LINGUIST List 10.1764

Sat Nov 20 1999

Sum: Issue 10.1663:Homophonous Affixes

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. mike_maxwell, Homophonous Affixes

Message 1: Homophonous Affixes

Date: Fri, 19 Nov 1999 11:16:05 -0500
From: mike_maxwell <>
Subject: Homophonous Affixes

In LINGUIST List 10.1663, I posted a query concerning a claim I had run across
that "in most languages with any degree of morphology, there tended to be a
considerable amount of homophony among affixes--more than one would expect,
given the number of vowels and consonants in the language." This is a summary
of the responses.

Shortly after the posting, our email went down and more or less stayed down for
a week. It's back up now, and I'm told that nothing was actually lost, but I'm
a pessimist. So if you sent me a response (as opposed to a request to post the
results, of which I received many), and your name doesn't appear below, please
accept my apologies, and do write again.

Thanks for replies from: Ingo Plag (, 
Robert Kemp (, Ron Ross (, 
Shobhana L. Chelliah (, John Goldsmith
(, Bozena Cetnarowska
(, MJ Hardman (, and
Laurie Bauer (

Several people mentioned extensive affix homophony in particular
languages, including Garifuna (Costa Rica), Meithei (Tibeto-Burman),
Slavic languages, and the Jaqi languages. I might also add that when
I was co-authoring a grammar of Cubeo (Tucanoan, Colombia) with Nancy
Morse, I was disturbed by the number of homophonous inflectional
languages we were postulating, and tried to reduce it.
In retrospect, maybe there was no need for that, although it's clearly
a "call":

 If something is both a masculine singular marker on kinship nouns and
a passive masculine singular nominalizer on verbs, is it the same
suffix? If you're inclined to say "no", because the former is
inflectional and the latter derivational, what if I tell you the same
is true for another suffix, except that it's feminine? And I could
multiply the pairs of inflectional/ derivational homophonous affixes
in this language.

Shobhana L. Chelliah asks whether it is the case that fusional
languages have homophonous affixes more than agglutinative ones. I
don't know, but I think there might be an interesting story here.

References: Several people pointed out that Robert Beard has written
extensively on this topic. In fact his point, codified in the
"Separationist Principle", is that there is a split between shape and
function. So it's not a case of affixes being homophonous, but rather
that two or more "morphosyntactic affixes" use the same "phonological
affix" (these are not his terms). Anywhere, here's the list
(annotations in brackets are based on comments from respondents):

Beard, Robert. 1981. The Indo-European Lexicon. A Full Synchronic
Theory. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Beard, Robert. 1987a. "Lexical Stock Expansion", in Edmund Gussmann
(ed.) Rules and the Lexicon, 24-41. Lublin: Catholic University.

Beard, Robert. 1987b. "Morpheme Order in a Lexeme/Morpheme-based Morphology",
Lingua 72, 1-44.

Beard, Robert. 1988. "On the Separation of Derivation from Morphology:
Toward a Lexeme-morpheme-based Morphology", Quaderni di Semantica 9,

Beard, Robert. 1990a. "The Nature and Origins of Derivational
Polysemy", Lingua 81, 101-140.

Beard, Robert. 1990b. "The Empty Morpheme Entailment", in Wolfgang
Dressler, Hans Lusch´┐Żtzky, Oskar E. Pfeiffer, and John Rennison (eds.)
Contemporary Morphology, 159-169. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Beard, Robert.1995. Morpheme-Lexeme Base Morphology. Albany: State
University of New York Press.

Szymanek, Bogdan. 1988. Categories and Categorization in Morphology.
Redakcja Wydawnictw KUL, Lublin. [further development of Beard's

Don, Jan 1993. Morphological conversion,OTS, Utrecht [further
development of Beard's theory]

Cetnarowska, Bozena. 1993. The Syntax, Semantics and Derivation of
Bare Nominalisations in English. Uniwersytet Slaski, Katowice.
[further development of Beard's theory]

Bauer, Laurie 1988 Introducing Linguistic Morphology. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press [tests for deciding when you have
homophonous affixes and when you just have one affix--sounds like what
I needed for the Cubeo grammar!]

a paper by Rich Janda in CLS about 10 years ago [this may be the one I
saw originally but lost--I'm tracking it down again]

Jakobson, Roman. 1971. The phonemic and grammatical aspects of
language in their interrelations. Reprinted in: Selected Writings,
vol. II., S. 103-114. [Robert Kemp writes: "Apparently, the paper was
first read in Paris in 1948 and subsequently published in: Actes du
Sixieme Congres International des Linguistes (Paris, 1949)."]

 Mike Maxwell
 Summer Institute of Linguistics
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