Grammar

Difference Between Morpheme and Phoneme

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Main Difference

The main difference between Morpheme and Phoneme is that Morpheme is having a meaning, whereas a Phoneme does not have any meaning.

Morpheme vs. Phoneme

The morpheme is the basic structural meaningful unit of a language. A phoneme is known to be the basic structural sound unit of a language. A morpheme cannot be split into parts. Phonemes can be split into various parts. The term morpheme derives from the French word that means “shape, form.” It is by analogy with the word phoneme that derives from the Greek word. Morpheme directly relates to the meaning and structure of any language. The relation of the phoneme is with the sound and pronunciation of any language

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There are two types of morphemes free morpheme and bound morpheme. Free morphemes are those standing alone as a word, e.g., cat, dog. Bound morpheme are those that cannot self-contained as a separate word. The example of it is prefix or suffix. Phonemes are classified into two types, which are vowel phonemes and consonant phonemes. The examples of vowel phonemes are /e/ peg, /ear/ fear, / ue/ tone. The examples for consonant phonemes are /ch/ – chip, /p/ – pit.

Morphemes are not written inside slashes while the phonemes are written inside slashes. The branch of linguistics in which we study morpheme is morphology. The branch of linguistics in which we study phonemes is phonology. A morpheme can do it alone as an autonomous word. Phonemes cannot stand as a word however it makes words. There are two words in the word “Submarine”: sub and marine. And there are eight phonemes /s/, /u/, /b/, /m/, /a/, /r/, /i/, /n/. (e is silent).

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Comparison Chart

MorphemePhoneme
The smallest grammatical unit of meaning in a languageThe smallest contrastive unit of the sound in a language
As a Word
It stands alone as a wordIt does not stand alone as a word
Relation With
Meaning and structureSound and pronunciation
Branch of Study
MorphologyPhonology
Derived From
French WordGreek Word
Types
Free morpheme, bound morphemeVowel phonemes, consonant phonemes

What is Morpheme?

The morpheme is known to be the basic unit of morphology. The branch of linguistics in which we study morpheme is morphology. In the meaningful structure of any language, a morpheme is a basic unit that conveys a proper meaning. The relation of a morpheme is with the meaning and structure of any language. The short form of a morpheme is “Morph.” If a morpheme is changed, then the whole meaning of the word is altered. A morpheme can also be called a series of phonemes carrying a meaning.

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A morpheme is classified into two types. These two types are free morpheme and bound morpheme. There is a “base” or “root” morpheme that is reflecting the principle meaning of the word, for example, ‘man’ in the word manly. The term morpheme derives from the French word that means “shape, form.” We cannot split a morpheme into parts. There are two words in the word “Submarine”: sub and marine. ‘Unforgettable’ is made up of three morphemes.

Types of Morpheme

  • Free Morphemes: These are the morphemes standing alone as a word, e.g., cat, dog, bear, stand, etc.
  • Bound Morphemes: These are the morphemes that cannot self-contained alone as a separate word. They are attached with at least one other morpheme, e.g. “–s” at the end of cats. Prefix or suffix are examples of bound morphemes.

What is Phoneme?

The phoneme is the basic structural sound unit of a language. It can be split into parts. The combination of phonemes only can create a morpheme or word that conveys a proper meaning. The branch of linguistics in which we study phonemes is phonology. A phoneme is the basic structural unit of sound or speech. The term phoneme derives from the Greek word. The relation of the phoneme is with the sound and pronunciation of any language

Phonemes are classified into two types, which are vowel phonemes and consonant phonemes. The examples of vowel phonemes are /e/ peg, /ear/ fear, / ue/ tone. The examples for consonant phonemes are /ch/ – chip, /p/ – pit. Phonemes are written inside slashes. Phonemes cannot stand as a word; however, it makes words. There are about 44 phonemes in the English language. There are two terms which help in studying phonemes. These are allophones and minimal pairs. Allophones are the set of various possible spoken sounds or signs that are used to pronounce a phoneme in any language. Minimal pair is a pair of words in a language that differ in only one phonological element.

A phoneme is the smallest unit of speech or sound that does not have its meaning, but it can cause a change of meaning. Phonemes commonly correspond to the sounds of the alphabet. But there is not always a relationship between a letter and its phoneme. For example, there is the word “cat” which has three phonemes: /c/, /a/, and /t/. The word “shape,” has five letters but three phonemes: /sh/, /long-a/, and /p/. Different words have a different number of phonemes. Cat has 3 phonemes (/k/a/t/). Shadow has 4 phonemes (/sh/a/d/ō).

Key Differences

  1. A morpheme is the basic structural meaningful unit of a language, whereas phoneme is the basic structural sound unit a language.
  2. A morpheme cannot be split into parts on the other hand; phonemes can be split into parts.
  3. The term morpheme derives from the French on the flip side phoneme derives from the Greek word.
  4. The relation of morpheme directly relates to the meaning and structure of any language contrarily; the relation of the phoneme is with the sound and pronunciation of any language.
  5. Morphemes are not written inside slashes; on the contrary, the phonemes are written inside slashes.
  6. The branch of linguistics in which we study morpheme is morphology, while the branch of linguistics in which we study phoneme is phonology.
  7. A morpheme can stand alone as a separate word on the converse phonemes cannot stand as a word.

Conclusion

Morpheme and phoneme are the two different and specific terms of linguistics in any language. Both terms are different based on their features, usage, origin, and application.

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson

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