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date: 01 December 2020

Classical Generative Morphologylocked

  • Pius ten HackenPius ten HackenLeopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck


The scope of classical generative morphology is not clearly determined. All three components need clarification. The boundaries of what counts as generative linguistics are not unambiguously set, but it can be assumed that all generative work in linguistics is inspired by the work of Noam Chomsky. Morphology was a much more prominent component of linguistic theory in earlier approaches, but of course the subject field had to be accounted for also in generative linguistics. The label classical can be seen as restricting the scope both to the more mainstream approaches and to a period that ends before the present. Here, the early 1990s will be taken as the time when classical theorizing gave way to contemporary generative morphology.

In the earliest presentations of generative linguistics, there was no lexicon. The introduction of the lexicon made many of the ideas formulated before obsolete. Chomsky’s Lexicalist Hypothesis provided the basis for a new start of research in morphology. Two contrasting elaborations appeared in the early 1970s. Halle proposed a model based on the combination of morphemes, Jackendoff one based on the representation and analysis of full words.

Against this background, a number of characteristic issues were discussed in the 1970s and 1980s. One such issue was the form of rules. Here there was a shift from transformations to rewrite rules. This shift can be seen particularly well in the discussion of verbal compounds, e.g., truck driver. The question whether and how morphology should be distinguished from syntax generated a lot of discussion. Another broad question was the degree to which rules of morphology should be thought of as operating in separate components. This can be observed in the issue of the distinction of inflection and derivation and in level ordering. The latter was a proposal to divide affixes into classes with different phonological and other effects on the base they attach to. A side effect of level ordering was the appearance of bracketing paradoxes, where, for instance, generative grammarian has a phonological constituent grammarian but a semantic constituent generative grammar. Another aspect of rule application which can be constructed as a difference between morphology and syntax is productivity. In general, syntactic rules are more productive and morphological rules display blocking effects, where, for instance, unpossible is blocked by the existence of impossible.

Being classical, much of the discussions in this period serves as a shared background for the emergence and discussion of current generative approaches in morphology. The transition to these theories started in the 1990s, although some of them appeared only in the early 2000s.

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