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Morphology in Typology: Historical Retrospect, State of the Art, and Prospects  

Peter M. Arkadiev

Morphology, understood as internal structure of words, has always figured prominently in linguistic typology, and it is with the morphological classification of languages into “fusional,” “agglutinating,” and “isolating” proposed by the linguists and philosophers of the early 19th century that the advent of typology is often associated. However, since then typology has shifted its interests toward mapping the individual parameters of cross-linguistic diversity and looking for correlations between them rather than classifying languages into idealized “types” and to syntactically and semantically centered inquiries. Since the second half of the 20th century, morphology has been viewed as just one possible type of expression of meaning or syntactic function, often too idiosyncratic to yield to any interesting cross-linguistic let alone universal generalizations. Such notions as “flexive” or “agglutinating” have proven to be ill-defined and requiring revision in terms of more primitive logically independent and empirically uncorrelated parameters. Moreover, well-founded doubts have been cast upon such basic notions as “word,” “affix,” and the like, which have notoriously resisted adequate cross-linguistically applicable definitions, and the same has been the fate of still popular concepts like “inflection” and “derivation.” On the other hand, most theoretically oriented work on morphology, concerned with both individual languages and cross-linguistic comparison, has largely abandoned the traditional morpheme-based approaches of the American structuralists of the first half of the 20th century, shifting its attention to paradigmatic relations between morphologically relevant units, which themselves can be larger than traditional words. These developments suggest a reassessment of the basic notions and analytic approaches of morphological typology. Instead of sticking to crude and possibly misleading notions such as “word” or “derivation,” it is necessary to carefully define more primitive and empirically better-grounded notions and parameters of cross-linguistic variation in the domains of both syntagmatics and paradigmatics, to plot the space of possibilities defined by these parameters, and to seek possible correlations between them as well as explanations of these correlations or of the lack thereof.


The Status of the Morpheme  

Tom Leu

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.


Morphologization and the Boundary Between Morphology and Phonology in the Romance Languages  

Paul O'Neill

This article analyses, from a Romance perspective, the concept of morphologization and seeks to answer the following question: At what point does a historically proven phonological cause-and-effect relationship, whereby phonological feature X causes and determines phonological feature Y, cease to hold and the dephonologized Y element stand as a marker of some morphological distinction? The question is relevant to cases in which the original phonological conditioning element is still present and where it has disappeared. I explain that the answer to this question depends entirely on one’s conception of morphology and phonology. I argue against theories that adhere to the principle of lexical minimization and have a static conception of morphology, which is restricted to the concatenation of idiosyncratic morphemes. These theories are forced by their theoretical underpinnings, which are often ideological and not supported by robust empirical evidence, to explain morphologized phenomena as being synchronically derived by phonology. This approach comes at a huge cost: the model of phonology is endowed with powerful tools to make the analysis fit the theory and which ultimately diminishes the empirical content and plausibility of the phonological hypotheses; such approaches also constitute serious problems for language acquisition and learning. I argue for more dynamic and abstractive models of morphology, which do not impose strict restrictions on lexical storage. I ultimately view morphologization as an instance of morphologically conditioned phonology and uphold that there is no strict boundary between the phonology and morphology but both systems overlap and interact. I analyze data and phonological explanations of metaphony in nouns and verbs in Italo-Romance, plural formation in Spanish and Portuguese, the distribution of velar allomorphy in the Italian and Spanish verbs, and the distribution of verbal stress in Surmiran Romansh and Spanish. With reference to the latter, the contribution dedicates significant space exploring the extent to which the diphthong/monophthong alternation in Spanish, and different types of allomorphy in Surmiran Romansh, is a matter of phonologically conditioned allomorphy or morphologically conditioned phonology.