Difference Between Morpheme and Phoneme

Morpheme vs Phoneme
 

Difference between morpheme and phoneme is very important in linguistics. A morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of a language. A phoneme, on the other hand, is the smallest unit of speech. The significant difference between the two is that while a morpheme carries a meaning a phoneme does not. It is merely a sound unit. It is only a combination of phonemes that can create a morpheme or word, which conveys a meaning. This article attempts to present an understanding of the two terms to the reader while elaborating on the differences.

What is a Morpheme?

Morphemes are the smallest meaningful elements of a language. This signifies that morphemes cannot be segmented into smaller parts as it will discard the meaning. For example, if we take words such book, pencil, cup, eraser, box, none of these can be segmented further. Mainly there are two types of morphemes. They are,

Free morphemes

Bound morphemes

A free morpheme has the ability to stand on its own without the support of another form. However, in the case of bound morphemes, they cannot stand on their own and need the support of another form. For example, if we take suffixes and prefixes such as ‘ ly’, ‘ness’, ‘dis’, ‘re’, they cannot stand alone. They need to be connected with another form to convey a meaning. If we take a word like ‘discouraged’, even though it appears as a single word, it consists of three morphemes. They are ‘dis’, ‘courage’, ‘ed’.

Difference Between Morpheme and Phoneme

What is a Phoneme?

Phonemes are the basic units of speech of a language. Phonemes are put together to create morphemes and words. The main difference between a morpheme and phoneme is that while a morpheme carries a meaning, a phoneme itself does not carry any meaning. It is merely a unit of speech. For example, if we take the word ‘run’ it is a morpheme that means it conveys a meaning. But this is made up of three phonemes, which are /r/ /u/ /n/.

The difference in meaning between two words can be because of a single phoneme. For example, take the words, cat and cut. It is a single phoneme that brings about the change in the two words, ‘a’ and ‘u’. When the phoneme ‘a’ is replaced with ‘u’ in the word ‘cat’, it becomes ‘cut’, a completely different word. There are both vowel phonemes and also consonant phonemes. If we take the words, tab and lab, it is the change in the consonant phoneme ‘t’ and ‘l’ that lead to a difference in meaning. In language education, the awareness of teachers to different phoneme when assisting young children to speak is vital as it provides the children not only to pronounce the words in the correct manner but also to understand the difference in sounds.

What is the difference between Morpheme and Phoneme?

• Morphemes are the smallest meaningful elements of a language.

• Phonemes are the basic units of speech of a language that are used to create morphemes and words.

• The main difference between a morpheme and phoneme is that while a morpheme carries a concrete meaning, a phoneme itself does not carry any meaning.

 

Images Courtesy: 

  1. Words by Martin (CC BY-SA 2.0)