A root is a fundamental minimal unit in words. Some languages do not allow their roots to appear on their own, as in the Semitic languages where roots consist of consonant clusters that become stems or words by virtue of vowel insertion. Other languages appear to allow roots to surface without any additional morphology, as in English car. Roots are typically distinguished from affixes in that affixes need a host, although this varies within different theories. Traditionally roots have belonged to the domain of morphology. More recently, though, new theories have emerged according to which words are decomposed and subject to the same principles as sentences. That makes roots a fundamental building block of sentences, unlike words. Contemporary syntactic theories of roots hold that they have little if any grammatical information, which raises the question of how they acquire their seemingly grammatical properties. A central issue has revolved around whether roots have a lexical category inherently or whether they are given a lexical category in some other way. Two main theories are distributed morphology and the exoskeletal approach to grammar. The former holds that roots merge with categorizers in the grammar: a root combined with a nominal categorizer becomes a noun, and a root combined with a verbal categorizer becomes a verb. On the latter approach, it is argued that roots are inserted into syntactic structures which carry the relevant category, meaning that the syntactic environment is created before roots are inserted into the structure. The two views make different predictions and differ in particular in their view of the status of empty categorizers.
Agustín Vicente and Ingrid L. Falkum
Polysemy is characterized as the phenomenon whereby a single word form is associated with two or several related senses. It is distinguished from monosemy, where one word form is associated with a single meaning, and homonymy, where a single word form is associated with two or several unrelated meanings. Although the distinctions between polysemy, monosemy, and homonymy may seem clear at an intuitive level, they have proven difficult to draw in practice. Polysemy proliferates in natural language: Virtually every word is polysemous to some extent. Still, the phenomenon has been largely ignored in the mainstream linguistics literature and in related disciplines such as philosophy of language. However, polysemy is a topic of relevance to linguistic and philosophical debates regarding lexical meaning representation, compositional semantics, and the semantics–pragmatics divide. Early accounts treated polysemy in terms of sense enumeration: each sense of a polysemous expression is represented individually in the lexicon, such that polysemy and homonymy were treated on a par. This approach has been strongly criticized on both theoretical and empirical grounds. Since at least the 1990s, most researchers converge on the hypothesis that the senses of at least many polysemous expressions derive from a single meaning representation, though the status of this representation is a matter of vivid debate: Are the lexical representations of polysemous expressions informationally poor and underspecified with respect to their different senses? Or do they have to be informationally rich in order to store and be able to generate all these polysemous senses? Alternatively, senses might be computed from a literal, primary meaning via semantic or pragmatic mechanisms such as coercion, modulation or ad hoc concept construction (including metaphorical and metonymic extension), mechanisms that apparently play a role also in explaining how polysemy arises and is implicated in lexical semantic change.
The category of Personal/Participant/Inhabitant derived nouns comprises a conglomeration of derived nouns that denote among others agents, instruments, patients/themes, inhabitants, and followers of a person. Based on the thematic relations between the derived noun and its base lexeme, Personal/Participant/Inhabitant nouns can be classified into two subclasses. The first subclass comprises derived nouns that are deverbal and carry thematic readings (e.g., driver). The second subclass consists of derived nouns with athematic readings (e.g., Marxist). The examination of the category of Personal/Participant/Inhabitant nouns allows one to delve deeply into the study of multiplicity of meaning in word formation and the factors that bear on the readings of derived words. These factors range from the historical mechanisms that lead to multiplicity of meaning and the lexical-semantic properties of the bases that derived nouns are based on, to the syntactic context into which derived nouns occur, and the pragmatic-encyclopedic facets of both the base and the derived lexeme.
Phonotactics is the study of restrictions on possible sound sequences in a language. In any language, some phonotactic constraints can be stated without reference to morphology, but many of the more nuanced phonotactic generalizations do make use of morphosyntactic and lexical information. At the most basic level, many languages mark edges of words in some phonological way. Different phonotactic constraints hold of sounds that belong to the same morpheme as opposed to sounds that are separated by a morpheme boundary. Different phonotactic constraints may apply to morphemes of different types (such as roots versus affixes). There are also correlations between phonotactic shapes and following certain morphosyntactic and phonological rules, which may correlate to syntactic category, declension class, or etymological origins. Approaches to the interaction between phonotactics and morphology address two questions: (1) how to account for rules that are sensitive to morpheme boundaries and structure and (2) determining the status of phonotactic constraints associated with only some morphemes. Theories differ as to how much morphological information phonology is allowed to access. In some theories of phonology, any reference to the specific identities or subclasses of morphemes would exclude a rule from the domain of phonology proper. These rules are either part of the morphology or are not given the status of a rule at all. Other theories allow the phonological grammar to refer to detailed morphological and lexical information. Depending on the theory, phonotactic differences between morphemes may receive direct explanations or be seen as the residue of historical change and not something that constitutes grammatical knowledge in the speaker’s mind.
A fundamental difference in theoretical models of morphology and, particularly, of the syntax–morphology interface is that between endoskeletal and exoskeletal approaches. In the former, more traditional, endoskeletal approaches, open-class lexical items like cat or sing are held to be inherently endowed with a series of formal features that determine the properties of the linguistic expressions in which they appear. In the latter, more recent, exoskeletal approaches, it is rather the morphosyntactic configurations, independently produced by the combination of abstract functional elements, that determine those properties. Lexical items, in this latter approach, are part of the structure but, crucially, do not determine it. Conceptually, although a correlation is usually made between endoskeletalism and lexicalism/projectionism, on the one hand, and between exoskeletalism and (neo)constructionism, on the other, things are actually more complicated, and some frameworks exist that seem to challenge those correlations, in particular when the difference between word and morpheme is taken into account. Empirically, the difference between these two approaches to morphology and the morphology-syntax interface comes to light when one examines how each one treats a diversity of word-related phenomena: morphosyntactic category and category shift in derivational processes, inflectional class, nominal properties like mass or count, and verbal properties like agentivity and (a)telicity.
Grammaticalization is traditionally defined as the gradual process whereby a lexical item becomes a grammatical item (primary grammaticalization), which may be followed by further formal and semantic reduction (secondary grammaticalization). It is a composite change that may affect both phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic-pragmatic properties of a morpheme, and it is found in all the world’s languages. On the level of morphology, grammaticalization has been shown to have various effects, ranging from the loss of inflection in primary grammaticalization to the development of bound morphemes or new inflectional classes in secondary grammaticalization. Well-known examples include the development of future auxiliaries from motion verbs (e.g., English to be going to), and the development of the Romance inflection future (e.g., French chanter-ai ‘I sing’, chanter-as ‘you sing’, etc., from a verb meaning ‘to have’). Although lexical-grammatical change is overwhelmingly unidirectional, shifts in the reverse direction, called degrammaticalization, have also been shown to occur. Like grammaticalization, degrammaticalization is a composite change, which is characterized by an increase in phonological and semantic substance as well as in morphosyntactic autonomy. Accordingly, the effects on morphology are different from those in grammaticalization. In primary degrammaticalization new inflections may be acquired (e.g., the Welsh verb nôl ‘to fetch,’ from an adposition meaning ‘after’), and erstwhile bound morphemes may become free morphemes (e.g., English ish). As such effects are also found in other types of changes, degrammaticalization needs to be clearly delineated from those. For example, a shift from a minor to a major category (e.g., English ifs and buts) or the lexicalization of bound affixes (isms), likewise result in new inflections, but these are instantaneous changes, not gradual ones.
Throughout the 20th century, structuralist and generative linguists have argued that the study of the language system (langue, competence) must be separated from the study of language use (parole, performance), but this view of language has been called into question by usage-based linguists who have argued that the structure and organization of a speaker’s linguistic knowledge is the product of language use or performance. On this account, language is seen as a dynamic system of fluid categories and flexible constraints that are constantly restructured and reorganized under the pressure of domain-general cognitive processes that are not only involved in the use of language but also in other cognitive phenomena such as vision and (joint) attention. The general goal of usage-based linguistics is to develop a framework for the analysis of the emergence of linguistic structure and meaning. In order to understand the dynamics of the language system, usage-based linguists study how languages evolve, both in history and language acquisition. One aspect that plays an important role in this approach is frequency of occurrence. As frequency strengthens the representation of linguistic elements in memory, it facilitates the activation and processing of words, categories, and constructions, which in turn can have long-lasting effects on the development and organization of the linguistic system. A second aspect that has been very prominent in the usage-based study of grammar concerns the relationship between lexical and structural knowledge. Since abstract representations of linguistic structure are derived from language users’ experience with concrete linguistic tokens, grammatical patterns are generally associated with particular lexical expressions.
Language is a system that maps meanings to forms, but the mapping is not always one-to-one. Variation means that one meaning corresponds to multiple forms, for example faster ~ more fast. The choice is not uniquely determined by the rules of the language, but is made by the individual at the time of performance (speaking, writing). Such choices abound in human language. They are usually not just a matter of free will, but involve preferences that depend on the context, including the phonological context. Phonological variation is a situation where the choice among expressions is phonologically conditioned, sometimes statistically, sometimes categorically. In this overview, we take a look at three studies of variable vowel harmony in three languages (Finnish, Hungarian, and Tommo So) formulated in three frameworks (Partial Order Optimality Theory, Stochastic Optimality Theory, and Maximum Entropy Grammar). For example, both Finnish and Hungarian have Backness Harmony: vowels must be all [+back] or all [−back] within a single word, with the exception of neutral vowels that are compatible with either. Surprisingly, some stems allow both [+back] and [−back] suffixes in free variation, for example, analyysi-na ~ analyysi-nä ‘analysis-ess’ (Finnish) and arzén-nak ~ arzén-nek ‘arsenic-dat’ (Hungarian). Several questions arise. Is the variation random or in some way systematic? Where is the variation possible? Is it limited to specific lexical items? Is the choice predictable to some extent? Are the observed statistical patterns dictated by universal constraints or learned from the ambient data? The analyses illustrate the usefulness of recent advances in the technological infrastructure of linguistics, in particular the constantly improving computational tools.
Bracketing paradoxes—constructions whose morphosyntactic and morpho-phonological structures appear to be irreconcilably at odds (e.g., unhappier)—are unanimously taken to point to truths about the derivational system that we have not yet grasped. Consider that the prefix un- must be structurally separate in some way from happier both for its own reasons (its [n] surprisingly does not assimilate in Place to a following consonant (e.g., u[n]popular)), and for reasons external to the prefix (the suffix -er must be insensitive to the presence of un-, as the comparative cannot attach to bases of three syllables or longer (e.g., *intelligenter)). But, un- must simultaneously be present in the derivation before -er is merged, so that unhappier can have the proper semantic reading (‘more unhappy’, and not ‘not happier’). Bracketing paradoxes emerged as a problem for generative accounts of both morphosyntax and morphophonology only in the 1970s. With the rise of restrictions on and technology used to describe and represent the behavior of affixes (e.g., the Affix-Ordering Generalization, Lexical Phonology and Morphology, the Prosodic Hierarchy), morphosyntacticians and phonologists were confronted with this type of inconsistent derivation in many unrelated languages.