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The Study of Structure of Words  The rules of word formation may vary from language to language. Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning, and they influence the main characteristics of the English language, which is considered to a morphophonemic language.

Morphology of language essentially refers to the inflections of a language. The sequence of acquisition of morphologic constructions can vary between languages depending on the linguistic complexity of the structure in that language (Peña, Bedore & Rappazzo, 2003). For example, Spanish-speaking children acquire reflexive pronouns early, but these develop later in English-speaking children (Gutierrez-Clellen et al., 2000).

Differences in Morphology

Spanish English
is considered a highly inflected language
  • inflections may be placed on nouns, verbs, adjectives, articles and pronouns
  • inflections affect the meaning of the words
  • verbs can be inflected for aspect, tense, mood, probability/indicative action (has or will occur), person and number
  • verbs can be conjugated as regular, irregular, reflexive, radical-changing, or orthographical changing
is not considered a highly inflected language
The four categories above produce a total of 46 to 47 verb forms. Only four or five distinct verb forms are found (Stockwell, Bowen, and Martin, 1965).
In Spanish there are two verbs that are not interchangeable (ser and estar). Estar implies a transitory state of being while ser indicates a permanent state or an innate condition (Kayser). In English there is essentially one copular verb that joins the subject to the verb (is/are).

It is difficult to separate morphology and syntax because morphological inflections can have an impact on syntactic structure. Syntax is the linear order of words or phrases in a sentence. Spanish syntax varies in relation to morphologic structure and complexity.

Because Spanish relies so heavily on morphology to carry meaning, word order in Spanish can be quite flexible. In contrast, English word order is more critical to meaning and, therefore, less flexible (Gutierrez-Clellen et al., 2000).

Another aspect with respect to order in which Spanish differs from English can be seen in the modification of nouns, particularly when using descriptive adjectives such as those that define color, size, or shape. There are exceptions to the rule, such as when using numbers, ordinals, and certain adjectives (Kayser, 1995).

The differences in grammatical features between English and Spanish can influence the bilingual Spanish child’s use of morphology and syntax in spoken and written English. Please refer to the table below for a listing of constructions that may be observed in the language of a child who is learning both languages.

Spanish English

El carro azul anda rápido.

The car that is blue is going fast. The blue car is going fast.

When considering the Spanish language, it is important to distinguish between two major kinds of word classes: the variable and the invariable.

Variable words are those that may vary in relationship to gender, number, degree, person, tense, mode, and voice. They include nouns, articles, adjectives, numerals, pronouns, and verbs. Of these, the verbs provide the greatest number of variations because verb conjugation in Spanish is very elaborate and highly inflectional. Verbs present variation in person, number, tense, mode, and voice.

Examples of Variations in a Spanish Verb

First person Variation
Person - estudio (I study) estudia (s/he studies)
Number - estudio (I study) estudiamos (we study)
Tense - estudio (I study) estudiaré (I will study)
Mode - ¡Estudia! (study!) estudie (I hope you study)
Voice - Estud la lección.(I study the lesson) La lección fue estudiada por mí (the lesson was studied by me)

Mode and voice differ from English, in that the subjunctive mode and the passive voice are more common and acceptable in Spanish (For example, “Spanish is spoken by many people in the U.S.” is written in the passive voice, whereas, “Many people speak Spanish in the U.S.” is in the active voice.). Consequently, when this language characteristic is applied to English, it has an expected linguistic influence.

Invariable words present only one form and include adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections, although adverbs may vary in degree. English prepositions present a major challenge to Portuguese and Spanish students learning English. (See Semantics) In addition, the use of conjunctions also differs primarily in the frequency of use of coordinating conjunctions in both verbal and written communication. This conveys the wrong impression of disorganization, when in fact, the logic is just different from the linear style used in English.

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