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The language learners referred to in this essay are software engineers, in the age group of 23-26, tasked with developing software products for the travel industry. They were selected on the basis of their performance in a language assessment and identified as intermediate users of the language.
All of them had studied English for 10 years in school and later at the university English was the medium of instruction.
A few of them were risk takers, ready to take on tasks regardless of any mistakes they may make. There were those who were spurred on by the possibility of their deficient language skills impacting their career graph; they were also ready for self-learning and willing to take responsibility for their learning. Some were hesitant, unsure of their knowledge and afraid to make mistakes.
All of them were, however, comfortable with technical language, but were very diffident to face situations that called for regular communication. They needed help with everyday vocabulary to communicate effectively with colleagues and clients.
If we consider words as independent/freestanding units with meaning, a notion proposed by McCarthy (1990), then we can see that these units of meaning can further be broken down and re-combined to form other words. Though the word ‘cancelled’ is an independently meaningful item, under closer observation it becomes clear that this word consists of two units ‘cancel’ and the past tense marker ‘-ed’. The linguistic item ‘cancel’ is a freestanding word in English, but there is no such word as ‘-ed’ in English, even though ‘-ed’ is a meaning-bearing unit. Such linguistic items that are not freestanding are said to be bound and these forms can occur only in combination with other forms. The two meaningful parts, ‘cancel’ and ‘-ed’ are called morphemes.
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Katamba (2003) defines morphemes as the atoms with which words are built. Morphemes are the smallest unit of lexical and grammatical meaning and they are realized by morphs, as morphemes do not have a physical representation. A single morpheme can be manifested as multiple complementary morphs in distinct phonological or morphological contexts. Let us look at the past tense marker -ed to understand the distribution of these complementary morphs known as allomorphs.
Free morphemes can stand alone as words; whereas bound morphemes such as ‘-ed’ are only used in combination with other morphemes. There are word forms which have but a single unbound morpheme and others which consists of more than one morpheme. Words like talk, eat and mend are examples of freestanding morphemes and words such as predictable and reflection are formed by combining many morphemes.
Affixes are bound morphemes attached to a stems either to create a new word or a word form. Affixation of morphemes can be either inflectional or derivational.
Katamba (2003) posits that the English language has minimal inflections because of its tendency to be an isolating language. The few inflections it has are all suffixes. These suffixes are bound morphemes and are attached to the stem to inflect or change words to express grammatical features, such as the changes in tense, number, possession, and degrees of adjectives.
There are 8 inflectional suffixes in English and they are:
In English derivational affixes include both prefixes and suffixes. Katamba (2003) says that the purpose of derivation is to create lexical items and not to produce grammatical units that will fit in a given syntactic position. The three important derivational processes in English are: affixation, conversion and compounding.
Affixation is one of the commonest methods of forming words in English. Derivational affixes can be either prefixes, those that are added before the base, or suffixes, that are attached after the base. Word forming processes like creating nouns from verbs, adjectives from verbs and verbs from adjectives are examples of a few derivational practices in English.
Derivational affixes are different from inflexional affixes in many ways:
They change the word class as well as the meaning of a word to which it is linked – energy (n) +- ise -ƒ energise (v)
Even though they combine to create a new word they are not affected by syntactic relations outside of the word, they can be separated and recombined with other morphemes to form other combinations.
Derivational morphemes can be attached only to certain stems.
*drumist is not an acceptable word.
Other word formation processes
Conversion or zero derivation is the predominant method of generating lexical items in English. In this process a lexical item is assigned to a new syntactic category. The word ‘permit’ can be used either as a noun or as a verb; the phonological representation and the grammatical context in which it is placed are the two aspects that can alert the change in the word-class. (Permit (v) and perMit (n). Crystal (2012) quotes from Shakespeare, ‘Petruchio is Kated’ as an example of conversion – the name of a person becoming a verb – to further his argument that conversion was a customary word-formation process even during Shakespeare’s time.
Compounding is the process of joining two bases to create a new word; of the two words, one which is syntactically dominant is considered the head and the other as the modifier. Generally the modifier is placed in front of the head and any suffix that might later be added to the compound word is attached to the head. Compound words are different from phrases; the meaning of a compound word, unlike a phrase, is not the sum of the meaning of the base units that form the word. Iin a compound word the primary stress is on the first word and in a phrase the primary stress is on the last word.
Meaning of the compound
. Blue print
an early plan or design for a project
a building used for growing plants that need warmth
Should word parts be learned?
A cost/benefit analysis of the learning of word parts should be reason enough for a learner of English language to study word parts. Nation quotes from Roberts (1964), Grinstead (1925) and Bird (1987,1990) to point out that around 60% of the English vocabulary is derived from German, French, Latin and Greek and that a large proportion of these words make use of affixes. The analysis of the LOB Corpus carried out by Bird revealed that 97% of the words in the LOB corpus were derived from around 2,000 roots. Nation maintains that the origins of the English vocabulary and the frequency of word parts validate the study of word parts.
The two arguments levelled against the teaching/learning of word parts are based on the contention that, the effort involved in learning word parts is not commensurate with language output.
A word is not a sum of its parts
The first argument against the teaching of word parts is that the meaning of a word is not the sum of its parts (Deighton, 1970); This argument has been countered by White, Power and White (1989) drawing on their own as well as Nagy and Anderson’s (1984) empirical evidence that most of the affixed words – ‘probably at least 80% – convey the meaning their parts suggest. Katamba (2003) argues that compositionality is the key to understanding a word. He says that if we know the meaning of the smaller units which make up the larger units we can decipher the meaning of the whole. For example, if we know the meaning of the suffix -ful (filled with x), and the meaning of the base to which these suffixes are attached, then the meaning of words like useful, careful, fearful and cheerful become self-explanatory. Most of the morphemes that form a word have regular/stable meaning; for example, the prefix re- means ‘again’ in almost all the words in which it occurs.
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In the light of the empirical evidence and the example we saw we can conclude that the meaning of most of the English words is what its parts suggest and therefore knowledge of the meaning of the parts can help a learner understand a word across contexts and usage. If we were to extend this argument further we could say that this knowledge along with the contextual clues would be useful in decoding even the metaphorical meaning of a word; a head hunter would thus lose the sinister overtones of the past and acquire the current meaning of someone who recruits people into key business positions.
Word families in the lexicon
The next argument against teaching/learning of word parts is that the knowing the parts of a word may not familiarise a learner with all the members of that word family (Schmitt 1998, 1999, Schmitt &Meara 1997). Nation argues that the notion of word family is psychologically real and a word is to be seen as a member of a word family. Knowledge of the word parts can help the learners understand a word in its relation to the other members of the family. For instance, knowledge of the various inflections of English and the meaning of the base of the word predict can familiarise a learner with all the possible combinations (family members) of predict; predict- predicted- predicting- predictable and prediction are just some of the members of that family.
Nagy, Anderson, Schommer, Scott, and Stallman (1989) points out that the speed of recognition of a word is based on the frequency of occurrence of the members of that word family. They quote the findings of Stanners, Neiser, Hernon, & Hall (1979) to advance their argument that related words are linked in the mental lexicon. So there are linked entries for create, creates created and creation and accessing any word from this family can partly activate other family members. Word parts are not just linked in the mental lexicon, but morphologically ordered to represent the relation.
Interpreting the meaning
Another argument against learning word parts is that L2 learners using this for guessing the meaning of a word might cause the learner to misinterpret the word. Schmitt quotes Haynes (1993) to validate this argument; Haynes found that learners continued with the wrong meaning even though it didn’t contribute to the context. For example Inflammable is often misinterpreted to mean non-flammable. Clarke and Nation (1980) caution that word parts strategy should be used to verify the guesses drawn from the context.
Furthermore, knowledge of the word parts empowers the learner by teaching him to apply his understanding at the receptive and productive level. At the receptive level it teaches him a) to identify the different components of a complex word, b) to be aware that these word parts can be used to make other words, c) how the meaning of the different parts combine to make a new meaning, and d) how the sum of the parts relates to the dictionary meaning. At the productive level it makes him aware of how the formal changes can affect the spelling, pronunciation and the word class of the base when a complex word is formed. (Nation)
Learning word parts presents a set of challenges to language learners. The greatest challenge is that of time and exposure. Studies conducted by Nagy, Diakody, & Anderson (1993) point out that L1 learners do not acquire proficiency in morphology until their high school; if this takes so long to develop in L1 learners despite their advantage of maximum exposure, then L2 learners are likely to take more time to learn this aspect (Schmitt). Even though the learners in my group had studied English for ten years, they have learned inflectional suffixes only as part of grammar exercises and have never been explicitly taught derivational affixes. Their exposure to morphological forms was not commensurate with the duration of their study. They have used these forms productively without much knowledge about the rules that guide most of these formations; ‘Though I have putted remainders for this tasks, accidently the remainder was unanswered’; ‘the meeting is preponed to three in the afternoon’, ‘he is very confidential during presentations’ are examples of the common errors.
Schmitt points out that lack of consistency in affixation can cause problems even if the meaning of the parts is clear. He gives the example of the suffix -ist.
Another challenge for the L2 learner is the lack of awareness that not all words can be broken into parts. Learners sometimes try to decompose words like refuse, repel, repeat, revamp and attempt to use the perceived stem, resulting in a meaningless word.
Learners often have difficulty with the formal changes that occur with affixation in spelling and pronunciation. Some derivational affixes lack consistent spelling and has to be learned individually.
Gairns & Redman notes that affixation sometimes produces changes in stress and sounds in a word.
Derivational suffixes need to be – do not follow rules
strategies- guidelines how
A good starting point for any teacher wishing to remedy this situation would be to train the learners to break, the complex words that are already known to the learner, into its components and to help them understand the functional meaning of these components. encourage the learners to become more aware of these morphological instill in the mond of the learner that all aspects of language learning is incremental an beA teachers task has probably never been well defines as in this situation Language learning is incremental A good game plan to remedy t
Nation suggests that learners should be taught complex words as unanalyzed wholes before they begin to analyze word parts. teacher I would explicit teaching of select morphological units appropriate to the learner level, training the learners the .A teacher needs to introduce the learners to complex words before they are trained to analyse the different parts of that word.
Because morphological acquisition is incremental in nature explicit teaching of level suitable affixes ,encouraging them to notice the correct forms encountered in newspapers regular exposure through exercises and receptive material.
This rules out the possibility of a completely graded approach; instead I would collect words for analysis from their
Not all words can be broken into parts
Affixes are not transparent – Some affixes are used mor frequently than others – so need to be selective
Guessing a wrong meaning and sticking on with that explanation even though it made no sense. (Haynes 1993) -Clarke and Nation (1980)- word parts best used to confirm/verify the meaning.
Difficulty in guessing the word class & deciding on an appropriate stress, formal changes in spelling, phonetics and word forms
Derivational suffixes need to be learned individually – do not follow rules
strategies- guidelines how
Furthermore, it empowers the learner by teaching him to apply his understanding at the receptive and productive level. At the receptive level it teaches him a) to identify the different components of a complex word, b) to be aware that these word parts can be used to make other words, c) how the meaning of the different parts combine to make a new meaning, and d) how the sum of the parts relates to the dictionary meaning. At the productive level it makes him aware of how the formal changes can affect the spelling, pronunciation and the word class of the base when a complex word is formed. (Nation)
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