I work on inflectional morphology, in particular where its structure seems to take on a life of its own, independent of the meanings and functions it expresses. This research involves a combination of cross-linguistic surveys, fieldwork, diachronic reconstruction, and computational modelling and. Current projects include 'Morphological Complexity in Nuer', '’Loss of Inflection', 'Seri Verbs: Multiple Complexities' and 'Lexical Splits’, all funded by the AHRC. See here for more details.
Along with the publications listed below, my Academia.edu page has additional drafts and publications not given here.
© 2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Munich/Boston.Kin terms in some languages have suppletive roots according to the person of the possessor, as in Kaluli na:la: 'my daughter', ga:la: 'your daughter' versus ida: 'her/his daughter'. Suppletion is generally seen as a language-specific morphological peculiarity, but in this context there are a number of lexical and morphological similarities across languages, suggesting the motivation may also lie in the nature of kin terms themselves. We offer a typological assessment of suppletive kin terms through a case study of the languages of New Guinea, where the phenomenon appears to be particularly common.
Current thinking on inflection classes views them as organized networks rather than random assemblages of allomorphs (Carstairs-McCarthy 1994, Malouf & Ackerman 2010, Müller 2007), but we still find systems which appear to lack any visible implicative structure. A particularly striking example comes from Võro (a variety of South Estonian). Its system of verbal inflectional suffixes is formally simple but distributionally complex: although there are never more than three allomorphs in competition, nearly two dozen inflectional patterns emerge through rampant cross-classification of the allomorphs. Allomorph choice in one part of the paradigm thus fails to constrain allomorph choice in the rest, so it looks as if the paradigms would have to be memorized en masse. The key to these patterns lies outside the system of suffixation itself, in the more conventional formal complexity of stem alternations and their paradigmatic patterning. The computationally implemented analysis presented here provides a model of inflection in which the implicational network of phonological, morphophonological and morphological conditions on formal realization are unified in a single representation.
The case-number suffixes of the Western Nilotic language Nuer (Frank 1999) display a remarkable combination of formal simplicity and distributional complexity, which is manifested in: (i) a seemingly erratic form-function mapping that precludes attributing a consistent meaning to them, and (ii) a wealth of inflection classes only barely differentiated from each other. The suffixes looks as if they were rule-generated, but behave as if they were memorized. I advance a model of inflection combining principal parts, implicational rules and default inheritence, which attributes the bulk of the complexity is attributed to the lexical stem, revealing the underlying systematicity behind suffix assignment.
In a canonical inflectional paradigm, inflectional affixes mark distinctions in morphosyntactic value, while the lexical stem remains invariant. But stems are known to alternate too, constituting a system of inflectional marking operating according to parameters which typically differ from those of the affixal system, and so represent a distinct object of inquiry. Cross-linguistically, we still lack a comprehensive picture of what patterns of stem alternation are found, and hence the theoretical status of stem alternations remains unclear. We propose a typological framework for classifying stem alternations, basing it on the paradigm-internal relationship between the features marked by stem alternations versus those marked by affixes. Stem alternations may mark completely different features from the affixes (§2), or the same features (§3). Within the latter, the values may match (§3.1) – a rare situation – or be conflated (§3.2). Conflation in turn may involve natural semantic/morphosyntactic classes (§3.2.1), or phonological conditioning (§3.2.2), or be morphologically stipulated (§3.2.3). These patterns typically reveal stems’ continued allegiance to lexical as opposed to inflectional organizing principles.
The idea that certain morphological and phonological irregularities are due to speakers' desire to avoid homophony is widely invoked, yet has also come under strong criticism as an explanation which is neither necessary nor sufficient. In most cases there is no way to resolve the question, since the assumption that something is being avoided is itself a theoretical construct. In this article I attempt to address this last difficulty by looking at gaps in inflectional paradigms – where it is clear that something is being avoided – that plausibly correlate with potential homophony. These fall into two types: (i) lexical, where portions of the paradigms of two lexeme would be homophonous, and (ii) paradigmatic (i.e. syncretism), where forms within the paradigm of a single lexeme would be homophonous. Case studies of Tuvaluan, Russian, Mazatec, Tamashek and Icelandic confirm the effects of homophony avoidance as a genuine, if non-deterministic, principle.
We present a corpus-based study of variation in case assignment of the direct object of negated verbs in Russian over the past 200 years. Superficially the system of case forms available over this relatively short period has remained largely the same, but the way in which certain cases are used has been radically altered. This is particularly apparent in the treatment of the direct object of negated verbs. We argue that various semantic factors have been involved in bringing about this change, and that the role and significance of these factors has been changing over the period under investigation. This has implications for our understanding of the role of semantics in case assignment. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
Verbs lacking a 1SG non-past (such as убедить) are a familiar problem in Russian morphology. While it can be argued that defectiveness is lexicalized, the question remains as to how this came about diachronically. This paper assesses the historic evidence. Contemporary defectives can be traced to two earlier classes of verbs which had aberrant alternations in the 1SG: (i) verbs with Church Slavonic д ~ жд, and (ii) dental stem verbs which lacked alternation altogether. Particular attention is paid to the latter type, as it has not yet received comprehensive scholarly treatment. The origin of defectiveness is traced to the suppression of these two classes over the last two centuries: lexical specification of an aberrant morphological alternation is replaced by lexical specification of a gap.
The term morphological reversal describes the situation where the members of a morphological opposition switch their functions in some context (as with Hebrew gender marking, where -Ø ~ -a marks masculine ~ feminine with adjectives but feminineymasculine with numerals). There is a long tradition of polemic against the notion that morphology can encode systematic reversals, and an equally long tradition of reintroducing them under different names (e.g. polarity, exchange rules or morphosyntactic toggles). An examination of some unjustly neglected examples (number in Nehan, aspect in Tubatulabal, tense in Trique and argument marking in Neo-Aramaic) confirms the existence of morphological reversal, particularly as a mechanism of language change. This is strong evidence for the separateness of morphological paradigms from the features that they encode.
Morphological features characterize variations in morphological form which are independent of syntactic context. They contrast with morphosyntactic features, which characterize variations in form correlated with different syntactic contexts. Morphological features account for formal variation across lexemes (inflectional class), as well as morphosyntactically incoherent alternations within the paradigm of a single lexeme. Such morphological features are not available to the syntax, as is made explicit in the principle of 'morphology-free syntax'. Building on work on stress patterns in Network Morphology and on stems in Paradigm Function Morphology, we take initial steps towards a typology of these morphological features. We identify four types: inflectional class features (affixal and prosodic), stem indexing features, syncretic index features and morphophonological features. Then we offer a first list of criteria for distinguishing them from morphosyntactic features (independently of the principle of morphology-free syntax). Finally we review the arguments demonstrating the need to recognize morphological features. © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007.
Syncretism, where a single form corresponds to multiple morphosyntactic functions, is pervasive in languages with inflectional morphology. Its interpretation highlights the contrast between different views of the status of morphology. For some, morphology lacks independent structure, and syncretism reflects the internal structure of morphosyntactic features. For others, morphological structure is autonomous, and syncretism provides direct evidence of this. In this article, I discuss two phenomena which argue for the second view. Directional effects and unnatural classes of values resist attempts to reduce them to epiphenomena of more general rule types, and require purely morphological devices for their expression
In many languages, inflectional morphology is not uniform across the lexicon, with groups of lexemes falling into different inflection classes. These form at times highly complex systems whose structure has come under increasing scrutiny in contemporary morphological theory (e.g. Ackerman, Blevins & Malouf 2009, Finkel & Stump 2009, Brown & Hippisley 2012). The Oto-Manguean language are of particular interest because their diverse means of inflectional exponence allow for multiple parallel inflection class systems, adding an additional layer of complexity.
Person is required in an account of the syntax and the morphology of many languages, while others lack it. Between these two types are languages where person lacks unique morphological exponents (suggesting it is not a morphosyntactic feature) but interacts systematically with the expression of other features (suggesting it is a feature). In particular in a range of languages, notably in the Nakh-Daghestanian and Tucanoan families, the expression of gender and person are intertwined. The recurring pattern is that a default form in the gender system (inanimate or neuter) also serves for first and second person. After careful examination, possible analyses without a person feature become less attractive. While these genuinely difficult systems may still lead us to posit a morphosyntactic person feature, we must recognize that its status is intriguingly different from that which is normally found.
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