Research in neurolinguistics examines how language is organized and processed in the human brain. The findings from neurolinguistic studies on language can inform our understanding of the basic ingredients of language and the operations they undergo. In the domain of the lexicon, a major debate concerns whether and to what extent the morpheme serves as a basic unit of linguistic representation, and in turn whether and under what circumstances the processing of morphologically complex words involves operations that identify, activate, and combine morpheme-level representations during lexical processing. Alternative models positing some role for morphemes argue that complex words are processed via morphological decomposition and composition in the general case (full-decomposition models), or only under certain circumstances (dual-route models), while other models do not posit a role for morphemes (non-morphological models), instead arguing that complex words are related to their constituents not via morphological identity, but either via associations among whole-word representations or via similarity in formal and/or semantic features. Two main approaches to investigating the role of morphemes from a neurolinguistic perspective are neuropsychology, in which complex word processing is typically investigated in cases of brain insult or neurodegenerative disease, and brain imaging, which makes it possible to examine the temporal dynamics and neuroanatomy of complex word processing as it occurs in the brain. Neurolinguistic studies on morphology have examined whether the processing of complex words involves brain mechanisms that rapidly segment the input into potential morpheme constituents, how and under what circumstances morpheme representations are accessed from the lexicon, and how morphemes are combined to form complex morphosyntactic and morpho-semantic representations. Findings from this literature broadly converge in suggesting a role for morphemes in complex word processing, although questions remain regarding the precise time course by which morphemes are activated, the extent to which morpheme access is constrained by semantic or form properties, as well as regarding the brain mechanisms by which morphemes are ultimately combined into complex representations.
Christina L. Gagné
Psycholinguistics is the study of how language is acquired, represented, and used by the human mind; it draws on knowledge about both language and cognitive processes. A central topic of debate in psycholinguistics concerns the balance between storage and processing. This debate is especially evident in research concerning morphology, which is the study of word structure, and several theoretical issues have arisen concerning the question of how (or whether) morphology is represented and what function morphology serves in the processing of complex words. Five theoretical approaches have emerged that differ substantially in the emphasis placed on the role of morphemic representations during the processing of morphologically complex words. The first approach minimizes processing by positing that all words, even morphologically complex ones, are stored and recognized as whole units, without the use of morphemic representations. The second approach posits that words are represented and processed in terms of morphemic units. The third approach is a mixture of the first two approaches and posits that a whole-access route and decomposition route operate in parallel. A fourth approach posits that both whole word representations and morphemic representations are used, and that these two types of information interact. A fifth approach proposes that morphology is not explicitly represented, but rather, emerges from the co-activation of orthographic/phonological representations and semantic representations. These competing approaches have been evaluated using a wide variety of empirical methods examining, for example, morphological priming, the role of constituent and word frequency, and the role of morphemic position. For the most part, the evidence points to the involvement of morphological representations during the processing of complex words. However, the specific way in which these representations are used is not yet fully known.
The investigation of morphology and lexical semantics is an investigation into the very essence of the semantics of word formation: the meaning of morphemes and how they can be combined to form meanings of complex words. Discussion of this question within the scholarly literature has been dependent on (i) the adopted morphological model (morpheme-based or word-based); and (ii) the adopted theoretical paradigm (such as formal/generativist accounts vs. construction-based approaches)—which also determined what problem areas received attention in the first place. One particular problem area that has surfaced most consistently within the literature (irrespective of the adopted morphological model or theoretical paradigm) is the so-called semantic mismatch question, which also serves as the focus of the present chapter. In essence, semantic mismatch pertains to the question of why there is no one-to-one correspondence between form and meaning in word formation. In other words, it is very frequently not possible out of context to give a precise account of what the meaning of a newly coined word might be based simply on the constituents that the word originates from. The article considers the extent to which the meaning of complex words is (at least partly) based on nondecompositional knowledge, implying that the meaning-bearing feature of morphemes might in fact be a graded affair. Thus, depending on the entrenchment and strength of the interrelations among sets of words, the meaning of the components contributes only more or less to a meaning of a word, suggesting that “mismatches” might be neither unusual nor uncommon.
Inflection is the systematic relation between words’ morphosyntactic content and their morphological form; as such, the phenomenon of inflection raises fundamental questions about the nature of morphology itself and about its interfaces. Within the domain of morphology proper, it is essential to establish how (or whether) inflection differs from other kinds of morphology and to identify the ways in which morphosyntactic content can be encoded morphologically. A number of different approaches to modeling inflectional morphology have been proposed; these tend to cluster into two main groups, those that are morpheme-based and those that are lexeme-based. Morpheme-based theories tend to treat inflectional morphology as fundamentally concatenative; they tend to represent an inflected word’s morphosyntactic content as a compositional summing of its morphemes’ content; they tend to attribute an inflected word’s internal structure to syntactic principles; and they tend to minimize the theoretical significance of inflectional paradigms. Lexeme-based theories, by contrast, tend to accord concatenative and nonconcatenative morphology essentially equal status as marks of inflection; they tend to represent an inflected word’s morphosyntactic content as a property set intrinsically associated with that word’s paradigm cell; they tend to assume that an inflected word’s internal morphology is neither accessible to nor defined by syntactic principles; and they tend to treat inflection as the morphological realization of a paradigm’s cells. Four important issues for approaches of either sort are the nature of nonconcatenative morphology, the incidence of extended exponence, the underdetermination of a word’s morphosyntactic content by its inflectional form, and the nature of word forms’ internal structure. The structure of a word’s inventory of inflected forms—its paradigm—is the locus of considerable cross-linguistic variation. In particular, the canonical relation of content to form in an inflectional paradigm is subject to a wide array of deviations, including inflection-class distinctions, morphomic properties, defectiveness, deponency, metaconjugation, and syncretism; these deviations pose important challenges for understanding the interfaces of inflectional morphology, and a theory’s resolution of these challenges depends squarely on whether that theory is morpheme-based or lexeme-based.
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.
Eystein Dahl and Antonio Fábregas
Zero or null morphology refers to morphological units that are devoid of phonological content. Whether such entities should be postulated is one of the most controversial issues in morphological theory, with disagreements in how the concept should be delimited, what would count as an instance of zero morphology inside a particular theory, and whether such objects should be allowed even as mere analytical instruments. With respect to the first problem, given that zero morphology is a hypothesis that comes from certain analyses, delimiting what counts as a zero morpheme is not a trivial matter. The concept must be carefully differentiated from others that intuitively also involve situations where there is no overt morphological marking: cumulative morphology, phonological deletion, etc. About the second issue, what counts as null can also depend on the specific theories where the proposal is made. In the strict sense, zero morphology involves a complete morphosyntactic representation that is associated to zero phonological content, but there are other notions of zero morphology that differ from the one discussed here, such as absolute absence of morphological expression, in addition to specific theory-internal interpretations of what counts as null. Thus, it is also important to consider the different ways in which something can be morphologically silent. Finally, with respect to the third side of the debate, arguments are made for and against zero morphology, notably from the perspectives of falsifiability, acquisition, and psycholinguistics. Of particular impact is the question of which properties a theory should have in order to block the possibility that zero morphology exists, and conversely the properties that theories that accept zero morphology associate to null morphemes. An important ingredient in this debate has to do with two empirical domains: zero derivation and paradigmatic uniformity. Ultimately, the plausibility that zero morphemes exist or not depends on the success at accounting for these two empirical patterns in a better way than theories that ban zero morphology.
Anton Karl Ingason and Einar Freyr Sigurðsson
Attributive compounds are words that include two parts, a head and a non-head, both of which include lexical roots, and in which the non-head is interpreted as a modifier of the head. The nature of this modification is sometimes described in terms of a covert relationship R. The nature of R has been the subject of much discussion in the literature, including proposals that a finite and limited number of interpretive options are available for R, as well as analyses in which the interpretation of R is unrestricted and varies with context. The modification relationship between the parts of an attributive compound also contrasts with the interpretation of compounds in other ways because some non-heads in compounds saturate argument positions of the head, others are semantically conjoined with them, and some restrict their domain of interpretation.
The American descriptivist movement includes the work of Edward Sapir, Leonard Bloomfield, and their students, including Zellig Harris, Charles Hockett, and Kenneth Pike. Their work on morphology set the stage for much of the discussion of the subject in the years that followed, right up to today. In a number of ways they laid greater emphasis on the role of morphemes in morphological analysis when linguists in Europe focused more on the central role played by words in morphosyntactic paradigms.
Some of the basic terminology for the major entities in morphological study is introduced, focusing on the word and elements within the word. This is done in a way which is deliberately introductory in nature and omits a great deal of detail about the elements that are introduced.
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.