By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Review of Lexical Strata in English: Morphological Causes, Phonological Effects
Review of Giegerich, Heinz J. 1999. Lexical Strata in English: Morphological causes, phonological effects. Cambridge Studies in Linguistics 89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. $69.95.
Reviewed by Mike Maxwell, Summer Institute of Linguistics
Depending on your bias, a book describing a rule-based (as opposed to constraint-based) phonological analysis of English may seem either antiquated or refreshing. Regardless of your viewpoint (the reviewer confesses to belonging to the latter camp), a rule-based analysis which, in this day and age, does not even make reference to Optimality Theory--if only to argue against it--is likely to strike you as out of touch with reality. For better or worse, the book being reviewed here is just that: an analysis of English phonology in a rule-based LP framework, with Optimality Theory not so much as mentioned.
I will briefly summarize the chapters, then turn to some aspects of the book's analysis which strike me as less defensible in the context of a rule-based approach.
Giegerich (henceforth G) begins with a brief summary (chapter 1) of the demise of the theory of Lexical Phonology (LP), suggesting that it was not the theory as a whole that was flawed, but rather certain key assumptions-- assumptions which could be modified while leaving much of the rest of the theory intact. Chapter 2 explores these assumptions in more detail, arguing that the fatal flaw was that of assigning affixes, rather than the bases to which they attach, to strata. It may be worth pointing out here that the original use of the term 'strata' (due to Saciuk 1969), the membership of a morpheme in a particular stratum was a matter of loan word vs. native phonology. The distinction in English between Romance and Germanic (native) vocabulary is a typical example. LP usurped the term, using it to encode the SPE (Chomsky and Halle 1968) distinction between '+' and '#' boundary markers. I found this chapter especially enlightening, as G teases apart the Romance - Germanic distinction from the boundary marker distinction.
In Chapter 3, G proposes his revision of LP, in which stratal behavior is determined not by the affix, but the base to which an affix attaches. This is a pivotal chapter, and I will return to some of the claims below. Chapter 4 derives the effect of the Strict Cycle Condition (structure-changing cyclic rules do not apply in underived environments) from other aspects of G's theory (again, I will say more about this below). Chapter 4 also argues that there is no pre-morphology cycle, that is, cyclic phonological rules do not apply before affixation. This has several salutary effects, including the elimination of "free ride" analyses, in which e.g. the mid vowel in a word like name would be derived from an underlying form with a low vowel through the application of the English rule of Vowel Shift, despite the absence of any alternations affecting this morpheme (it always surfaces with a mid vowel).
Chapter 5 explores a topic which in my opinion deserves greater discussion: the effect of literacy, and especially orthographic conventions, on the lexical representations in speakers' minds. G suggests that the effect is strong, and in particular that it drives vowel alternations like those in Anderson--Andersonian (schwa - /o/) and Mendel-- Mendelian (schwa - /i/). This claim has far reaching implications for issues of representation and the application of phonological rules.
Chapters 6 and 7 turn to issues of 'linking-r' and 'intrusive-r' in non-rhotic varieties of English, nicely tying together the appearance of [r] with that of the semivowels [j] and [w].
Finally, chapter 8 discusses syllabification in English, arguing that there is no process of resyllabification in the lexical phonology (i.e. syllabification is entirely structure-building, not structure-changing), thereby explaining the dependence of syllabification on the morphology (in particular on differences among prefixed words, suffixed words, and compound words), without recourse to morpheme boundaries.
Turning now to some of G's specific claims, he notes that under the traditional analysis of LP, an affix belonged to a single stratum--with few exceptions, and where those exceptions might be treated as homophonous affixes (see e.g. Aronoff's (1976) analysis of the two -ables, predating the theory of LP). One of G's major claims is that the exceptions are numerous (at least in derivational morphology)--in fact so numerous as to invalidate the traditional analysis. Instead, the stratum on which a given affix attaches is determined by the base to which it attaches. G proposes that there are two strata in English (some linguists assumed more than two), and calls the bases of Stratum 1 (the deepest stratum) 'roots', and the bases of Stratum 2 'words'. For languages which have three strata, the bases of the intermediate stratum are called 'stems'. (The use of the term 'root' for morphologically complex bases of Stratum 1 is surely an unfortunate choice of terminology, but does not of course affect the validity of the theory.)
Some roots in Stratum 1 are bound, such as 'matern' (as in 'maternal'), while others are free (such as 'go'). G argues that all "roots" in Stratum 1--bound or free--lack categories. That is, a root like go is not listed as a verb in the lexicon. This raises a host of problems. It does seem plausible that bound roots lack categories (assuming for the sake of argument that bound roots are lexemes at all), since it is often impossible to determine what category they would belong to: 'matern', for example, takes both the suffix -ity (which normally attaches to adjectives) and the suffix -al (which normally attaches to nouns on Stratum 1). But the claim that all lexical items of Stratum 1 lack categories results in a very odd analysis of unbound "roots". For example, 'moment', 'courage', and 'harmony' are analyzed not as nouns, but as roots-which- will-become-nouns if they do not receive further Stratum 1 affixes.
Even stranger is the analysis of forms with Stratum 1 affixes, such as 'maternity' or 'courageous': these are also analyzed as roots-which-will-become-X (X = noun or adjective, in this case). The problem here, as I see it, is that G must postulate two different properties: root-which- will-become-X for Stratum 1 words, and ordinary categories for Stratum 2 words. But the only difference between these two properties (apart from the stratum on which they are relevant) is that the former is supposed to be invisible to any process in its stratum except the process that converts a root-which-will-become-X into an X at the end of the stratum! Specifically, what G claims is that each nonbound root in the Stratum 1 lexicon, as well as each suffix, is diacritically marked for one of the subrules of the following Root-to-Word Conversion rule (G's (10) page 76):
Worse, if we leave aside bound roots for the moment, the root-which-will-become-X property is demonstrably not invisible to the Stratum 1 morphology. On the contrary, when a Stratum 1 affix attaches to something other than a bound root, the affix nearly always attaches to a particular class of bases--a class which can be characterized by the category which (on G's analysis) it would become in the absence of Stratum 1 affixation. That is, the unbound roots to which -ity attaches are a roots- which-would-become-adjectives (if they did not take -ity), while the unbound roots to which Stratum 1 -al attaches are roots-which-would-become-verbs. Moreover, the category resulting from the attachment of a Stratum 1 suffix is usually predictable, both for purposes of attachment of further Stratum 1 affixes, and for forms which do not receive further affixes. G attributes this to the fact that Stratum 1 suffixes are also diacritically marked for the subrules of the Conversion rule; but the result is again precisely the same as if the suffixes were marked for the categories themselves, as presumably happens with Stratum 2 suffixation. And finally, if as G argues, many suffixes can attach on both Stratum 1 and Stratum 2, we are faced with the fact that for many of these, the subrule of the Conversion Rule which the suffix selects when it attaches on Stratum 1, assigns the same category as the suffix itself assigns on Stratum 2. (Another issue is how English stress rules can exhibit their well-known sensitivity to the category of the form to which they apply. G takes the position that these rules belong to Stratum 1 and are cyclic, but apply after the Conversion rule. It is not obvious how these properties are reconciled in his model.)
Why is G led to this odd analysis? His argument is based on a perceived need for consistency: since -ous, say, can attach in Stratum 1 both to bound roots (ambitious, raucous) and to unbound "roots" (courageous, advantageous), and since the former lack categories, the latter must also. In G's words:
...in suffixation processes all members of that category--complex or simple--are freely interchangeable with a subclass of that category, namely that of bound roots, and that, therefore, the essential properties of that subclass must be shared by all members of the category... Rather than arbitrarily calling moll- [of mollify] an adjective root and gorm- [of gormless] a noun root, we adopt the opposite analysis and treat sensation, sensational and, indeed, sensationality as roots that crucially bear no lexical categories. [page 75-6]
(Two other arguments are given on page 77, both are arguments for the Conversion rule above, but neither establishes that this rule must have subrules assigning a category to the output.)
There is, however, a way between the horns of this dilemma, which is compatible with much of G's overall theory, while at the same time eliminating the need for the root-which- will-become-X categories. Suppose that rather than specifying the category to which the base must belong (thereby preventing attachment to bound roots which lack categories), an affix's input category must be able to unify with the category of the base. This would allow -al, for example, to specify the input category of noun, allowing attachment to unbound roots bearing the category of noun, such as tone and hormone, as well as to bound roots whose category is uninstantiated, such as 'matern' and 'fin'.
Another questionable claim of G concerns Kiparsky's (1982) proposal concerning the Elsewhere Condition (oversimplifying: a set of rules can apply disjunctively, such that the first rule to apply in such a set prevents later rules from applying). Kiparsky intended to derive the Strict Cyclicity Effect from this principle (as G intends to derive it from his own principles). Crucial to Kiparsky's derivation is the idea that lexical entries are a sort of rule, which block cyclic structure-changing rules from (inappropriately) applying to those entries. G argues that this is wrong: "[lexical] items and processes have different ontologies." It seems to me that this is reading too much into the word "rule." If one looks at the ontology of linguistic concepts as an inheritance hierarchy, it is quite plausible that there is an abstract node in that hierarchy from which both lexical entries (or at least the phonological parts of such entries) and phonological rules inherit. A trivial re-wording of the Elsewhere Condition would make it refer to that abstract node, getting around G's objection (and telling us something interesting about the human language capacity in the process).
The detail of G's coverage of English derivational morphology and phonology is impressive. (German data is also brought to bear on occasion.) But as with many such works, I found myself at times wondering whether a given word was really morphologically complex in the synchronic grammar (or if a word even exists in the synchronic grammar of most native speakers, such as gormless--a word to which G refers often, but which not even my spell checker knows about). Other doubtful data on which arguments are based includes a putative distinction between the suffixes -ant and -ent; while these may be spelled differently, they are certainly homophonous in my dialect (both in stressed and unstressed forms, cf. coincidental - consonantal). (The contrast is argued on page 31 to be real, but there are exceptions both ways to the generalizations used to motivate the distinction.)
I wish that G had taken more time to compare his approach with other theories. For example, his description of Stratum 1 affix and root co-occurrences invites comparison with Koenig's (1999, particularly section 5.2) theory of stem selection, while his treatment of allomorphy bears interesting resemblances with Natural Generative Phonology's treatment of 'morphophonemic' alternations (Hooper 1976), and with Declarative Phonology's use of lexically listed allomorphs together with nonviolable constraints (Bird 1995, Coleman 1998). The discussion of syllabification in chapter 8 would also have benefited from contrasting the analysis there with other analyses in the now voluminous literature on this topic.
For those who have already decided that declarative phonology is correct, this will be the wrong book at the wrong time. But for those who want to see how Lexical Phonology might have turned out if declarative theories had not taken over, this book should prove of interest. The treatment of certain English-specific phenomena, particularly that of linking and intrusive 'r', will also appeal to many. And finally, as I have said above, G devotes a chapter to the influence of orthography on the spoken language, a question which deserves greater discussion.
Aronoff, Mark. 1976. Word Formation in Generative Grammar. Linguistic Inquiry Monographs 1. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bird, Steven.1995. Computational Phonology: A constraint- based approach. Studies in Natural Language Processing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Chomsky, Noam; and Morris Halle 1968. The Sound Pattern of English. New York: Harper and Row. Reprinted 1991, Boston: MIT Press.
Coleman, John. 1998. Phonological Representations. Cambridge Studies in Linguistics 85. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hooper, Joan. 1976. An Introduction to Natural Generative Phonology. New York: Academic Press.
Kiparsky, Paul. 1982. "Lexical phonology and morphology." Pages 3-91 in I.S. Yang Linguistics in the morning calm, volume 2. Seoul: Hanshin.
Koenig, Jean-Pierre. 1999. Lexical Relations. Stanford Monographs in Linguistics. Stanford: CSLI. Saciuk, Bohdan. 1969. "The Stratal Division of the Lexicon." Papers in Linguistics 1: 464-532.
Mike Maxwell works in the development of computational environments for syntactic, morphological and phonological analysis for the Summer Institute of Linguistics, where he developed a parsing engine which implements a form of lexical morphology and phonology.