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Morphologization and the Boundary Between Morphology and Phonology in the Romance Languages  

Paul O'Neill

This article analyses, from a Romance perspective, the concept of morphologization and seeks to answer the following question: At what point does a historically proven phonological cause-and-effect relationship, whereby phonological feature X causes and determines phonological feature Y, cease to hold and the dephonologized Y element stand as a marker of some morphological distinction? The question is relevant to cases in which the original phonological conditioning element is still present and where it has disappeared. I explain that the answer to this question depends entirely on one’s conception of morphology and phonology. I argue against theories that adhere to the principle of lexical minimization and have a static conception of morphology, which is restricted to the concatenation of idiosyncratic morphemes. These theories are forced by their theoretical underpinnings, which are often ideological and not supported by robust empirical evidence, to explain morphologized phenomena as being synchronically derived by phonology. This approach comes at a huge cost: the model of phonology is endowed with powerful tools to make the analysis fit the theory and which ultimately diminishes the empirical content and plausibility of the phonological hypotheses; such approaches also constitute serious problems for language acquisition and learning. I argue for more dynamic and abstractive models of morphology, which do not impose strict restrictions on lexical storage. I ultimately view morphologization as an instance of morphologically conditioned phonology and uphold that there is no strict boundary between the phonology and morphology but both systems overlap and interact. I analyze data and phonological explanations of metaphony in nouns and verbs in Italo-Romance, plural formation in Spanish and Portuguese, the distribution of velar allomorphy in the Italian and Spanish verbs, and the distribution of verbal stress in Surmiran Romansh and Spanish. With reference to the latter, the contribution dedicates significant space exploring the extent to which the diphthong/monophthong alternation in Spanish, and different types of allomorphy in Surmiran Romansh, is a matter of phonologically conditioned allomorphy or morphologically conditioned phonology.