • a single word in Mohawk , like this: wahuwajaʔdawitsherahetkʌ:ʔdʌʔ.

  • Linguistic example sentences can get pretty wacky sometimes!

  • But this is why we can have such a hard time talking about words in linguistics. Something that's just

  • one word in English could turn into a few words in a different language, and something that's a whole sentence

  • in English could be a single word somewhere else. What’s free and what’s bound are

  • different from one language to the next, but no matter what language you look at, morphemes

  • are always there. And that's why that’s where it’s most meaningful to look.

  • So weve reached the end of the Ling Space for this week. If you were able to associate

  • my sounds with meanings, you learned that morphemes are the pairings of sounds and meaning

  • that can’t be broken up further without losing the meaning; that there are free morphemes

  • that can stand on their own, and bound morphemes that need to be attached to something to be

  • used; that languages make up their own minds about what should be bound and free; and that

  • because of the variation, talking about morphemes can be more appropriate than talking about

  • words.

  • The Ling Space is written and produced by me, Moti Lieberman. It’s directed by Adèlelise

  • Prévost, our production assistant is Georges Coulombe, music and sound design is by Shane

  • Turner, and our graphics team is atelierMUSE. Were down in the comments below, or you

  • can bring the discussion back over to our website, where we have some extra material on this

  • topic. Check us out on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, and if you want to keep expanding your own

  • personal Ling Space, please subscribe. And well see you next Wednesday. Huitou jian!

So let’s talk about words. Now, you probably think that words are one of the biggest things

Subtitles and vocabulary

Click the word to look it up Click the word to find further inforamtion about it

B1 US bound meaning ling tickle single word language

Morphemes

  • 46 4
    蕭愛照 posted on 2016/10/27
Video vocabulary