"Cran-" is the eponymous and archetypal "cranberry morpheme", which Wikipedia describes as "a type of bound morpheme that cannot be assigned an independent meaning or grammatical function, but nonetheless serves to distinguish one word from the other." This is roughly what I've always taken a "cranberry morpheme" to be.

But is it itself still one? When I start explaining the cran morpheme to people, I realize that what jumps to mind is that there are other words with "cran": Ocean Spray's well-known Cran-Apple Juice and less-well-known Cran-Strawberry, plenty of "Cran-Orange" recipes on the internet, and the cocktail crantini.

So it now seems that "cran-" has an "independent meaning", which is "pertaining to or containing cranberry". Can it still be a cranberry morpheme? Am I missing something about what a cranberry morpheme is?

  • I think cran- is now a libfix. Its original sense (derived from crane, because cranberries are grown in bogs where cranes and other waterbirds feed) has been forgotten and now it appears to refer to products made with cranberries. – jlawler Jun 11 '15 at 17:50

The term was popularized by Aronoff in Word Formation in Generative Grammar, where (p. 10) he characterizes such morphemes as only occurring in one English word. This isn't a technical term requiring definition, so you can't be sure whether "only one word" is a defining property or an incidental one. (His discussion is a bit incomplete since one of the putative morphemes, Boysen in boysenberry, is the name of the inventor of the berry so that isn't really a hapax). However, that doesn't give cran- an independent meaning, it simply elevates the morpheme from hapax to "limited distribution", making it more like -mit. Since the coining of those terms, that would make huckle the only cranberry morpheme.

Historically, there has been no inclination in linguistics to identify choco as a cranberry morpheme, despite appearing as a substring of chocolate. Notice however that one can form (and encounter in speech) words like chocoholic. This does not indicate that choco- and -holic are morphemes, rather it points to a prosodically-based word-formation process where (as a rough approximation) one foot from one word can be compounded with a foot from another word. That is what is behind cran-tini and the like.

  • It seems to me that "-holic" and the variant "-aholic" is indeed a morpheme at this point. What are the distinguishing factors between a "morpheme" and a mere result of a prosidically-based word-formation process? – brass tacks Jun 11 '15 at 17:11
  • I remember being told in grad school in the mid-60s about cranberry morphemes; this must have been before Mark's book was written, let alone published. – jlawler Jun 11 '15 at 19:08
  • Yes, "cranberry morpheme" predates Aronoff. But I don't think a cranberry morpheme needs to even be meaningful. I can identify the "oke" in "Okefenokee" as a word because its second syllable has unstressed monophthong [i], which only occurs word finally (as in "city"), even though "oke" doesn't seem to mean anything. (I've just looked this up, and online sources say that [i] in "oke" is a British pronunciation, and that it's schwa in American. But that's not what I've heard.) – Greg Lee Jun 11 '15 at 20:08

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