Underlying representation

Underlying representation

In morphophonology, the underlying representation (UR) or underlying form (UF) of a morpheme is the abstract form the morpheme is postulated to have before any phonological rules have applied to it. The underlying representation of a morpheme is considered to be invariable across related forms (except in cases of suppletion), despite alternations among various allophones on the surface.

In many cases, the underlying form is simply the phonemic form. For example, in many varieties of American English the phoneme IPA|/t/ in a word like "wet" can surface either as a glottalized IPA| [tˀ] or as a flap IPA| [ɾ] , depending on environment: IPA| [ˈwɛtˀ] "wet" vs. IPA| [ˈwɛɾɚ] "wetter". In both cases, however, the underlying representation of the morpheme "wet" is the same: its phonemic form IPA|/wɛt/.

In other cases, phonological rules may change the phonemes involved. In such cases, pipes ("|") or double slashes may be used in transcription to distinguish the underlying form from its phonemic realization. An example is the word "cats," which has the phonemic representation IPA|/ˈkæts/. If we take the underlying form of the English plural suffix to a 'z' sound, as many phonologists do, then the underlying form would be IPA|//ˈkætz//. This discrepancy cannot be avoided by choosing a different underlying form of the plural: If we assume it is an 's' sound, as it's spelled, then the word "dogs," phonemically IPA|/ˈdɒɡz/, would have the underlying form IPA|//ˈdɒɡs//. As this example illustrates, the underlying form of a morpheme is a theoretical construct, and depends on the analysis that is used.

Sandhi, such as the tone sandhi of the Chinese languages, is another phonological process that changes the phonemes of a morpheme from its underlying form.

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