The movement of atoms. The morpheme could be called the atom of language. Image from

Houston, We Have A Morpheme Problem

It was in Greek class that I realised it. I have a morpheme problem.

Yes, those pesky little indivisible chunks of languagey-ness are causing me grief. The exact nature of that grief is a regular mixing up of pronouns and possessives with s- (you) and t- (him/his/her), to the amusement of my teacher.

Πού είναι ο μπαμπάς του… ΣΟΥ; Pou íne o babás tou… SOU?
Where is his… YOUR dad?

The source? Probably the romance languages I’ve learned, where the correspondence is reversed. French has ton (your) and son (his/her), for example, while Spanish has tu and su. The romance you/he/she attachment to those tiny little chunks has reasserted itself temporarily (I hope) to wreak happy havoc.

Yes, interference is real, and it’s not just about whole words – it’s a morpheme thing, too.

Morpheme Madness

In reality, it’s nothing to worry about. It’s a natural by-product of a brain built for pattern-spotting, and studies of bilingual infants show that we’re well-equipped to remedy it in the natural course. I can talk about it now because I realised I was doing it, and self-corrected along the way.

But what else can I do about in the immediate term?

Much of it is to do with voice, at least for me. Cultivating distinct voices for each language you learn is a great way to compartmentalise and separate. But unless you’re a gifted impressionist, your repertoire might be limited, and you might have to double up. I realised my Greek voice was suspiciously like my Spanish one., all faux-masterful and brooding. No doubt a bit of clowning around and trying new accents on might help there.

But it’s an ideal case for mass-sentence training too, which I’d become lax with of late. Glossika has a ton of sentences including those little σου and του, and an extra five or ten minutes of training a day will – I hope – re-cement the little imps into my Hellenic pathways.

Have you noticed interference between your languages at the morpheme level? What are your strategies for re-enforcing separation? Let us know in the comments!