Minimal Grammatical Units
What are the minimal grammatical units? Certainly sentences are not the minimal grammatical units as they are composed of other smaller units. We can’t call these constituents words, for it is a term hard to pin down. There are some constructions which can satisfactorily be expounded neither words nor phonemes, for instance: mis, im, -ance and –ness. These units belong to morphology. As a level morphology is the next higher level to phonology and below syntax. So morphology is a level of structure between the phonology and the syntax. Morphology is the analysis of word structure. It talks about the rules involved in word formation. In the book Contemporary linguistics: An Introduction William O’Grady and Videa P.de Guzman defined morphology quite nicely.
“The system of categories and rules involved in word formation and interpretation is called morphology.”
Morphology is generally divided into two fields:
a) Inflectional morphology (the study of inflections)
b) Lexical or derivational morphology (the study of word-formation)
Words have an internal structure consisting of smaller units organized with respect to each other in a particular way. These smaller units are called Morphemes. Morpheme is the most important component of word structure. It is the minimal distinctive unit of grammar that carries information about meaning or function.
Generally morphemes are classified into the following:
a) free forms (morphemes which can occur as separate words)
b) bound forms (morphemes which cannot occur as separate words – mainly affixes). For instance unsightly consists of the three morphemes un, utter and ly, of which sight is a free form, un- and -ly bound forms.
We can have other bifurcation of morphemes.
a) lexical morphemes
b) grammatical morphemes
Lexical morphemes are morphemes used for the construction of new words in a language, such as in compound words. For example: highway. Here, high and way both are content words (having meaning) and refer to the external reality. Both of these morphemes are bound to be destroyed if we try to split it further. Such as car. If we try to split it like this ca-r, this ca or r will not give any meaning separately.
Grammatical morphemes express grammatical relationships between a word and its context, such as plurality or past tense (i.e. the inflections on words). They are to be understood in terms of their function within the language. For instance:
He has nice pens in his collection.
In this sentence the word ‘pens’ is the combination of ‘pen’ (lexical morpheme) and inflection’s’. Here’s’ indicates plurality of the object. Grammatical morphemes which are separate words are called function words.