A root is a part of a word with lexical meaning that cannot be broken down further. Root is a term which is not uniquely defined. Some linguists consider the root to be the basic free morpheme in a derived form.
In the words un-ripe, rip-en and rip-er, the root is each time ripe. The morphemes un-. -en and -er have grammatical rather than lexical meaning and therefore are affixes, not roots.
If we take the form disagreement, this word contains the basic free morpheme agree and the two bound morphemes (or affixes) dis- and -ment. Some linguists (e.g. Spencer (1991)) call agree the root. Others (e.g. Halle (1973)) assume that agree is the stem, and reserve the notion 'root' for bounded morphemes which cannot be considered as affixes. For example, if we take the words receive, conceive and deceive, we can isolate the prefixes re-, con- and de- and the bound morpheme ceive. Only Halle (1973) calls ceive the root.
The term root originates in Hebrew linguistics and was unknown in Western linguistics until the 16th century, when Hebrew linguistics was discovered by non-Jewish linguists.
- Halle, M. 1973. Prolegomena to a Theory of Word-Formation, Linguistic Inquiry 4, pp. 451-464
- Spencer, A. 1991. Morphological Theory, Blackwell, Oxford.