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From the Editor: On Appreciating the Meaning of Morphology

Section Editor(s): Nelson, Nickola Wolf PhD; Editor

doi: 10.1097/TLD.0b013e31828190c4
From the Editor

The author has disclosed that she has no significant relationships with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

Mom, this is a destoppable tank.

Editor's oldest son, at around age 4 years, many years ago

Hypocrisy, hypothesis, hypodermic, hypothalamus, hyposensitive—It is awareness of morphology that allows mature language users to grasp the distinct but relatable meanings of these words, as well as their derivational relatives (e.g., hypocrite, hypocritical) and, in this case, Greek-influenced inflections (e.g., hypotheses). Awareness can exist along a continuum of conscious contemplation. Although language users may not bring their morphological awareness to a level of consciousness on a regular basis, it is morphological knowledge for sure, and awareness perhaps, that allows even novice language users to recognize the meanings of words they may never have heard before and to construct new words when needed to fill a particular communicative purpose. That is what my preschool-age son demonstrated when he constructed the word destoppable to communicate to me the properties of the tank he was preparing to send into pretend battle. He must have had a degree of morphological awareness in his still young language system to know that—able could convert a “verb meaning ‘to do X’ into an adjective meaning ‘capable of having X done to it’” (Pinker, 1994, p. 128), and further, to know that adding the prefix de- could appropriately shift the meaning to indicate a quality of being incapable of having X done to it—hence destoppable. What power has language! Although my son might not have been aware of the processes he used to construct the word he needed to convey his meaning, he certainly was aware of the meaning he intended to convey.

Awareness implies explicitness and the ability to manipulate components, in this case morphological, but does awareness require consciousness? That was one of the questions in my mind as I reviewed the articles in this issue on morphological awareness that has been brought to life by issue editor Cheryl Smith Gabig.

Certainly, one can imagine a period of implicit knowledge about the recombinatorial properties of words that can allow one to perform feats similar to my son's. Development along the knowledge-to-awareness continuum is a theme addressed by Gabig and Zaretsky (2013) in their lead article to this issue. They point out that morphological knowledge, as well as awareness, is an implied, and sometimes explicit, component of many of the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, 2010) across the full range of grades from K through 12. This has particular meaning for speech–language pathologists and others seeking to help children with special language needs, including English language learners. Such professionals may need to help children build foundational knowledge along with awareness—perhaps in tandem? The article by Gabig and Zaretsky is followed by practical discussions, supported by case study and empirical evidence, by Wolter and Green (2013) and Apel, Diehm, and Apel (2013) about intervention and assessment applications of research on morphological awareness. Jarmulowicz and Taran (2013) then address theoretical concerns about the relationships of word structures, including aspects of prosody, with implications for assessment and intervention. Finally, Ramirez, Chen, and Pasquarella (2013) and Marinova-Todd, Siegel, and Mazabel (2013) shed light on how knowledge of morphology in children's first languages, and the nature of those languages, might influence literacy learning when such children are learning English in school.

Together the authors in this issue, conceptualized so ably by issue editor Cheryl Smith Gabig, offer a combination of explanatory review, original evidence, and recommendations for application that provide a well-rounded view of the nature of morphological awareness and how it influences literacy learning within and across languages. Researchers and practitioners alike will find plenty of food for thought and for extending their work on morphology in the laboratory, clinic, and classroom. Enjoy.

—Nickola Wolf Nelson, PhD


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Apel K., Diehm E., Apel L. (2013). Using multiple measures of morphological awareness to assess its relation to reading. Topics in Language Disorders, 33(1), 42–56.
Gabig C. S., Zaretsky E. (2013). Promoting morphological awareness in children with language needs: Do the Common Core State Standards pave the way? Topics in Language Disorders, 33(1), 7–26.
Jarmulowicz L., Taran V. L. (2013). Lexical morphology: Structure, process, and development. Topics in Language Disorders, 33(1), 57–72.
Marinova-Todd S. H., Siegel L. S., Mazabel S. (2013). The association between morphological awareness and literacy in English language learners from different language backgrounds. Topics in Language Disorders, 33(1), 93–107.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from
Pinker S. (1994). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. New York: William Morrow.
Ramirez G., Chen X., Pasquarella A. (2013). Cross-linguistic transfer of morphological awareness in Spanish-speaking English language learners: The facilitating effect of cognate knowledge. Topics in Language Disorders, 33(1), 73–92.
Wolter J. A., Green L. (2013). Morphological awareness intervention in school-age children with language and literacy deficits: A case study. Topics in Language Disorders, 33(1), 27–41.
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