The term syncretism refers to a situation where two distinct morphosyntactic categories are expressed in the same way. For instance, in English, first and third person pronouns distinguish singular from plural (I vs. we, he/she/it vs. them), but the second person pronoun (you) doesn’t. Such facts are traditionally understood in a way that English grammar distinguishes between the singular and plural in all persons. However, in the second person, the two distinct meanings are expressed the same, and the form you is understood as a form syncretic between the two different grammatical meanings. It is important to note that while the two meanings are different, they are also related: both instances of you refer to the addressee. They differ in whether they refer just to the addressee or to a group including the addressee and someone else, as depicted here. a.you (sg) = addressee b.you (pl) = addressee + others The idea that syncretism reflects meaning similarity is what makes its study interesting; a lot of research has been dedicated to figuring out the reasons why two distinct categories are marked the same. There are a number of approaches to the issue of how relatedness in meaning is to be modeled. An old idea, going back to Sanskrit grammarians, is to arrange the syncretic cells of a paradigm in such a way so that the syncretic cells would always be adjacent. Modern approaches call such arrangements geometric spaces (McCreight & Chvany, 1991) or semantic maps (Haspelmath, 2003), with the goal to depict meaning relatedness as a spatial proximity in a conceptual space. A different idea is pursued in approaches based on decomposition into discrete meaning components called features (Jakobson, 1962). Both of these approaches acknowledge the existence of two different meanings, which are related. However, there are two additional logical options to the issue of syncretism. First, one may adopt the position that the two paradigm cells correspond to a single abstract meaning, and that what appear to be different meanings/functions arises from the interaction between the abstract meaning and the specific context of use (see, for instance, Kayne, 2008 or Manzini & Savoia, 2011). Second, it could be that there are simply two different meanings expressed by two different markers, which accidentally happen to have the same phonology (like the English two and too). The three approaches are mutually contradictory only for a single phenomenon, but each of them may be correct for a different set of cases.
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.
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.
Olaf Koeneman and Hedde Zeijlstra
The relation between the morphological form of a pronoun and its semantic function is not always transparent, and syncretism abounds in natural languages. In a language like English, for instance, three types of indefinite pronouns can be identified, often grouped in series: the some-series, the any-series, and the no-series. However, this does not mean that there are also three semantic functions for indefinite pronouns. Haspelmath (1997), in fact distinguishes nine functions. Closer inspection shows that these nine functions must be reduced to four main functions of indefinites, each with a number of subfunctions: (i) Negative Polarity Items; (ii) Free-Choice Items; (iii) negative indefinites; and (iv) positive or existential indefinites. These functions and subfunctions can be morphologically realized differently across languages, but don’t have to. In English, functions (i) and (ii), unlike (iii) and (iv), may morphologically group together, both expressed by the any-series. Where morphological correspondences between the kinds of functions that indefinites may express call for a classification, such classifications turn out to be semantically well motivated too. Similar observations can be made for definite pronouns, where it turns out that various functions, such as the first person inclusive/exclusive distinction or dual number, are sometimes, but not always morphologically distinguished, showing that these may be subfunctions of higher, more general functions. The question as to how to demarcate the landscape of indefinite and definite pronouns thus does not depend on semantic differences alone: Morphological differences are at least as much telling. The interplay between morphological and semantic properties can provide serious answers to how to define indefinites and the various forms and functions that these may take on.