In this chapter we learned about the smallest units of meaning in a language: morphemes. We saw how morphemes can be employed in different ways to modify meaning in different languages. We also saw the differences between inflectional and derivational morphology. The order in which constituents of a sentences can be arranged can be flexible in some languages but very strict in others (such as English). While subject-object-verb (SOV) is the most common word order in the world’s languages, there are other variations as is found in English (SVO).

Key Takeaways

  • Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in a language.
  • Languages differ in how they employ morphemes to modify meaning.
  • Some languages (such as Arabic and Hebrew) also use infixes which infuse in-between segments rather than affixing to the front or back of other morphemes.
  • Syntax is the set of rules and process that govern sentence structure in a language.
  • Subject-object-verb is the most common word order in the world’s languages.
  • English has a subject-verb-object word order as do a third of the world’s languages.

Exercises in Critical Thinking

  1. To what extent do linguistics and psycholinguistics compare and differ from one another?
  2. If you are developing an artificial intelligence system to process natural language, would you consult a linguist or a psycholinguist?
  3. Is there a limit to how different human languages can be? Are there things no human language can do?


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Psychology of Language Copyright © 2021 by Dinesh Ramoo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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