This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
The onomasiological approach is a theoretical framework that emphasizes the cognitive-semantic component of language and the primacy of extralinguistic reality in the process of naming. With a tangible background in the functional perspective of the Prague School of Linguistics, this approach believes that name giving is essentially governed by the needs of language users, and hence assigns a subordinate role to the traditional levels of linguistic description. This stance characterizes the onomasiological framework in opposition to other theories of language, for example, structuralism or generativism, which first tackle the form of linguistic material and then move on to meaning.
The late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed the emergence of several cognitive-onomasiological models, all of which share an extensive use of semantic categories as working units and a particular interest in the area of word formation. Despite a number of divergences, such proposals all confront mainstream morphological research by heavily revising conventional concepts and introducing model-specific terminology regarding, for instance, the independent character of the lexicon, the (non-)regularity of word-formation processes or their understanding of morphological productivity. The result is a small set of models that have earned a pivotal position as an alternative to dominant theories of word formation.
Reduplication is a word-formation process in which all or part of a word is repeated to convey some form of meaning. A wide range of patterns are found in terms of both the form and meaning expressed by reduplication, making it one of the most studied phenomenon in phonology and morphology. Because the form always varies, depending on the base to which it is attached, it raises many issues such as the nature of the repetition mechanism, how to represent reduplicative morphemes, and whether or not a unified approach can be proposed to account for the full range of patterns.
Polysynthesis is informally understood as the packing of a large number of morphemes into single words, as in (1) from Bininj Gun-wok (Evans, in press).
'I cooked the wrong meat for them again.'
Its status as a distinct typological category into which some of the world’s languages fall, on a par with isolating, agglutinating, or fusional languages, has been controversial from the start. Nevertheless, researchers working with these languages are seldom in doubt as to their status as distinct from these other morphological types. This has been complicated by the fact that the speakers of such languages are largely limited to hunter-gatherers—or were so in the not too distant past—so the temptation is to link the phenomenon directly to way of life. This proves to be oversimplified, although it is certainly true that languages qualifying as polysynthetic are almost everywhere spoken in peripheral regions and are on the decline in the modern world—few children are learning them today.
Perhaps the most pervasive of the traits that give these languages the impression of a “special” status is that of holophrasis, which can be defined as the (possible) expression of what in less synthetic languages would be whole sentences in single complex (usually verbal) words. It turns out, however, that there is much greater variety among polysynthetic languages than is generally thought: there are few other traits that they all share, although distinct subtypes can in fact be distinguished, notably the affixing as opposed to the incorporating type.
These languages have considerable importance for the investigation of the diachronic complexification of languages in general and of language acquisition by children, as well as for theories of language universals. The sociolinguistic factors behind their development have only recently begun to be studied in depth. All polysynthetic languages today are to some degree endangered (they are dying off at an alarming rate), and many have been poorly studied if at all, which makes their investigation before it is too late a prime goal for linguistics.
Christina L. Gagné
Psycholinguistics is the study of how language is acquired, represented, and used by the human mind; it draws on knowledge about both language and cognitive processes. A central topic of debate in psycholinguistics concerns the balance between storage and processing. This debate is especially evident in research concerning morphology, which is the study of word structure, and several theoretical issues have arisen concerning the question of how (or whether) morphology is represented and what function morphology serves in the processing of complex words. Five theoretical approaches have emerged that differ substantially in the emphasis placed on the role of morphemic representations during the processing of morphologically complex words. The first approach minimizes processing by positing that all words, even morphologically complex ones, are stored and recognized as whole units, without the use of morphemic representations. The second approach posits that words are represented and processed in terms of morphemic units. The third approach is a mixture of the first two approaches and posits that a whole-access route and decomposition route operate in parallel. A fourth approach posits that both whole word representations and morphemic representations are used, and that these two types of information interact. A fifth approach proposes that morphology is not explicitly represented, but rather, emerges from the co-activation of orthographic/phonological representations and semantic representations. These competing approaches have been evaluated using a wide variety of empirical methods examining, for example, morphological priming, the role of constituent and word frequency, and the role of morphemic position. For the most part, the evidence points to the involvement of morphological representations during the processing of complex words. However, the specific way in which these representations are used is not yet fully known.
Ljuba N. Veselinova
The term suppletion is used to indicate the unpredictable encoding of otherwise regular semantic or grammatical relations. Standard examples in English include the present and past tense of the verb go, cf. go vs. went, or the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives such as good or bad, cf. good vs. better vs. best, or bad vs. worse vs. worst.
The complementary distribution of different forms to express a paradigmatic contrast has been noticed already in early grammatical traditions. However, the idea that a special form would supply missing forms in a paradigm was first introduced by the neogrammarian Hermann Osthoff, in his work of 1899. The concept of suppletion was consolidated in modern linguistics by Leonard Bloomfield, in 1926. Since then, the notion has been applied to both affixes and stems. In addition to the application of the concept to linguistic units of varying morpho-syntactic status, such as affixes, or stems of different lexical classes such as, for instance, verbs, adjectives, or nouns, the student should also be prepared to encounter frequent discrepancies between uses of the concept in the theoretical literature and its application in more descriptively oriented work. There are models in which the term suppletion is restricted to exceptions to inflectional patterns only; consequently, exceptions to derivational patterns are not accepted as instantiations of the phenomenon. Thus, the comparative degrees of adjectives will be, at best, less prototypical examples of suppletion.
Treatments of the phenomenon vary widely, to the point of being complete opposites. A strong tendency exists to regard suppletion as an anomaly, a historical artifact, and generally of little theoretical interest. A countertendency is to view the phenomenon as challenging, but nonetheless very important for adequate theory formation. Finally, there are scholars who view suppletion as a functionally motivated result of language change.
For a long time, the database on suppletion, similarly to many other phenomena, was restricted to Indo-European languages. With the solidifying of wider cross-linguistic research and linguistic typology since the 1990s, the database on suppletion has been substantially extended. Large-scale cross-linguistic studies have shown that the phenomenon is observed in many different languages around the globe. In addition, it appears as a systematic cross-linguistic phenomenon in that it can be correlated with well-defined language areas, language families, specific lexemic groups, and specific slots in paradigms. The latter can be shown to follow general markedness universals. Finally, the lexemes that show suppletion tend to have special functions in both lexicon and grammar.
Erich R. Round
The non–Pama-Nyugan, Tangkic languages were spoken until recently in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia. The most extensively documented are Lardil, Kayardild, and Yukulta. Their phonology is notable for its opaque, word-final deletion rules and extensive word-internal sandhi processes. The morphology contains complex relationships between sets of forms and sets of functions, due in part to major historical refunctionalizations, which have converted case markers into markers of tense and complementization and verbal suffixes into case markers. Syntactic constituency is often marked by inflectional concord, resulting frequently in affix stacking. Yukulta in particular possesses a rich set of inflection-marking possibilities for core arguments, including detransitivized configurations and an inverse system. These relate in interesting ways historically to argument marking in Lardil and Kayardild. Subordinate clauses are marked for tense across most constituents other than the subject, and such tense marking is also found in main clauses in Lardil and Kayardild, which have lost the agreement and tense-marking second-position clitic of Yukulta. Under specific conditions of co-reference between matrix and subordinate arguments, and under certain discourse conditions, clauses may be marked, on all or almost all words, by complementization markers, in addition to inflection for case and tense.
Speakers of most languages comprehend and produce a very large number of morphologically complex words. But how? There is a tension between two facts. First, speakers can comprehend and produce novel words, which they have never experienced and therefore could not have stored in memory. For example, English speakers readily generate the plural form of wug. These novel words often look like they are composed of recognizable parts, such as the plural marker -s. Second, speakers also comprehend and produce many words that cannot be straightforwardly decomposed into parts, such as bought or brunch. Morphology is the paradigm example of a quasi-regular domain, full of only partially productive, exception-ridden patterns, many of which nonetheless appear to be learned and used by speakers and listeners. Quasi-regularity has made morphology a fruitful testing ground for alternative views of how the mind works.
Every major approach to the nature of the mind has attempted to tackle morphological processing. These approaches range from symbolic rule-based approaches to connectionist networks of simple neuron-like processing units to clouds of richly specified holistic exemplars. They vary in their assumptions about the nature of mental representations; particularly, those comprising long-term memory of language. They also vary in the computations that the mind is thought to perform; including the computations that are performed by a speaker attempting to produce or comprehend a word. In challenging all major approaches to cognition with its intricate patterns, morphology continues to provide a valuable window onto the nature of the mind.
Eystein Dahl and Antonio Fábregas
Zero or null morphology refers to morphological units that are devoid of phonological content. Whether such entities should be postulated is one of the most controversial issues in morphological theory, with disagreements in how the concept should be delimited, what would count as an instance of zero morphology inside a particular theory, and whether such objects should be allowed even as mere analytical instruments.
With respect to the first problem, given that zero morphology is a hypothesis that comes from certain analyses, delimiting what counts as a zero morpheme is not a trivial matter. The concept must be carefully differentiated from others that intuitively also involve situations where there is no overt morphological marking: cumulative morphology, phonological deletion, etc.
About the second issue, what counts as null can also depend on the specific theories where the proposal is made. In the strict sense, zero morphology involves a complete morphosyntactic representation that is associated to zero phonological content, but there are other notions of zero morphology that differ from the one discussed here, such as absolute absence of morphological expression, in addition to specific theory-internal interpretations of what counts as null. Thus, it is also important to consider the different ways in which something can be morphologically silent.
Finally, with respect to the third side of the debate, arguments are made for and against zero morphology, notably from the perspectives of falsifiability, acquisition, and psycholinguistics. Of particular impact is the question of which properties a theory should have in order to block the possibility that zero morphology exists, and conversely the properties that theories that accept zero morphology associate to null morphemes.
An important ingredient in this debate has to do with two empirical domains: zero derivation and paradigmatic uniformity. Ultimately, the plausibility that zero morphemes exist or not depends on the success at accounting for these two empirical patterns in a better way than theories that ban zero morphology.