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Phonology and Morphology Relationship Essay


This essay has focused on the relationship between phonology and morphology while focusing on morphemes as trends of phonemes. Traditionally, linguists have looked at various divisions of language, including phonology and morphology as well as the relationship between them. The illogical or unclear relationship has been identified, at least according to some theorists. This study shows that morphemes as trends of phonemes may not be a valid point of view because of the role of the phoneme in language.

Introduction and Background Information

The morpheme-phoneme relationship is a key concept that has elicited discussions among linguists for a considerable time. This essay, therefore, investigates the morpheme-phoneme relationship while focusing on morphemes as trends of phonemes and paying substantial attention to morphophonemic rules.

To enhance concepts understanding, the following definitions are vital.


A morpheme can be termed as the smallest structural grammatical unit in a language from which meaning can be derived. Morphology, therefore, is the study of the smallest grammatical units (morphemes). It is imperative to note that a word and a morpheme imply two distinctive concepts. While all words are freestanding by definition, not all morphemes are freestanding. Those morphemes that are freestanding and, therefore, meaning can be derived from them are knowns as roots. On the other hand, morphemes that depend on other morphemes to express ideas are known affixes.


A phoneme is the most basic contrastive linguistic element, which when used bring about a change in the meaning of a word. For instance, the differences in the meaning of two English words “kill” and “kiss” is apparent and comes about by the change of the phoneme /l/ to phoneme /s/. Notably, phonemes play a key role in the generation of sound patterns. Therefore, phonology can be termed as the study of sound patterns in a particular language.


Morphophonemic is the study of the relationship between morphology and phonology. Therefore, morphophonemic entails the exploration of variations associated with phonemes in morphological processes. The variations, oftentimes, generate different grammatical functions. For instance, morphophonemic will explain why vowels in “sleep” change to “slept” to denote the past tense.

Morphology is concerned with the governing of the combination of morphemes in a language. Morphological processes, for instance, determine that the plural of cat is cats while the plural of mouse is mice. Similarly, in Arabic the plural form of rajul-man

Alrrijal-men but the plural of sabbi-boy is ‘awlad-boys. It is clear that although there may be patterns in the plural forms of words in a certain language, the morphological process allow the breaking of the patterns.

The morpheme-phoneme relationship

In linguistics, morphology pertains the generalisations about form and derivations of meaning that create relations between words of a particular language. On the other hand, phonology pertains the generalisation of sound patterns in a language. As such, the morphological structure of a multimorphemic word determines how the constituent morphemes are processed phonetically.

Morphemes and phonemes in a language interrelate insofar as morphological generalisation involves a generalisation of sound patterns.

Morpheme-phoneme dependence/independences

Morphology and phonology are interrelated and play combined roles in the production of speech (Cohen-Goldberg, Cholin, Miozzo, & Rapp, 2013). First, phonemes depend on morphemes since the output morphological processes are oftentimes the input to phonological progressions. In multimorphemic words, for instance, phonemes derive their roles from morphemes and, therefore, phonemes on their own do not have meaning. For example in English, the word boy is a single morpheme word, which can be changed to boys (multimorphemic) to give the concept of plurality. The two morphemes boy and –s combinations allow the subsequent phonological process to take place.

Further, phonological constraints in a given language can manipulate the position that a specific morpheme takes in a dissimilar context. For instance, in the multimorphemic word tablecloth the phonological process, especially of the phoneme /k/, is dependent on the morphological environment as the said phoneme has different phonological processing in one-morpheme word cloth. Therefore, it is evident that phoneme integration in any content is dependent on the combination and the environment of morphemes.

Additionally, the morpheme- phoneme interdependence is evident because new phonological environments are formed when morphemes are combined frequently. The new phonological processes may vary in the manner they conform to the universal and different languages phonological constraints. However, phonological processes that result from the combination of morphemes must undergo explicit modification to be compliant with language phonological constraints. For instance, affixation in English necessitates modification of syllables for the creation of optimal syllables like in the case of (find + ing = [faɪn.ɪŋ]).

In Turkish and other languages that contain vowel harmony rules, categorical modifications of vowels are required for root and affix vowels to agree in particular conditions like in the case of [es-in] spouse-gen but [tur-un] tour-gen.

Further, research has revealed that in speech production, phonological processes are dependent on morphemes, especially in multimorphemic words that are sensitive to phonological complexities that result from the combination of morphemes (Cohen-Goldberg, Cholin, Miozzo, & Rapp, 2013). A case in point, an empirical study was carried out on a brain damage victim who presented with acute complications in speech production. The brain damage affected the morpheme-based processing and no effects were evident on the phoneme-based processing (the phonological processing was established to have been relatively intact) (Cohen-Goldberg, Cholin, Miozzo, & Rapp, 2013).

The study revealed that the victim of brain damage did not exhibit any difficulties in monomorphemic words but they had difficulty in producing phonological processes characterised by complex morphological contexts. Although the locus of phonological processes in the victim’s brain was intact, the victim could not assemble phonological content due to the damaged morphological impairment. The researchers, therefore, concluded that the neuropsychological case shed some light on the morphine-phoneme relationship (Cohen-Goldberg, Cholin, Miozzo, & Rapp, 2013).

Studies of languages have revealed that the role of morpheme/phoneme and the sensitivity to each of the two elements is vital in the attainment of decoding skills (Singson, Mahony, & Mann, 2000). However, it is imperative to note that learners of a language develop morpheme and phonemes awareness independently (Casalis & Colé, 2009). As such, awareness of morphemes does not translate to the comprehensive development of the phonemes. A case in point, a study was carried out to examine the morpheme- phoneme interface in language learners (kindergarten pupils). In the study, the pupils were put into three groups. One empirical group of the children received phonological awareness training while the second was trained on morphological skills. The third was the control group that received neither morphological nor phonological awareness training (Casalis & Colé, 2009). The first two groups exhibited improvement in the respective areas they received training.

From the study, reciprocal influence revealed that morphological awareness augmented phonological sensitivity in the children. However, the group that received morphological awareness training could not explicitly handle phonemes. Further, the groups that were trained on phonemes could segment morphemes but experienced difficulties in the derivation of complex words (they did not have an explicit understanding of morphemes). Decisively, it is evident that both metalinguistic have specific domains in learning and, therefore, develop independently.

Definitively, it is clear that there is a phoneme-morpheme relationship and, therefore, phonology and morphology are interrelated. However, the relation is both indirect and unclear.

Morphemes as trends of phonemes

Linguists usually recognise that there is an unavoidable inter-relationship between various elements of linguistic analysis. These inter-relationships are noted between phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics (Josiah & Udoudom, 2012). Linguists have adopted various methods to describe such relations. Specifically, significant relationships exist between phonemes and morphology of a given language. Morphophonemics reflects the linguistic links in the phonemic structure of morphemes and their related impacts on the grammatical content of a particular language.

In this case, the concept of a phoneme has been critical in the creation of phonological theory in linguistic achievements. Past studies had focused on the definition, recognition, and discovery of phonemes in a given language. The term ‘phonemics’ or the distribution of sound systems shows much work done about phoneme (Dresher, n.d).

Language is segmented into small units to create hierarchical levels. The hierarchy results in various levels of language. Therefore, morphemes are further divided into phonemes while words are categorised into morphemes and phrases become words among others.

This hierarchy achieved through the decomposition of language could explain why morphemes are often regarded as trends of phonemes. However, the hierarchical link is not by any means curtailed to a mere component of larger units from minute ones. That is, every unit has its own distinct, functional features that offer the recognition for the related language levels.

Phonemic is classified as the lowest level of language segments. Elements of phonemes form phonemic and, therefore, are part of the higher-level categories.

The phoneme generally bears no meaning. It is has a distinct role, which involves identifying the difference between words and morphemes.

Phonemes are grouped to create syllables, which are described as rhythmic separated groups of phonemes. Syllables have a specific formal function. Given this status, it hardly makes sense to identify isolated syllabic levels in a language. Instead, it is appropriate to considered syllables based on the relationship between linked features of phonemes.

In writing, letters, which have representative status, are used to depict phonemes. They are signs used in the representation of various levels of language. Linguists note that all categories of the higher levels language bear meaning and they may be referred to as ‘signemes’ rather than phonemes while letters become representatives of the phonemes.

The above-identified level of the phoneme reflects the morphemic level. The morpheme is generally considered as the fundamental meaningful constituent of a word. The morpheme is made of phonemes. Hence, the shortest morphemes only contain a single phoneme. For instance, come-s [-z]; a-fire [э-] show such shortest forms of morphemes with only a single phoneme.

The morpheme depicts abstract important meanings that are applied as parts for the creation of more tangible ‘nominative’ meanings of words (Inkelas, 2008).

The level of words referred to lexemic level is considered the third segmental lingual division. The word is not the same as the morpheme because it involves a direct naming unit of language, including the naming of objects and their relations. It is imperative to recognise that words consist of morphemes, and the shortest word only has a single explicit morpheme.

The validity of the theory

Based on the traditional division of language into various structural levels, linguists have recognised phonology, morphology, and syntax as distinct elements. It is, however, important to note that the exact boundary may not exist between these categories across various languages. This observation holds for phonology and morphology boundary. In this regard, critics have observed certain issues with the original classification of phonology and morphology.

The theory of morphemes as a trend of phonemes could have originated from the unclear or illogical relationship between the two as Hockett notes. According to Hockett, morphemes contains phonemes. Conversely, morphemes are said to have morphs or alternants and morphs do not have the same phonemic structure. Hockett argues that there are content units or morphemes and expression units or phonemes. The author further notes that there is a variation between composition and representation. In this case, morphs represent morphemes, and morphemes are made up or composed of phonemes. This situation leads to an indirect relationship between these two divisions of language. Hockett attributes such as indirect relations to programming or encoding. Perhaps this observation is responsible for the theory of morphemes as trends of phonemes.

When the rule of encoding is applied, it is observed that the grammatical level is mapped or programmed into a certain phonological level. In this respect, morphs and morphophonemes become artefacts but not parts of the language. That is, they are simply elements of analytic convenience. As a result, morphs are eliminated out of the phonological level as equivalents for units in grammar whereas morphophonemes are recognised in the grammar level as matches for phonemes in the phonology. On this note, Hockett has rejected morphophonemics as the reliable descriptive level of analysis.

This situation depicts the complex relationship between morphology and phonology, and perhaps explain why morphemes are viewed as trends of phonemes. Overall, the valid of the theory is difficult to ascertain because of the significant influences of phonemes in language division.

Why morphemes are not thought of as trends of phonemes anymore

If one wishes to assert that words are fully made up of morphemes and that morphemes, in turn, are distinct elements reflecting the relation of a constituent of a word’s sound with another part of its sense, then all these forms of morphological arrangements present critical challenges. Based on the analysis, it is now evident that not all parts of a word’s content are depicted by specific affixes.

The most important question about morphology concerns speech sounds and their distinct meanings. Morphology, as indicated above, focuses on language features with specific meanings – commonly known as morphemes. Conversely, phonology focuses on sounds and their possible general influence on meaning. At the level of phonology, every phoneme of a language or contrastive speech sound can influence the meaning of morphemes, but it may lack any identifiable, distinct meaning of its own. For instance, while the sounds [n] and [s] are contrastive and can change meaning in English, it is, however, difficult to assign any specific meanings to related sounds. Apart from morphemes with a single sound, such as the article ‘a’ or the plural –s, individual sounds should be under the level of a given meaning.

The major trends in phonology could help to explain why it could be difficult to claim morphemes as trends of phonology. Phoneme presents opportunities to understand the different trends of its theory. Linguists have often regarded phoneme as a major unit of language. However, not all linguists have agreed on a single definition of the phoneme.

First, the psychological school of thought considers phonemes as a specific ideal target or mental picture for the speaker. This view is idealistic and therefore disregarded as difficult to demonstrate in reality because it could be difficult to describe sounds, which do not exist in reality. Second, theorists such as Trubetskoy and Jakobson focused on the functional element of the phoneme. They consider phoneme as the minimal sound elements that could be used to differentiate meaning. Functional claims have led to an abstract view of the phoneme, and meaning differentiation is regarded as the most vital aspect.

Elements that do not differentiate meaning create allophones but not distinct phonemes. On the other hand, any feature that differentiates meaning have specific phonemes. Finally, the physical point of view proposed by Jones, Trager, and Block looks at phoneme as a family of related sounds with specific features. The phonemes reflect similarity and no other member of the family may be found in a similar phonetic context like the others.

These schools of thought could demonstrate why it is increasingly becoming irrelevant to think of morphemes as trends of phonemes.

It is known that various languages have a distinct number of phonemes, as well as allophones that depict them. All other members influence every member of the language system, and these members may not exist without others. Different languages have attached different social articulatory and acoustic qualities to communication. In a single language community, for instance, two physically distinct elements are categorised as similar sounds because they serve the same purpose within the language community. Conversely, a different language community may group them as distinct because they had different linguistic roles.

When articulatory variations do not influence the meaning, then two sounds may be classified as a single phoneme. Native speakers of a given language, for instance, may fail to recognise the difference in sound between two words when the difference is not essential in the communication process.

Some forms morphological restrictions on phonetic distribution have been noted. For instance, in Cherokee, the sound [m] may differ from other sounds to provide a different meaning. Words such as ana – strawberry; ama – salt; and ada – baby bird reflect changes in meaning. It is, however, important to recognise that the sound [m] is only associated with some ten morphemes. While some of the words could have originated from foreign languages, it seems that Cherokee has not acquired any new word with [m]. Also, no new words with sound [m] appear to have originated from Cherokee. In this respect, sound [m] would be regarded as a phoneme but is highly restricted in terms of distribution at least when this specific language is concerned.

On the one hand, a phoneme is considered real due to its physical realisation in speeches in terms of allophones – speech sounds. Conversely, a phoneme is regarded as an abstract element of language. This observation explains why it is possible to view phoneme as a dialectical element of the material and abstract concepts. Hence, one may claim that phoneme is the allophone or material constituent of speech sound.

Speech sounds are generally allophones of any phonemes of a given language involved. It is also noted that all allophones of a similar phoneme contain general articulatory elements. That is, they all have a similar invariant. Likewise, every allophone has distinct phonetic characteristics, which could be impossible to identify in the articulation of different allophones belong to a similar phoneme. Hence, students are taught to pronounce a given allophone of the phoneme.

It would appear that, while linguists normally recognise phonology and morphology as utterly distinct levels of linguistic classification, real language seems not always to obey theorists on this level of separation. Therefore, one can conclude that phonology, the regular capability to affect the meaning, and morphology, the focus on specific meaning, actually form variable continuum instead of complete two distinct levels of language.

Today, researchers are more concerned with the evidence of phoneme rather than morphemes as trends of phonemes. In this regard, Dresher outlines three different types of evidence, including native speaker’s awareness or can be made aware; neurolinguistic and psycholinguistic based on the speaker’s perception or manipulation of phonemes; and synchronic patterning evidence (Dresher, n.d, p. 259).

It is therefore evident that phoneme is still a part of linguistic and phonological theories and should not be considered as trends of morphemes. Researchers have currently focused on the enhancement of phonological theory by going beyond definitions and features of the subject. Critical aspects of phoneme have become the centre of focus, particularly distinctive features, theories, organisation, markedness theory, specification, underspecification, and contrast views.

Limits on the relationship between phonemes and phonetics, as well as lexical representation are expected to occur based on the arrangement of phonological grammar (Dresher, n.d). More studies continue to define the relevance of phonemes in linguistic, and the division still occupies an important place in modern language studies. Overall, phonology theory continues to include more specialised elements, but still reflects its position in linguistic science.


This essay has focused on the relationship between phonology and morphology while focusing on morphemes as trends of phonemes. Phonemes, as noted above, are the sounds of language. The phonological synthesis strives to group sounds of language into the same functional categories or systematise them to highlight the logical and succinct description of phonemes of a given language. Conversely, morphemes depict abstract important meanings that are applied as parts for the creation of more tangible ‘nominative’ meanings of words. Phonology and morphology reflect various levels of language. Morphophonemics reflects the linguistic links in the phonemic structure of morphemes and their related impacts on the grammatical content of a particular language.

It has been observed that the main concept behind the phoneme is its critical role as a functional unit of sound. Hence, speakers can understand the functional similarity of sounds at some levels of language analysis.

Morphemes as trends of phonemes could have originated from the complex relations between the two. While some linguists perceive the relationship as illogical and unclear, others believe that the two should reflect a continuum relationship rather than distinct levels of language. Overall, phonology theory has evolved to become more specific and focused on critical aspects of language.


Casalis, S., & Colé, P. (2009). On the Relationship Between Morphological and Phonological Awareness: Effects of training in kindergarten and in first-grade reading. First Language, 29 (1), 113-142. Web.

Cohen-Goldberg, A. M., Cholin, J., Miozzo, M., & Rapp, B. (2013). The Interface Between Morphology and Phonology: Exploring a morpho-phonological deficit in spoken production. Cognition, 127(2), 270–286. Web.

Dresher, B. E. (n.d). The Phoneme. Web.

Inkelas, S. (2008). . Web.

Josiah, U. E., & Udoudom, J. C. (2012). Morphophonemic Analysis of Inflectional Morphemes in English and Ibibio Nouns: Implications for Linguistic Studies. Journal of Education and Learning, 1(2), 72-81. Web.

Singson, M., Mahony, D., & Mann, V. (2000). The Relation Between Reading Ability and Morphological Skills: Evidence from derivational suffixes. Reading and Writing June, 12(3), 219-252. Web.

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