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Article

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of intelligibility of such models regarding the functioning of language and its governing principles, including outdated ideas of the capacity of mental storage.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.

Article

Gregory Stump

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.

Article

Isabel Oltra-Massuet

Conjugation classes have been defined as the set of all forms of a verb that spell out all possible morphosyntactic categories of person, number, tense, aspect, mood, and/or other additional categories that the language expresses in verbs. Theme vowels instantiate conjugation classes as purely morphological markers; that is, they determine the verb’s morphophonological surface shape but not its syntactic or semantic properties. They typically split the vocabulary items of the category verb into groups that spellout morphosyntactic and morphosemantic feature specifications with the same inflectional affixes. The bond between verbs and their conjugational marking is idiosyncratic, and cannot be established on semantic, syntactic, or phonological grounds, although there have been serious attempts at finding a systematic correlation. The existence of theme vowels and arbitrary conjugation classes has been taken by lexicalist theories as empirical evidence to argue against syntactic approaches to word formation and are used as one of the main arguments for the autonomy of morphology. They further raise questions on the nature of basic morphological notions such as stems or paradigms and serve as a good empirical ground for theories of allomorphy and syncretism, or to test psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic theories of productivity, full decomposition, and storage. Conjugations and their instantiation via theme vowels may also be a challenge for theories of first language acquisition and the learning of morphological categories devoid of any semantic meaning or syntactic alignment that extend to second language acquisition as well. Thus, analyzing their nature, their representation, and their place in grammar is crucial as the approach to these units can have profound effects on linguistic theory and the architecture of grammar.

Article

Allomorphy and syncretism are both deviations from the one-to-one relationship between form and meaning inside the linguistic sign as postulated by Saussure as well as from the ideal of inflectional morphology as stipulated in the canonical approach by Corbett. Instances of both phenomena are well documented in all Romance languages. In inflection, allomorphy refers to the use of more than one root/stem in the paradigm of a single lexeme or to the existence of more than one inflectional affix for the same function. Syncretism describes the existence of identical forms with different functions in one and the same paradigm. Verbs exhibiting stem allomorphy are traditionally called irregular, a label that describes the existence of unexpected and, sometimes, unpredictable forms from a learner’s perspective. Extreme forms of allomorphy are called suppletion, for which traditional accounts require two or more etymologically unrelated roots/stems to coexist within the paradigm of a single lexeme. Allomorphy often originates in sound change affecting only stems in a certain phonological environment. When the phonological conditioning of the stem allomorph disappears, which is frequently the case, its distribution within the paradigm may become purely morphological, thus constituting a morphome in the sense of Aronoff. Recurrent patterns of syncretism may also be considered morphomes. Whereas syncretism was quite rare in Latin verb morphology, Romance languages feature it to much greater, if different, degrees. In extreme cases, syncretism patterns become paradigm-structuring in many Gallo-Romance varieties, as is the case in the verb morphology of standard French, where almost all forms are syncretic with at least one other.

Article

The Romance languages inherited from Latin a system of four inflection classes in verbs featuring a dedicated theme vowel (or its absence). The presence of the theme vowel in inflectional forms differs from language to language and from inflection class to inflection class. In Latin, the theme vowels are found in most forms; in Romance, their presence has declined but they are still featured at least in the infinitive of most inflection classes. Most Romance languages simplified the Latin system by reducing the number of inflection classes while retaining the class distinction by theme vowels. In many Romance languages, new inflection classes have evolved. The existence of verbs with a stem-forming augment is often described as a subclass in traditional grammars. But the augment appears in a well-defined set of paradigm cells warranting the introduction of a new class. In a synchronic analysis, French and Oïl varieties show mostly a distinction based on length of the stem or, from another perspective, pattern of syncretism as many forms are homophonous. This is partly due to the fact that some very frequent forms do not feature any longer inflectional suffixes in their phonetic realization (although these are retained in spelling). New irregularities in the stem found in all Romance languages suggest the emergence of an additional class distinction based on the form, number, and distribution of the stems. Morphomic patterns arose which may be interpreted as inflection classes. The most radical change took place in French: Some analyses claim that none of the traditional classes distinguished by theme vowels survives; only stem distinctions may be used to establish inflection classes. Other studies still assume theme vowels in French, at least with verbs ending in -ir in the infinitive. Suppletion or other processes may lead to heteroclisis (i.e., forms of the same verb pertaining to different inflection classes).