How the brain composes morphemes into meaning

Laura Gwilliams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Morphemes (e.g. [tune], [-ful], [-ly]) are the basic blocks with which complex meaning is built. Here, I explore the critical role that morpho-syntactic rules play in forming the meaning of morphologically complex words, from two primary standpoints: (i) how semantically rich stem morphemes (e.g. explode, bake, post) combine with syntactic operators (e.g. -ion, -er, -age) to output a semantically predictable result; (ii) how this process can be understood in terms of mathematical operations, easily allowing the brain to generate representations of novel morphemes and comprehend novel words. With these ideas in mind, I offer a model of morphological processing that incorporates semantic and morpho-syntactic operations in service to meaning composition, and discuss how such a model could be implemented in the human brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190311
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1791
StatePublished - Feb 3 2020


  • Morpho-syntax
  • Natural language processing
  • Neurolinguistics
  • Semantic composition
  • Language
  • Verbal Learning
  • Semantics
  • Humans
  • Brain/physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Comprehension/physiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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