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Morphophonology (also morphophonemics, morphonology) is a branch of linguistics which studies:

  • The phonological structure of morphemes.
  • The combinatory phonic modifications of morphemes which happen when they are combined.
  • The alternative series which serve a morphological function.

Examples of a morphophonological alternatives in English include these distinctions:

  • Plurals "-es" and "-s", as in "bus, buses", vs. "bun, buns".
  • Plural of "-f" is "-ves", as in "leaf, leaves".
  • Different pronunciations for the past tense marker "-ed".

English, having lost its inflection, does not have much morphophonology. Inflected and agglutinating languages may have extremely complicated systems, e.g., consonant gradation.


Morphophonemic Analysis

Morphophonemic Analysis designates the analytic procedures whereby paradigms with phonological alternations are reduced to underlying representations and phonological rules. The term "morphophonemic analysis" has a now obscure origin. In the 1940s and 1950s, many phonologists worked with a theory in which (roughly) all neutralizing rules were assumed to apply before all allophonic rules. This in effect divided the phonology into two components: a neutralizing component, whose units were called "morphophonemes," and a non-neutralizing component, which dealt with phonemes and allophones. This bifurcated-phonology theory is widely considered untenable today, but "morphophonemics" remains a useful term for characterizing the study of neutralizing phonological rules as they apply in paradigms.

  • A Method for Morphophonemic Analysis

When we conduct morphophonemic analysis, we seek to establish a connection between data and theory. The theory in question is that morphemes are stored in the lexicon in an invariant phonemic form, are strung together by morphological and syntactic rules, and are then converted to their surface forms by a sequence of phonological rules (often neutralizing), applied in a particular order. The purpose of morphophonemic analysis is to discover a set of underlying forms and ordered rules that is consistent with the data; and the payoff is that seemingly complex patterns are often reduced to simplicity. Morphophonemic analysis may be contrasted with phonemic analysis. Phonemic analysis is a more limited form of phonological analysis that seeks only to discover the non-neutralizing (allophonic) rules of the phonology. In phonemic analysis, only the distribution and similarity of the phones is examined. Therefore, the data need not be grouped in paradigms, but need only comprise a sufficiently large and representative set of words. Like phonemic analysis, morphophonemic analysis can be pursued with a systematic method.

  • Procedure for Morphophonemic Analysis
  • Pre-processing the data: phonemicization

It is almost always easier to do morphophonemic analysis with data that are already expressed as phonemes, so if this has not already been done, it is advisable first to reduce the data to phonemes.

  • Morpheme division

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