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date: 30 November 2020

The Status of Heads in Morphologylocked

  • Beata MoskalBeata MoskalDepartment of Linguistics, Goethe University Frankfurt
  •  and Peter W. SmithPeter W. SmithDepartment of Linguistics, Goethe University Frankfurt

Summary

Headedness is a pervasive phenomenon throughout different components of the grammar, which fundamentally encodes an asymmetry between two or more items, such that one is in some sense more important than the other(s). In phonology for instance, the nucleus is the head of the syllable, and not the onset or the coda, whereas in syntax, the verb is the head of a verb phrase, rather than any complements or specifiers that it combines with. It makes sense, then, to question whether the notion of headedness applies to the morphology as well; specifically, do words—complex or simplex—have heads that determine the properties of the word as a whole? Intuitively it makes sense that words have heads: a noun that is derived from an adjective like redness can function only as a noun, and the presence of red in the structure does not confer on the whole form the ability to function as an adjective as well.

However, this question is a complex one for a variety of reasons. While it seems clear for some phenomena such as category determination that words have heads, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the properties of complex words are not all derived from one morpheme, but rather that the features are gathered from potentially numerous morphemes within the same word. Furthermore, properties that characterize heads compared to dependents, particularly based on syntactic behavior, do not unambigously pick out a single element, but the tests applied to morphology at times pick out affixes, and at times pick out bases as the head of the whole word.

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