language and mind

January 4, 2011

Letters From Over the Fall – could morphophonemics be a viable approach in poetry?

Filed under: grammar, language, language processing, language use — Tags: , , , , — teresapelka @ 10:19 am

The word ‘morphophonemics’ is not to be found in a pocket dictionary and an ordinary text editor is going to mark it red. Merriam-Webster says it is

1: a study of the phonemic differences between allomorphs of the same morpheme

2: the distribution of allomorphs in one morpheme

3: the structure of a language in terms of morphophonemics ( Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate┬« Dictionary, 2005 ).

Definitions are not always easy, just like the language reality. In simpler terms, morphophonemics is about morphemes and phonemes.

Morphemes are the minimal meaningful language units. For example, you could divide the word ‘morphophonemics’ into ‘morpho-’ and ‘phonemics’ and try to make sense. ‘Phonemics’ might go for a term to include the item ‘phoneme’. Trying to divide the items much further might not bring anything meaningful, however.

Phonemes would be ‘any of the abstract units of the phonetic system of a language that correspond to a set of similar speech sounds (as the velar \k\ of cool and the palatal \k\ of keel) which are perceived to be a single distinctive sound in the language’ (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate┬« Dictionary, 2005). Again, not too easy, but one might say that phonemes are of what we build morphemes.

Morphophonemics would be much about the matter, the build of the language. One might say, poetry is about feelings, trying to grasp the ephemeral, the elusive, the transient, and the incidental. Morphophonemics is like building blocks, who would write poetry about bricks? Language is to convey and communicate – poetry about language itself, would it bring any meaning?

Much of the perspective does sure belong with the reader. One may be very language sensitive and aware being monolingual. However, you are more than likely to go a little morphophonemic when you allow more than one language into your vista. Importantly, American English is a very live language to use a multitude of foreign terms it has always adopted freely and gracefully.

Therefore, yes, morphophonemics may have a future with poetry. It may allow to show the transient and the incidental in the firm matter of language, which happens to be a regard in its own right to language lovers. Staying with the sense, focus on the matter of the language as the goal and purpose in itself may enhance flexibility in the sometimes routine everyday perception of what is written and spoken.

Finally, the morphophonemic perspective might be useful in language learning contexts. It might help see the part and the parcel. Students being supposed to become able to use dictionaries and read pronunciations as well as comprehend definitions, might find the requirements more agreeable in something less of a drill – a short piece of poetry.

Please feel welcome to see my poetry corner

my scribbling site

or my other WordPress posts; they are listed at

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