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.
Bracketing Paradoxes in Morphology
Morphological Entities: Overview and General Issues
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 Status of the Morpheme
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.