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Bracketing Paradoxes in Morphology  

Heather Newell

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.