By H. Koopman, D. Sportiche, E. Stabler

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This is fortunate since we do not know exactly what words are. What matters more, it seems, are morphemes. Morphemes are (mostly) semantic atoms that have categories. Morphemes can c-select and modify other elements. In a string formed from more than one morpheme, the morpheme that is the head of this string plays a determining role. You should know what we mean by morpheme, and what we mean by bound and free morphemes. You do not need to memorize the suffixes of English, but given examples of words containing (derivational or inflectional) suffixes or prefixes, you should be able to provide the lexical entries for their morphemes, and explain why certain morphological forms turn out the way they do.

If on the other hand such a test only applies to continuous strings, it would look like a good candidate for picking out those strings that form constituents. Substitution by a single (monomorphemic) word does seem to have this property: it always applies to continuous strings. Thus our interpretation of the substitution experiment seems a priori reasonable. We are now ready to experiment on our sentence above. We will try to see whether we can replace any string of words by a single word and still get a sentence which is both acceptable and a close synonym.

This is a kind of “compositionality,” an idea about the importance of considering what words are composed of. We can express the hypothesis this way: Compositionality in morphology: the properties (morphological, syntactic, semantic) of (at least some) complex words are determined by their parts and how those parts are assembled. When we put morphemes together, we have seen that some morphemes like -al are very precise about what they will combine with, while others like er and re- are not very demanding at all.

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