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Bert Remijsen

When the phonological form of a morpheme—a unit of meaning that cannot be decomposed further into smaller units of meaning—involves a particular melodic pattern as part of its sound shape, this morpheme is specified for tone. In view of this definition, phrase- and utterance-level melodies—also known as intonation—are not to be interpreted as instances of tone. That is, whereas the question “Tomorrow?” may be uttered with a rising melody, this melody is not tone, because it is not a part of the lexical specification of the morpheme tomorrow. A language that presents morphemes that are specified with specific melodies is called a tone language. It is not the case that in a tone language every morpheme, content word, or syllable would be specified for tone. Tonal specification can be highly restricted within the lexicon. Examples of such sparsely specified tone languages include Swedish, Japanese, and Ekagi (a language spoken in the Indonesian part of New Guinea); in these languages, only some syllables in some words are specified for tone. There are also tone languages where each and every syllable of each and every word has a specification. Vietnamese and Shilluk (a language spoken in South Sudan) illustrate this configuration. Tone languages also vary greatly in terms of the inventory of phonological tone forms. The smallest possible inventory contrasts one specification with the absence of specification. But there are also tone languages with eight or more distinctive tone categories. The physical (acoustic) realization of the tone categories is primarily fundamental frequency (F0), which is perceived as pitch. However, often other phonetic correlates are also involved, in particular voice quality. Tone plays a prominent role in the study of phonology because of its structural complexity. That is, in many languages, the way a tone surfaces is conditioned by factors such as the segmental composition of the morpheme, the tonal specifications of surrounding constituents, morphosyntax, and intonation. On top of this, tone is diachronically unstable. This means that, when a language has tone, we can expect to find considerable variation between dialects, and more of it than in relation to other parts of the sound system.


Pavel Caha

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.


The fundamental idea underlying the use of distinctive features in phonology is the proposition that the same phonetic properties that distinguish one phoneme from another also play a crucial role in accounting for phonological patterns. Phonological rules and constraints apply to natural classes of segments, expressed in terms of features, and involve mechanisms, such as spreading or agreement, that copy distinctive features from one segment to another. Contrastive specification builds on this by taking seriously the idea that phonological features are distinctive features. Many phonological patterns appear to be sensitive only to properties that crucially distinguish one phoneme from another, ignoring the same properties when they are redundant or predictable. For example, processes of voicing assimilation in many languages apply only to the class of obstruents, where voicing distinguishes phonemic pairs such as /t/ and /d/, and ignore sonorant consonants and vowels, which are predictably voiced. In theories of contrastive specification, features that do not serve to mark phonemic contrasts (such as [+voice] on sonorants) are omitted from underlying representations. Their phonological inertness thus follows straightforwardly from the fact that they are not present in the phonological system at the point at which the pattern applies, though the redundant features may subsequently be filled in either before or during phonetic implementation. In order to implement a theory of contrastive specification, it is necessary to have a means of determining which features are contrastive (and should thus be specified) and which ones are redundant (and should thus be omitted). A traditional and intuitive method involves looking for minimal pairs of phonemes: if [±voice] is the only property that can distinguish /t/ from /d/, then it must be specified on them. This approach, however, often identifies too few contrastive features to distinguish the phonemes of an inventory, particularly when the phonetic space is sparsely populated. For example, in the common three-vowel inventory /i a u/, there is more than one property that could distinguish any two vowels: /i/ differs from /a/ in both place (front versus back or central) and height (high versus low), /a/ from /u/ in both height and rounding, and /u/ from /i/ in both rounding and place. Because pairwise comparison cannot identify any features as contrastive in such cases, much recent work in contrastive specification is instead based on a hierarchical sequencing of features, with specifications assigned by dividing the full inventory into successively smaller subsets. For example, if the inventory /i a u/ is first divided according to height, then /a/ is fully distinguished from the other two vowels by virtue of being low, and the second feature, either place or rounding, is contrastive only on the high vowels. Unlike pairwise comparison, this approach produces specifications that fully distinguish the members of the underlying inventory, while at the same time allowing for the possibility of cross-linguistic variation in the specifications assigned to similar inventories.


Patrik Bye

Morpheme ordering is largely explainable in terms of syntactic/semantic scope, or the Mirror Principle, although there is a significant residue of cases that resist an explanation in these terms. The article, we look at some key examples of (apparent) deviant ordering and review the main ways that linguists have attempted to account for them. Approaches to the phenomenon fall into two broad types. The first relies on mechanisms we can term “morphological,” while the second looks instead to the resources of the ‘narrow’ syntax or phonology. One morphological approach involves a template that associates each class of morphemes in the word with a particular position. A well-known example is the Bantu CARP (Causative-Applicative-Reciprocal-Passive) template, which requires particular orders between morphemes to obtain irrespective of scope. A second approach builds on the intuition that the boundary or join between a morpheme and the base to which it attaches can vary in closeness or strength, where ‘strength’ can be interpreted in gradient or discrete terms. Under the gradient interpretation, affixes differ in parsability, or separability from the base; understood discretely, as in Lexical Morphology and Phonology, morphemes (or classes of morphemes) may attach at a deeper morphological layer to stems (the stronger join), or to words (weaker join), which are closer to the surface. Deviant orderings may then arise where an affix attaches at a morphological layer deeper than its scope would lead us to expect. An example is the marking of case and possession in Finnish nouns: case takes scope over possession, but the case suffix precedes the possessive suffix. Another morphological approach is represented by Distributed Morphology, which permits certain local reorderings once all syntactic operations have taken place. Such operations may target specific morphemes, or morphosyntactic features characterizing a class of morphemes. Agreement marking is an interesting case, since agreement features are bundled as syntactically unitary heads but may in certain languages be split morphologically into separate affixes. This means that in the case of split agreement marking, the relative order must be attributed to post-syntactic principles. Besides these morphological approaches, other researchers have emphasized the resources of the narrow syntax, in particular phrasal movement, as a means for dealing with many challenging cases of morpheme ordering. Still other cases of apparently deviant ordering may be analyzed as epiphenomena of phonological processes and constraint interaction as they apply to prespecified and/or underspecified lexical representations.