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Review of  Morphological Productivity

Reviewer: Thomas W Stewart
Book Title: Morphological Productivity
Book Author: Laurie Bauer
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 12.2882

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Bauer, Laurie (2001) Morphological Productivity. Cambridge University
Press, xiii+245pp, hardback ISBN 0-521-79238-X, Cambridge Studies in
Linguistics 95.

Thomas W. Stewart, Jr., Department of Linguistics, The Ohio State

Publisher's announcement:

This book is intended to place the issue of morphological productivity
in context, between the domains of the theoretical and the empirical,
of synchrony and diachrony, of competence and performance. Productivity
is seen as correlating with differences in the usage patterns of
particular morphological processes. These differences are subject to
synchronic variation and diachronic change, and thus an assessment of
morphological productivity is accordingly a complicated endeavor. In
light of potential complication, the impulse to reduce productivity to
other independently motivated concepts is strong.

Traditionally placed outside the scope of grammatical theory, the very
definition of productivity must be argued for before such
contextualization may be achieved. Bauer proposes a working definition
of productivity (pp. 97-98), and the structure and content of
subsequent chapters serve to guide the revision process. This approach
allows for clarification of what productivity is not, as well as what
it is.

Chapter 1 is a brief "Introduction" to several main issues which help
to establish the need for a study on productivity. These issues include
gradient differences in productivity and diachronic changes in the
productivity of particular processes.

Chapter 2 is entitled "A historiographical conspectus", and as such, a
series of questions is raised and addressed with reference to proposals
and counterproposals in the literature. Of concern here is the
determination of exactly what sorts of entities may be termed
"productive" in language; the definition and utility of terms such as
"semi-productive"; and the delimitation of the areas of word formation
relevant to productivity, e.g., inflection, derivation, compounding.

Chapter 3, "Fundamental notions", is the theoretical core of the book.
Critical to the discussion of productivity is the distinction between
existing and potential words. Within the set of potential words, a
notion of more probable versus less probable words may be
distinguished, and this latter distinction is of particular relevance
to an assessment of relative productivity. Lexicalization is treated in
terms of a word's semantic deviation from strict compositionality, an
attribute which potentially varies inversely with the productivity of
the morphological processes involved in the word's formation. Relations
among productivity, frequency (both type and token), markedness, and
lexicalization are considered. Transparency is shown to be neither a
necessary nor a sufficient condition for the productivity of a
morphological process. In a similar vein, regularity, naturalness, and
the default-override relation are each taken up in rapid succession.
Perhaps the centerpiece of the chapter, Figure 3.1 (p. 60) diagrams
relationships of logical precedence among the various factors presented
in the chapter with respect to productivity, making clear Bauer's view
that productivity is not reducible to any one of these factors. The
distinction between productivity proper and linguistic creativity is
made, the latter including new simplex words, metaphorical extension of
existing words, and those creations which achieve only very limited
circulation. Bauer suggests that both productivity and creativity
clearly fall under the category of innovation, but that the transition
between the two notions is a fuzzy one. The chapter concludes with a
theoretical and cognitive look at analogy.

Chapter 4 presents theoretical and experimental "Psycholinguistic
evidence about productivity". The focus here is on storage and
production, with deliberately little attention paid to processing per
se (pp. 100-01). In the treatment of storage, the controversy revolves
around the trade-off between lexical listing of complex words as
opposed to the listing of morphemes and the composition of complex
words. Regularity and transparency are cited as important factors in
this discussion. When the topic shifts to production and comprehension,
the morphological typology of the language in question and the
importance of context are added to the above factors.

Chapter 5, on "Scalar productivity", contains two major subsections.
The first of these is an attempt to characterize productivity as
following from a number of restrictions or constraints found in the
literature. Bauer alludes to the current popularity of constraint-based
analyses, but deliberately resists formulating such an analysis
himself, preferring to discuss the viability and/or relevance of each
proposed constraint in turn. While constraints may be used to
characterize systems formally, and therefore may aid in the
delimitation of the set of possible words in a language, they offer
little insight into usage norms. The criticism holds equally of any
purely formal account, however. The second subsection is dedicated to
the methodological question of how to measure the productivity of a
given morphological process, either individually or relative to other
processes. According to Bauer, this clearly calls for a corpus-based
approach, and the remainder of the chapter presents and critiques
corpus types and statistical methods. Bauer concludes by outlining a
dual method, using both dictionary counts and electronic corpora to
represent both conservative and liberal records of a language at a
particular point in time.

Chapter 6 presents "Exemplification" for productivity and its many
related concepts. The first is a diachronic comparison of the fate of
Proto-Germanic *-do:m in several daughter languages, reinforcing the
point that productivity is a feature associable with particular process
which may come and go, rise and fall over space and time. The second is
a preliminary study of -ness nominalizations based on color words in
English, with an attempt to identify attributes of the base words that
may influence the relative acceptability of one -ness formation over
another. The third example compares nominalizing processes attested in
English, using a combined dictionary and corpus methodology (ch. 5).
The chapter concludes with a look at English nominalizations in -er,
considering whether agentive and instrumental nominalizations in -er
ought to be considered together or separately in an assessment of

Chapter 7 stands as the "Conclusion" to the book. Here Bauer collects
and summarizes the results of the previous chapters in order to present
a coherent view of productivity, something he feels has heretofore been
lacking in the literature. Together with this summary, the issues
involved in morphological productivity are compared to some analogous
issues in syntax and phonology.

This book admirably takes on a traditionally marginalized topic,
productivity, and demonstrates that although there may be intuitive
agreement on what constitutes productivity, neither the terminology nor
the statistical methods related to the topic are unified. The
apparently eclectic approach of the book is in fact no fault at all,
since the literature on productivity is fairly fragmented. Insights
from psycholinguistics and corpus linguistics are appropriate
complements to the limitations inherent to a purely theoretical

Bauer professes a certain agnosticism with respect to contemporary
morphological theory (p. 223), and states clearly that his presentation
of psycholinguistic evidence (ch. 4) is informed by the strongly
morpheme-based theories which the experiments generally presuppose (p.
101). Despite this disclaimer, examples in this book favor relatively
transparent concatenative morphology, "where the morpheme construct is
not obviously insufficient" (p. 101). Bauer nevertheless widely refers
to morphological processes, rather than morphemes, in the text. This
choice of phrasing, while perhaps not fully motivated by the data
presented, potentially opens the discussion to a broader range of
morphological processes than edge affixation (consonant mutation,
umlaut, etc.). Such cases might give added weight to the role of
regularity, rather than transparency (by which is often meant
segmentability), in evaluating the relative productivity of processes.

Although much of the book is readily understood in Item and Arrangement
or Item and Process terms, some Word and Paradigm issues in morphology
receive generally even-handed attention here as well (pp. 15, 41, 60-
62). The assessment of Anderson's (1992) A-morphous model, however,
significantly oversimplifies the theory's position on stems, and claims
that the theory makes erroneous predictions about reaction times in
priming experiments for related stems like 'stick' and 'stuck' (p.
107). On the contrary, such pairs of stems would be in a default-
override relationship, with 'stick' as the default stem of the lexeme

The nature of default-override relations is also somewhat diminished in
the treatment of defaults in relation to productivity (pp. 60-62). In
Bauer's own treatment of rule-government, he casts doubt on the
legitimacy of any rule that is not synchronically productive, thus it
seems strange that he misreads Zwicky (1989) as "equating" the notions
'default' and 'productive' (p. 62). The implication clearly operates in
one direction only, i.e. default implies productive, and so Bauer would
seem to be constructing and dispatching a straw man here.

Theory-specific remarks aside, however, Bauer's goals of creating a
theory-independent synthesis of the issues related to morphological
productivity and suggesting paths for future research have undoubtedly
been achieved in this well-edited book.

Zwicky, Arnold M. 1989. What's become of derivations? Defaults and
invocations. Berkeley Linguistic Society 15: 303-320.

Thomas W. Stewart, Jr., is a Ph.D. candidate in historical linguistics
at the Ohio State University. Research interests include morphological
theory, its interfaces with phonology and syntax, and Scottish Gaelic
language. He is co-editor of 'Language Files' (8th ed., 2001, OSU


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ISBN: 052179238X
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