The Yam languages are a primary language family spoken in southern New Guinea across an area spanning around 180km west to east across both the Indonesian province of Papua and Papua New Guinea. The Yam languages are morphologically remarkable for their complex verbal inflection characterized by a tendency to distribute inflectional exponence across multiple sites on the verb. Under this pattern of distributed exponence, segmental formatives, that is, affixes, are identifiable but assigning any coherent semantics to these elements is often difficult and instead the inflectional meanings can only be determined once multiple formatives have been combined. Despite their complex inflectional morphology, Yam languages display comparatively impoverished word formation or derivational morphology. Nominal inflection is characterized by moderately large case inventories, the largest displaying 16 cases. Nouns are occasionally marked for number although this is typically restricted to certain case values. Verbal paradigms are much larger than nominal paradigms. Verbs mark agreement with up to two arguments in person, number, and natural gender. Verbs also mark complex tense, aspect, and mood values; in all languages this involves at least two aspect values, multiple past tense values, and some level of grammatical mood marking. Verbs may also be marked for diathesis, direction, and/or pluractionality. The overall morphological pattern is that of fusional or inflectional languages. Nominal inflection is rather straightforward with nominals taking case suffixes or clitics with little to no inflectional classes. The true complexity lies in the organization of the verbal inflectional system, about which, despite individual variation across the family, a number of architectural generalizations can be made. The family displays a fairly uniform verbal inflectional template and all languages make a distinction between prefixing and ambifixing verbs. Prefixing verbs show agreement via a prefix only while ambifixing verbs via agreement with a suffix, for monovalent clauses, or with both a prefix and a suffix for bivalent verbs. These agreement affixes are also involved in the distributed exponence of tense, aspect, and mood.
Matthew J. Carroll
A root is a fundamental minimal unit in words. Some languages do not allow their roots to appear on their own, as in the Semitic languages where roots consist of consonant clusters that become stems or words by virtue of vowel insertion. Other languages appear to allow roots to surface without any additional morphology, as in English car. Roots are typically distinguished from affixes in that affixes need a host, although this varies within different theories. Traditionally roots have belonged to the domain of morphology. More recently, though, new theories have emerged according to which words are decomposed and subject to the same principles as sentences. That makes roots a fundamental building block of sentences, unlike words. Contemporary syntactic theories of roots hold that they have little if any grammatical information, which raises the question of how they acquire their seemingly grammatical properties. A central issue has revolved around whether roots have a lexical category inherently or whether they are given a lexical category in some other way. Two main theories are distributed morphology and the exoskeletal approach to grammar. The former holds that roots merge with categorizers in the grammar: a root combined with a nominal categorizer becomes a noun, and a root combined with a verbal categorizer becomes a verb. On the latter approach, it is argued that roots are inserted into syntactic structures which carry the relevant category, meaning that the syntactic environment is created before roots are inserted into the structure. The two views make different predictions and differ in particular in their view of the status of empty categorizers.
Beata Moskal and Peter W. Smith
Headedness is a pervasive phenomenon throughout different components of the grammar, which fundamentally encodes an asymmetry between two or more items, such that one is in some sense more important than the other(s). In phonology for instance, the nucleus is the head of the syllable, and not the onset or the coda, whereas in syntax, the verb is the head of a verb phrase, rather than any complements or specifiers that it combines with. It makes sense, then, to question whether the notion of headedness applies to the morphology as well; specifically, do words—complex or simplex—have heads that determine the properties of the word as a whole? Intuitively it makes sense that words have heads: a noun that is derived from an adjective like redness can function only as a noun, and the presence of red in the structure does not confer on the whole form the ability to function as an adjective as well. However, this question is a complex one for a variety of reasons. While it seems clear for some phenomena such as category determination that words have heads, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the properties of complex words are not all derived from one morpheme, but rather that the features are gathered from potentially numerous morphemes within the same word. Furthermore, properties that characterize heads compared to dependents, particularly based on syntactic behavior, do not unambigously pick out a single element, but the tests applied to morphology at times pick out affixes, and at times pick out bases as the head of the whole word.
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.
A fundamental difference in theoretical models of morphology and, particularly, of the syntax–morphology interface is that between endoskeletal and exoskeletal approaches. In the former, more traditional, endoskeletal approaches, open-class lexical items like cat or sing are held to be inherently endowed with a series of formal features that determine the properties of the linguistic expressions in which they appear. In the latter, more recent, exoskeletal approaches, it is rather the morphosyntactic configurations, independently produced by the combination of abstract functional elements, that determine those properties. Lexical items, in this latter approach, are part of the structure but, crucially, do not determine it. Conceptually, although a correlation is usually made between endoskeletalism and lexicalism/projectionism, on the one hand, and between exoskeletalism and (neo)constructionism, on the other, things are actually more complicated, and some frameworks exist that seem to challenge those correlations, in particular when the difference between word and morpheme is taken into account. Empirically, the difference between these two approaches to morphology and the morphology-syntax interface comes to light when one examines how each one treats a diversity of word-related phenomena: morphosyntactic category and category shift in derivational processes, inflectional class, nominal properties like mass or count, and verbal properties like agentivity and (a)telicity.
Anton Karl Ingason and Einar Freyr Sigurðsson
Attributive compounds are words that include two parts, a head and a non-head, both of which include lexical roots, and in which the non-head is interpreted as a modifier of the head. The nature of this modification is sometimes described in terms of a covert relationship R. The nature of R has been the subject of much discussion in the literature, including proposals that a finite and limited number of interpretive options are available for R, as well as analyses in which the interpretation of R is unrestricted and varies with context. The modification relationship between the parts of an attributive compound also contrasts with the interpretation of compounds in other ways because some non-heads in compounds saturate argument positions of the head, others are semantically conjoined with them, and some restrict their domain of interpretation.
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.