English is a morphophonemic language. It is a code that represents both sound and meaning. English words are comprised of two components: phonemes and morphemes. Students need knowledge of both phonology and morphology to fully understand the written code of English.
What is a Morpheme?
A morpheme is a unit of meaning within a word. Morphemes are used to build words. Some words only have one unit of meaning or morpheme called a root or base. Other words have prefixes and suffixes attached to the root or base. Prefixes and suffixes are not words on their own. Prefixes are added to the beginning of a root or a base and modify the meaning of words. Suffixes are added to the end of a root or a base and may change a word's part of speech. Multiple prefixes and suffixes can be added to a root or base.
cat + s --> cats
walk + ed --> walked
con + tract + or --> contractor
Study Morphemes; Build Vocabulary!
Knowing morphemes can help students determine the meaning of unknown vocabulary words and aids in spelling. Recognizing morphemes can greatly reduce rote memorization, expand students' knowledge of English, and teach students critical thinking skills about language.
Studying morphemes can help students in cross-curricular word study. The study of morphology leverages vocabulary study.
|therm ~ heat
|quart ~ four
|graph ~ process of writing
Pronunciation Shifts in English
One of the unique challenges of English is the fact that the spoken sounds often shift pronunciation when adding suffixes and prefixes.
The ea is pronounced as a long /ē/ in clean, and a short /ĕ/ in cleanse. There is a shift in pronunciation, but the spelling reflects the relationship between both sound and meaning.
The silent c in the word muscle is pronounced in the derivative word muscular. Even though the C is not spoken in the first word, it shows the morphological relationship between both words.
The g in word sign and design are not articulated, but it is clearly pronounced in words signal and signature.
sign signal signature design
Because English spellings represent both sound and meaning it is important to study morphology. Studying and understanding morphemes is a fantastic way to leverage vocabulary instruction.