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date: 03 July 2022

Morphologically ‘Autonomous’ Structures in the Romance Languageslocked

Morphologically ‘Autonomous’ Structures in the Romance Languageslocked

  • Paul O'NeillPaul O'NeillSchool of Languages and Cultures, University of Sheffield

Summary

This contribution analyses morphologically autonomous structures within the context of the Romance languages, the family of languages which, along with Latin, have most served as an evidence base for these structures. Autonomous morphological structures are defined as an abstract representation of paradigmatic cells which form a cohesive group and reliably share exponents with each other, and the forms which realize them, are thus to a large extent interpredictable. In this contribution, I restrict my discussion to the most canonical type of these structures and those which have sparked the most controversy in the linguistic literature. I analyze this controversy and suggest that it is due to (a) their overlapping meaning with the term morphome, a concept which embodies an empirical claim about all morphology and (b) the controversy surrounding what morphology actually is and the basic units of morphological analysis and storage. I make a distinction between abstractive and constructive models of morphology and suggest that historical tendencies within the latter encourage scholars to view morphologically autonomous structures either as not synchronically relevant or as phonologically or semantically derivable due to their theoretical assumptions about the nature of language and the mental storage of words. These assumptions constitute the horizons of intelligibility of such models regarding the functioning of language and its governing principles, including outdated ideas of the capacity of mental storage. Unfortunately, however, the different theories furnish scholars with an expansive array of devices through which they can seemingly explain away the synchronic generalizations of the data while relegating the most recalcitrant data to the domain of memorized forms which are not relevant to the grammar. I present evidence in favor of the psychological reality of morphologically autonomous structures in diachrony and I argue that synchronically, these structures are necessary to explain the distribution of the data and capture the fact that speakers do not memorize every inflectional form of a paradigm but rely on patterns of predictability and implicational relationships between forms. It is my suggestion that morphologically autonomous structures encourage a revaluation of the basic units of memorization and the structure of the lexicon in accordance with abstractive theories of morphology.

Subjects

  • Historical Linguistics
  • Linguistic Theories
  • Morphology

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