Analogy is traditionally regarded as one of the three main factors responsible for language change, along with sound change and borrowing. Whereas sound change is understood to be phonetically motivated and blind to structural patterns and semantic and functional relationships, analogy is licensed precisely by those patterns and relationships. In the Neogrammarian tradition, analogical change is regarded, at least largely, as a by-product of the normal operation (acquisition, representation, and use) of the mental grammar. Historical linguists commonly use proportional equations of the form A : B = C : X to represent analogical innovations, where A, B, and C are (sets of) word forms known to the innovator, who solves for X by discerning a formal relationship between A and B and then deductively arriving at a form that is related to C in the same way that B is related to A. Along with the core type of analogical change captured by proportional equations, most historical linguists include a number of other phenomena under the analogy umbrella. Some of these, such as paradigm leveling—the reduction or elimination of stem alternations in paradigms—are arguably largely proportional, but others such as contamination and folk etymology seem to have less to do with the normal operation of the mental grammar and instead involve some kind of interference among the mental representations of phonetically or semantically similar forms. The Neogrammarian approach to analogical change has been criticized and challenged on a variety of grounds, and a number of important scholars use the term “analogy” in a rather different sense, to refer to the role that phonological and/or semantic similarity play in the influence that forms exert on each other.
Blocking can be defined as the non-occurrence of some linguistic form, whose existence could be expected on general grounds, due to the existence of a rival form. *Oxes, for example, is blocked by oxen, *stealer by thief. Although blocking is closely associated with morphology, in reality the competing “forms” can not only be morphemes or words, but can also be syntactic units. In German, for example, the compound Rotwein ‘red wine’ blocks the phrasal unit *roter Wein (in the relevant sense), just as the phrasal unit rote Rübe ‘beetroot; lit. red beet’ blocks the compound *Rotrübe. In these examples, one crucial factor determining blocking is synonymy; speakers apparently have a deep-rooted presumption against synonyms. Whether homonymy can also lead to a similar avoidance strategy, is still controversial. But even if homonymy blocking exists, it certainly is much less systematic than synonymy blocking. In all the examples mentioned above, it is a word stored in the mental lexicon that blocks a rival formation. However, besides such cases of lexical blocking, one can observe blocking among productive patterns. Dutch has three suffixes for deriving agent nouns from verbal bases, -er, -der, and -aar. Of these three suffixes, the first one is the default choice, while -der and -aar are chosen in very specific phonological environments: as Geert Booij describes in The Morphology of Dutch (2002), “the suffix -aar occurs after stems ending in a coronal sonorant consonant preceded by schwa, and -der occurs after stems ending in /r/” (p. 122). Contrary to lexical blocking, the effect of this kind of pattern blocking does not depend on words stored in the mental lexicon and their token frequency but on abstract features (in the case at hand, phonological features). Blocking was first recognized by the Indian grammarian Pāṇini in the 5th or 4th century bc, when he stated that of two competing rules, the more restricted one had precedence. In the 1960s, this insight was revived by generative grammarians under the name “Elsewhere Principle,” which is still used in several grammatical theories (Distributed Morphology and Paradigm Function Morphology, among others). Alternatively, other theories, which go back to the German linguist Hermann Paul, have tackled the phenomenon on the basis of the mental lexicon. The great advantage of this latter approach is that it can account, in a natural way, for the crucial role played by frequency. Frequency is also crucial in the most promising theory, so-called statistical pre-emption, of how blocking can be learned.
Irit Meir and Oksana Tkachman
Iconicity is a relationship of resemblance or similarity between the two aspects of a sign: its form and its meaning. An iconic sign is one whose form resembles its meaning in some way. The opposite of iconicity is arbitrariness. In an arbitrary sign, the association between form and meaning is based solely on convention; there is nothing in the form of the sign that resembles aspects of its meaning. The Hindu-Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3 are arbitrary, because their current form does not correlate to any aspect of their meaning. In contrast, the Roman numerals I, II, III are iconic, because the number of occurrences of the sign I correlates with the quantity that the numerals represent. Because iconicity has to do with the properties of signs in general and not only those of linguistic signs, it plays an important role in the field of semiotics—the study of signs and signaling. However, language is the most pervasive symbolic communicative system used by humans, and the notion of iconicity plays an important role in characterizing the linguistic sign and linguistic systems. Iconicity is also central to the study of literary uses of language, such as prose and poetry. There are various types of iconicity: the form of a sign may resemble aspects of its meaning in several ways: it may create a mental image of the concept (imagic iconicity), or its structure and the arrangement of its elements may resemble the structural relationship between components of the concept represented (diagrammatic iconicity). An example of the first type is the word cuckoo, whose sounds resemble the call of the bird, or a sign such as RABBIT in Israeli Sign Language, whose form—the hands representing the rabbit's long ears—resembles a visual property of that animal. An example of diagrammatic iconicity is vēnī, vīdī, vīcī, where the order of clauses in a discourse is understood as reflecting the sequence of events in the world. Iconicity is found on all linguistic levels: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and discourse. It is found both in spoken languages and in sign languages. However, sign languages, because of the visual-gestural modality through which they are transmitted, are much richer in iconic devices, and therefore offer a rich array of topics and perspectives for investigating iconicity, and the interaction between iconicity and language structure.
Morphology, understood as internal structure of words, has always figured prominently in linguistic typology, and it is with the morphological classification of languages into “fusional,” “agglutinating,” and “isolating” proposed by the linguists and philosophers of the early 19th century that the advent of typology is often associated. However, since then typology has shifted its interests toward mapping the individual parameters of cross-linguistic diversity and looking for correlations between them rather than classifying languages into idealized “types” and to syntactically and semantically centered inquiries. Since the second half of the 20th century, morphology has been viewed as just one possible type of expression of meaning or syntactic function, often too idiosyncratic to yield to any interesting cross-linguistic let alone universal generalizations. Such notions as “flexive” or “agglutinating” have proven to be ill-defined and requiring revision in terms of more primitive logically independent and empirically uncorrelated parameters. Moreover, well-founded doubts have been cast upon such basic notions as “word,” “affix,” and the like, which have notoriously resisted adequate cross-linguistically applicable definitions, and the same has been the fate of still popular concepts like “inflection” and “derivation.” On the other hand, most theoretically oriented work on morphology, concerned with both individual languages and cross-linguistic comparison, has largely abandoned the traditional morpheme-based approaches of the American structuralists of the first half of the 20th century, shifting its attention to paradigmatic relations between morphologically relevant units, which themselves can be larger than traditional words. These developments suggest a reassessment of the basic notions and analytic approaches of morphological typology. Instead of sticking to crude and possibly misleading notions such as “word” or “derivation,” it is necessary to carefully define more primitive and empirically better-grounded notions and parameters of cross-linguistic variation in the domains of both syntagmatics and paradigmatics, to plot the space of possibilities defined by these parameters, and to seek possible correlations between them as well as explanations of these correlations or of the lack thereof.
An agent noun is a derived noun whose general meaning is ‘person who does . . .’. It is thus characterized by the feature [+ Human], regardless of whether the person involved actually performs an action (e.g., French nageur ‘swimmer’, i.e., ‘a person who swims’), carries out a profession (e.g., Spanish cabrero ‘goatherd’, i.e., ‘a person who looks after goats’), adheres to a certain ideology or group (e.g., Italian femminista ‘feminist’, i.e., ‘a person who supports or follows the feminist movement’), and so on. Agent nouns are for the most part denominal (as with cabrero and femminista above) and deverbal (as with nageur above). Latin denominal agent nouns were mainly formed with -arius, though the Latin agentive suffix par excellence was -tor, which derived nouns from verbs. Latin denominal agents were also formed with -ista, a borrowing from Greek -ιστήϛ. The reflexes of all three suffixes are widespread and highly productive in the Romance languages, as in the case of Portuguese/Spanish/Catalan/Occitan pescador ‘fisherman’ (-dor < -torem), French boucher ‘butcher’ (-er < -arium), and Romanian flautist (-ist < -ista). At any rate, the distinction between denominal and deverbal agent nouns is not always straightforward, as demonstrated by the Romance forms connected with the Latin present particle -nte, for whereas the majority display a verbal base (e.g., Italian cantante ‘singer’ ← cantare ‘to sing’), there are some which do not (e.g., Italian bracciante ‘hired hand’ ← braccio ‘arm’), thus allowing them to be regarded as denominal derivations. A minor group of agent nouns is made up of deadjectival derivations, often conveying a pejorative meaning; such is the case with Italian elegantone ‘person of overblown elegance’ (← elegante ‘elegant’) and French richard ‘very rich person’ (← riche ‘rich’).
The morpheme was the central notion in morphological theorizing in the 20th century. It has a very intuitive appeal as the indivisible and invariant unit of form and meaning, a minimal linguistic sign. Ideally, that would be all there is to build words and sentences from. But this ideal does not appear to be entirely adequate. At least at a perhaps superficial understanding of form as a series of phonemes, and of meaning as concepts and morphosyntactic feature sets, the form and the meaning side of words are often not structured isomorphically. Different analytical reactions are possible to deal with the empirical challenges resulting from the various kinds of non-isomorphism between form and meaning. One prominent option is to reject the morpheme and to recognize conceptually larger units such as the word or the lexeme and its paradigm as the operands of morphological theory. This contrasts with various theoretical options maintaining the morpheme, terminologically or at least conceptually at some level. One such option is to maintain the morpheme as a minimal unit of form, relaxing the tension imposed by the meaning requirement. Another option is to maintain it as a minimal morphosyntactic unit, relaxing the requirements on the form side. The latter (and to a lesser extent also the former) has been understood in various profoundly different ways: association of one morpheme with several form variants, association of a morpheme with non-self-sufficient phonological units, or association of a morpheme with a formal process distinct from affixation. Variants of all of these possibilities have been entertained and have established distinct schools of thought. The overall architecture of the grammar, in particular the way that the morphology integrates with the syntax and the phonology, has become a driving force in the debate. If there are morpheme-sized units, are they pre-syntactic or post-syntactic units? Is the association between meaning and phonological information pre-syntactic or post-syntactic? Do morpheme-sized pieces have a specific status in the syntax? Invoking some of the main issues involved, this article draws a profile of the debate, following the term morpheme on a by-and-large chronological path from the late 19th century to the 21st century.