LINGUIST List 9.1644

Thu Nov 19 1998

Sum: 2nd Summary; Morphsyntactic Features

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <>


  1. Mike_Maxwell, Morphosyntactic Features: 2nd summary

Message 1: Morphosyntactic Features: 2nd summary

Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1998 15:11 -0500 (EST)
From: Mike_Maxwell <>
Subject: Morphosyntactic Features: 2nd summary

My short summary (in LinguistList 9.1599) concerning morphosyntactic
features stirred up several orders of magnitude more response than my
original query (in LL 9.1405). The responses have slowed to a trickle
now, which I'll try to summarize, then offer some comments at the end.
With luck, this will turn into as extended a discussion as my query
several years ago re linguistics in science fiction :-).

In addition to responses directly to LL (9.1616, 9.1631 and 9.1634), I
have received responses from the following (in order of receipt):
Heidi Harley (, Dan Everett (,
Rich Campbell (, Valerie Baggaley
(, Leslie Barrett
(, Daniel E. Collins
(, Robert Beard (, Annabel
Cormack (, Simon Musgrove
(, George Huttar
(, and David Fertig (

Among the resources suggested were the following:

Everett, Dan. 1996. Why There are no Clitics: An alternative perspective on
pronominal allomorphy. Dallas: SIL.

A forthcoming book edited by Martin Everaert with articles "on lexical features
and syntax." (To be published by Erlbaum?)

Robert Beard, 1995. Lexeme-Morpheme Base Morphology. SUNY Press, 1995. (see
also, which appears to be a
sort of summary of the book)

Greenberg. 1966. _Language Universals_. Janua Linguarum

Bernard Comrie's books on tense and aspect.

Emonds, Joseph (1985) _A Unified Theory of Syntactic Categories_.
Foris, Dordrecht.

Spencer, Andrew. 1991. Morphological Theory. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell

Papers: (two specific papers are
entitled "Meaning in Morphology: motivating a feature-geometric analysis of
person and number", by Harley and Ritter; and "Hug a tree: deriving the
morphosyntactic feature hierarchy", by Harley)

Ritter, Elizabeth. 1997. "Agreement in the Arabic Prefix Conjugations: Evidence
for Non-linear approach to person, number and gender features." Proc. of the
1997 Annual Conference of the Canadian Linguistic Association.

Leslie Barrett and Ruth Reeves. (unpublished as yet) "Asymmetries in the
Morphosyntax of -ee and -er Argument Nominalizations"

Jakobson, Roman: several papers, including "General Meaning of the Russian
Cases," "Morphological Observations on Slavic Declension," "Structure of the
Russian Verb," and "Shifters, Verbal Categories, and the Russian Verb." They
appear in Jakobson's "Selected Works, vol 1" and in his "Russian and Slavic
Grammar" (Berlin, 1984).

Silverstein (1976) "Hierarchy of features and ergativity." In Dixon,
R.M.W.(ed) _Grammatical Categories in Australian
Languages_ Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies

Silverstein (1993) "Of nominatives and datives: Universal Grammar from the
bottom up." In Van Valin, R.D. (ed) _Advances in Role and Reference
Grammar_ Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins

Dechaine, Rose-Marie (1993) _Predicates across categories_ University of
Massachusetts dissertation. [available through the Graduate Linguistic
Student Association at]

Emonds, Joseph (1987) Parts of speech in generative grammar. _Linguistic
Analysis_ 17: 3-42.

Wunderlich, Dieter (1996) Lexical categories. _Theoretical Linguistics_
22: 2-48.

Croft (1990) A conceptual framework for grammatical categories. _Journal
of Semantics_ 7: 245-279.

An MIT dissertation by Eulalia Bonet

Nicholas Ostler's MIT dissertation from 1979 "which attempts to derive a
universal set of
semantic/thematic roles from primitive semantic features."


OK, so why did I get so little response before, and so much of a
response now? The truth of the matter is I don't know, but it may be
because my original query was fairly specific and/or hard to
understand (I'd say vague, but I guess it can't be specific and vague
at the same time!), and my summary more general. Here is what I was

In phonology, there has been a list of _universal_ phonetically-based
features for a number of years. There's some debate about a few of
them, as well as debate about their organization into a hierarchy, but
by and large the list is fairly stable.

In "morphosyntax" (I'll try to define that in a moment), there is very
little agreement about any universal feature system. There could be
several reasons for that: there aren't any universals in this area, or
there are but they're hard to find, or there are but no one is
interested. I suspect the real reason is a combination of these.

What do I mean by "morphosyntactic features"? (This seemed to
occasion some confusion.) In my original msg, I wrote:

By 'morphosyntactic features', I'm referring to the kind of features
that are used in verbal agreement (subject and/or object person,
etc.), tense/aspect, case marking, negation, etc. etc.; or parts of
speech systems (+/-N and +/-V a la Chomsky and Jackendoff, for

In other words, features which are "visible" to morphology, or to
syntax, or to both, but not phonological/ phonetic features. (There
are theoretical issues in this, but I want to cast the net reasonably
wide.) I wanted to hear not so much about typologies, as about the
feature systems underlying such typologies. One example I gave is the
analysis of "person" as [+/-Speaker] and [+/-Hearer], rather than just
[1/2/3 Person]. The latter is a typology; there is some agreement
that the former pair of features actually underlies the typology, and
it is the underlying features that I'm interested in. (Perhaps my
remarks about "typology" were construed as negative, for which I

There may be some sorts of morphosyntactic features which are not
universal--those defining extended "gender" systems, for instance.
But I am assuming that at least some morphosyntactic features are

Well, that's what I was (and am) after. Thanks for the response thus
far, and I look forward to hearing more.

 Mike Maxwell
 Summer Institute of Linguistics
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