This contribution analyses morphologically autonomous structures within the context of the Romance languages, the family of languages which, along with Latin, have most served as an evidence base for these structures. Autonomous morphological structures are defined as an abstract representation of paradigmatic cells which form a cohesive group and reliably share exponents with each other, and the forms which realize them, are thus to a large extent interpredictable. In this contribution, I restrict my discussion to the most canonical type of these structures and those which have sparked the most controversy in the linguistic literature. I analyze this controversy and suggest that it is due to (a) their overlapping meaning with the term morphome, a concept which embodies an empirical claim about all morphology and (b) the controversy surrounding what morphology actually is and the basic units of morphological analysis and storage. I make a distinction between abstractive and constructive models of morphology and suggest that historical tendencies within the latter encourage scholars to view morphologically autonomous structures either as not synchronically relevant or as phonologically or semantically derivable due to their theoretical assumptions about the nature of language and the mental storage of words. These assumptions constitute the horizons of intelligibility of such models regarding the functioning of language and its governing principles, including outdated ideas of the capacity of mental storage. Unfortunately, however, the different theories furnish scholars with an expansive array of devices through which they can seemingly explain away the synchronic generalizations of the data while relegating the most recalcitrant data to the domain of memorized forms which are not relevant to the grammar. I present evidence in favor of the psychological reality of morphologically autonomous structures in diachrony and I argue that synchronically, these structures are necessary to explain the distribution of the data and capture the fact that speakers do not memorize every inflectional form of a paradigm but rely on patterns of predictability and implicational relationships between forms. It is my suggestion that morphologically autonomous structures encourage a revaluation of the basic units of memorization and the structure of the lexicon in accordance with abstractive theories of morphology.
The morphological machinery of a language is at the service of syntax, but the service can be poor. A request may result in the wrong item (deponency), or in an item the syntax already has (syncretism), or in an abundance of choices (inflectional classes or morphological allomorphy). Network Morphology regulates the service by recreating the morphosyntactic space as a network of information sharing nodes, where sharing is through inheritance, and inheritance can be overridden to allow for the regular, irregular, and, crucially, the semiregular. The network expresses the system; the way the network can be accessed expresses possible deviations from the systematic. And so Network Morphology captures the semi-systematic nature of morphology. The key data used to illustrate Network Morphology are noun inflections in the West Slavonic language Lower Sorbian, which has three genders, a rich case system and three numbers. These data allow us to observe how Network Morphology handles inflectional allomorphy, syncretism, feature neutralization, and irregularity. Latin deponent verbs are used to illustrate a Network Morphology account of morphological mismatch, where morphosyntactic features used in the syntax are expressed by morphology regularly used for different features. The analysis points to a separation of syntax and morphology in the architecture of the grammar. An account is given of Russian nominal derivation which assumes such a separation, and is based on viewing derivational morphology as lexical relatedness. Areas of the framework receiving special focus include default inheritance, global and local inheritance, default inference, and orthogonal multiple inheritance. The various accounts presented are expressed in the lexical knowledge representation language DATR, due to Roger Evans and Gerald Gazdar.