In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Morphology

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Glossaries
  • Edited Collections
  • Reference Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Descriptions of Individual Languages and Families
  • Words and Lexemes
  • Morphological Change
  • Mental Lexicon
  • Computational Morphology

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Linguistics Morphology
Mark Aronoff
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0001


Morphology, the study of forms, is the branch of linguistics that deals with the internal structure of complex words. The term was first used in linguistics by August Schleicher in 1859. Linguists distinguish between simple words, such as soon, which have no internal structure apart from sound, and complex words, such as sooner, which can be analyzed into meaningful parts (in this case soon and the English comparative suffix –er). Morphology addresses the latter. The world’s languages differ greatly in the complexity of their morphology. At one extreme, such languages as Vietnamese have very few ways to form complex words, while at the other, languages such as Chukchi (spoken in Siberia) may have very long words, constructed by adding many affixes one after another, that are equivalent in meaning to entire sentences. Languages also differ in the devices that are used to form complex words and the functions that this complexity serves. The study of morphology is one of the oldest branches of linguistics. The oldest known linguistic work, Panini’s grammar of Sanskrit, consisted entirely of morphology, and the classical Greek, Latin, and Semitic grammarians also concerned themselves largely with morphology. In modern-day linguistics, which began in the 19th century, morphology is one of the core areas of grammar, along with phonetics, phonology, syntax, and semantics/pragmatics.

Foundational Works

The tradition of research and theory in morphology is different from that of many other areas of linguistics in its continuity. Works that were written a century or more ago raised issues that remain relevant to this day. The modern study of linguistic morphology dates to the early 1970s, but the beginnings of linguistic morphology lie much earlier. Important foundational works throughout the past century are still available and are important reading for understanding how the field has evolved. There was a gap in the early period of generative grammar during which morphology was not regarded as a separate field of inquiry. Accordingly, the references below are divided into two distinct subsections surrounding this gap: the Early 20th Century and Late 20th Century.

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