"They gave it me," Humpty Dumpty continued, "for an un-birthday present."
"I beg your pardon?" Alice said with a puzzled air.
"I'm not offended," said Humpty Dumpty.
"I mean, what is an un-birthday present?"
"A present given when it isn't your birthday, of course."
LewisCarroll, Through the Looking-Glass
|A |B |
|desirable |undesirable |
|likely |unlikely |
|happy |unhappy |
|developed |undeveloped |
|sophisticated |unsophisticated |
Webster's Third New InternationalDictionary lists about 2700 adjectives beginning with un-.
If the most elemental units of meaning, the basic linguistic signs, are assumed to be the words of a language, it would be a coincidence that un has the same meaning in all the column B words. But this is no coincidence. The words undesirable, unlikely, uninspired, unhappy, and the others in column B consist of at least two meaningful units:un + desirable, un + likely, and so on.
The internal structure of words is rule-governed. Uneaten, unadmired, and ungrammatical are words in English, but *eatenun, *admiredun, and *grammaticalun (to mean "not eaten," "not admired," "not grammatical") are not, because we do not form a negative meaning of a word by suffixing un (that is, by adding it to the end of the word), but by prefixing it(that is, by adding it to the beginning).
Just as un occurs with the same meaning in the words above, so does phon in the following words. (You may not know the meaning of some of them)
|phone |phonology |phoneme |
|phonetic |phonologist|phonemic |
|phonetics |phonological |allophone |
|phonetician |telephone |euphonious |
|phonic |telephonic|symphony |
Phon is a minimal form in that it can't be divided into more elemental structures. Ph doesn't mean anything; pho, though it may be pronounced like foe, has no relation in meaning to it; and on is not the preposition spelled o-n. In all the words on the list phon has the identical meaning, "pertaining to sound."
When SamuelGoldwyn, the pioneer moviemaker, announced: "In two words: im-possible" he was reflecting the common view that words are the basic meaningful elements in a language. We have seen that this cannot be so, since some words are formed by combining a number of distinct units of meaning. The traditional term for the most elemental unit of grammatical form is morpheme. The word is derived from the Greekword morphe, meaning "form." Linguistically speaking, then, Goldwyn should have said: "In two morphemes: im-possible."
The study of the internal structure of words, and of the rules by which words are formed, is called morphology. This word itself consists of two morphemes, morph +ology. The morphemic suffix -ology means "science of" or "branch of knowledge concerning." Thus, the meaning of...