Re: partly morphemes

From: Paul Zellmer (
Date: Thu May 15 1997 - 09:26:16 EDT wrote:

> i asked bethany dumas on anglican, who's been talking about morphemes, if
> accents or breathings in written greek could be seen as morphemes, since, e.g.
> <<a breathing differentiates the import, as between wpa = either ora or hora;
> xeipwv = either worse guy with acute on penult or of hands with circumflex on
> ultima>>



If I understand your post correctly, this is your question, right? I
*did* see a hard-to-follow discussion on the minimal pair "Hong" and
"Kong", but I assume that that was an illustration to try to explain
your proposal.

There is a distinction to be made between morpheme and phoneme. A
morpheme is the smallest unit of speech bearing meaning, while a phoneme
is, by analogy, the smallest distinct sound. (This last is a little
rough, but I'm making a comparison here, not a formal definition.)
Applying this to your "Hong Kong" illustration, "H" and "K" are
phonemes, because they are recognized by native speakers as distinct
sounds. For them to be morphemes, one would have to show that they,
themselves, consistently have the same (or, at least, relate) meaning.
Does the H in Hong have the same meaning as the H in Han? No, so H is
not a morpheme. H is, however, a phoneme, and your illustration
demonstrates this well.

Given this, then the breathing mark in Greek is *not* a phoneme. It
*is*, however, a phoneme that is used to distinguish between morphemes.
In OS and hOS, it is contrasted with the absence of breathiness (perhaps
a glottal, but there is no way our evidence can prove this). The two
*words* are morphemes, the breath is a phoneme. The theory becomes a
bit murkier in tonal or stress distinctions, but the accents work more
like phonemes. They do not have a distinct meaning in themselves, but
they distinguish between words that *do* have distinct meanings.

I hope I was able to understand the point of your post, and that this


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