Root (linguistics)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The root is the primary lexical unit of a word, which carries the most significant aspects of semantic content and cannot be reduced into smaller constituents. Content words in nearly all languages contain, and may consist only of, root morphemes. However, sometimes the term "root" is also used to describe the word minus its inflectional endings, but with its lexical endings in place. For example, chatters has the inflectional root or lemma chatter, but the lexical root chat. Inflectional roots are often called stems, and a root in the stricter sense may be thought of as a monomorphemic stem.

The traditional definition allows roots to be either free morphemes or bound morphemes. Root morphemes are essential for affixation and compounds. However, in polysynthetic languages with very high levels of inflectional morphology, the term "root" is generally synonymous with "free morpheme". Many such languages have a very restricted number of morphemes that can stand alone as a word: Yup'ik, for instance, has no more than two thousand.

The root of a word is a unit of meaning (morpheme) and, as such, it is an abstraction, though it can usually be represented in writing as a word would be. For example, it can be said that the root of the English verb form running is run, or the root of the Spanish superlative adjective amplísimo is ampl-, since those words are clearly derived from the root forms by simple suffixes that do not alter the roots in any way. In particular, English has very little inflection, and hence a tendency to have words that are identical to their roots. But more complicated inflection, as well as other processes, can obscure the root; for example, the root of mice is mouse (still a valid word), and the root of interrupt is, arguably, rupt, which is not a word in English and only appears in derivational forms (such as disrupt, corrupt, rupture, etc.). The root rupt is written as if it were a word, but it's not.

This distinction between the word as a unit of speech and the root as a unit of meaning is even more important in the case of languages where roots have many different forms when used in actual words, as is the case in Semitic languages. In these, roots are formed by consonants alone, and different words (belonging to different parts of speech) are derived from the same root by inserting vowels. For example, in Hebrew, the root gdl represents the idea of largeness, and from it we have gadol and gdola (masculine and feminine forms of the adjective "big"), gadal "he grew", higdil "he magnified" and magdelet "magnifier", along with many other words such as godel "size" and migdal "tower".

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Root (linguistics)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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