Deponency refers to mismatches between morphological form and syntactic function (or “meaning”), such that a given morphological exponent appears in a syntactic environment that is unexpected from the point of view of its canonical (“normal” or “expected”) function. This phenomenon takes its name from Latin, where certain morphologically “passive” verbs appear in syntactically active contexts (for example, hort-or ‘I encourage’, with the same ending as passive am-or ‘I am loved’), but it occurs in other languages as well. Moreover, the term has been extended to include mismatches in other domains, such as number mismatches in nominal morphology or tense mismatches on verbs (e.g., in the Germanic preterite-presents). Theoretical treatments of deponency vary from seeking a unified (and uniform) account of all observed mismatches to arguing that the wide range of cross-linguistically attested form-function mismatches does not form a natural class and does not require explanatory devices specific to the domain of morphology. It has also been argued that some apparent mismatches are “spurious” and have been misanalyzed. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed across frameworks that however such “morphological mismatches” are to be analyzed, deponency has potential ramifications for theories of the syntax-morphology interface and (depending on one’s theoretical approach) the structure of the lexicon.
Giorgio Francesco Arcodia and Bianca Basciano
Sino-Tibetan is a highly diverse language family, in which a wide range of morphological phenomena and profiles may be found. The family is generally seen as split into two major branches, i.e., Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman, but while Sinitic is a fairly homogeneous group in terms of morphology, the so-called Tibeto-Burman branch of the family includes isolating languages like Karen, languages with transparent and regular agglutinative morphology (Lolo-Burmese, Tibetic, and Boro-Garo), but also paradigmatically complex languages, with elaborate argument indexation and transitivity management systems; while in some languages morphological complexity is mostly a conservative trait (e.g., Rgyalrongic and Kiranti), other languages developed innovative paradigms, with only few vestiges of the archaic system (Kuki-Chin). Some notable morphological phenomena in modern Tibeto-Burman languages are verb stem alternation, peculiar nominalization constructions, and long sequences of prefixes, which in some languages (Chintang) may even be freely permutated without any relevant change in meaning. Also, while Sinitic languages are normally taken to be a prototypical example of the (ideal) isolating morphological type (with virtually no inflection, stable morpheme boundaries, no cumulative exponence, and no allomorphy or suppletion), phenomena of strong reduction of morphemes, blurring of morpheme boundaries and fusion between root and suffix, and nonconcatenative morphology, as well as allomorphy and (proto-)paradigmatic organization of morphology, are attested in some Chinese dialects, mostly concentrated in an area of Northern China (Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei, and Shandong provinces). Moreover, ‘Altaic-type’ agglutinative morphology, including case marking, is found in Sinitic languages of the so-called Qinghai-Gansu Sprachbund; in this case, the development of agglutination, as well as other typological traits (as SOV word order), is clearly the product of intense and prolonged contact between Northwestern Chinese dialects and Tibetic and Mongolic languages of China. On the other hand, Southern Chinese dialects have developed in closer contact with Hmong-Mien, Tai-Kadai, and Austroasiatic languages, and are thus closer to the typology of Mainland Southeast Asian languages, with a very strong isolating profile.