A morpheme is a combination of sounds that have meaning; it is the smallest grammatical unit in a language. In many ways, morphemes shape the basis of how our language acquisition is developed and formed. Learning to speak a form of language occurs at a very young age. Young children at twenty-four months are able to utter sounds such as ba for bottle, or ma for Mommy. By the end of the second grade, the vocabulary acquisition of children is roughly 6000 root word meanings (Effects of Morphological Instruction on Vocabulary Acquisition). Through continued reading, writing, and education, the vocabulary acquisition of children at the end of sixth grade is roughly 10,000 (Effects of Morphological Instruction on Vocabulary Acquisition). The foundation of vocabulary in children is primarily taught through learning the meaning of words through vocabulary, not through morphology. As babies and young toddlers, the development of vocabulary is acquired through unconscious use of morphemes that serve as a need for the child, i.e., ba might be the child’s way of asking for a bottle. It holds reason to believe that an understanding of morphemes can serve to further expand vocabularies and reading proficiencies through further teaching and development of morphology.
It is important to understand that a morpheme is not a word itself, but the smallest unit in a language. The main difference between a word and a morpheme is a word cannot stand alone, whereas a morpheme can. For example dogs can be broken into dog and s, whereas the s is a morpheme and cannot stand alone. Morphology is believed to be part of the explanation of how children learn the words they were never explicitly taught (Effects of Morphological Instruction on Vocabulary Acquisition). Studies in elementary school children have supported the extent of how untaught morphological knowledge increases the vocabulary acquisition of the child (Effects of Morphological Instruction on Vocabulary Acquisition). A study of seventh graders, whereby morphological instructions were incorporated into new vocabulary words, produced immediate effects for deriving meaning compared to the selection of the class who received vocabulary instruction from learning the words from non-morphological instructions (Effects of Morphological Instruction on Vocabulary Acquisition).
As discussed, the basis of children’s vocabulary is formed at a very young age. Of course other factors will guide the vocabulary acquisition in life, such as education, social-economic conditions, and even regional variations. However, with a child’s brain some much like a sponge in the information they absorb, it is reasonable to believe introducing morphological studies will only increase the vocabulary at a very young age.
While the studies in this paper are a small sampling, the conclusion that this paper draws is morphology is the basis element in humans in forming language and vocabulary. While traditional learning and memorizing words is a sound approach to teaching the definition of a particular word, it does not fully support building the foundations of the meaning of the word or words that are taught. The understanding or morphemes, either in children initially being taught the language and vocabulary, or in adults learning a second language, even furthering their education, can serve to expand vocabularies and reading proficiencies.
“Effects of Morphological Instruction on Vocabulary Acquisition”. The WordWorks Literacy Centre. The WordWorks, April 2, 2009. Web. April 19, 2013.
Clark, Mary M. “The Vocabulary of English: Where Do Our Words Come From?” The Structure of English for Readers, Writers, and Teachers. Second Edition. (2010): 24-27. Print
Clark, Mary M. “The Grammatical Properties of Words: Morphology and ‘Parts of Speech.’” The Structure of English for Readers, Writers, and Teachers. Second Edition. (2010): 53-56. Print.