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Review of  What is Morphology?

Reviewer: Phaedra Royle
Book Title: What is Morphology?
Book Author: Mark Aronoff Kirsten Fudeman
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 22.2649

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AUTHORS: Aronoff, Mark and Fudeman, Kirsten
TITLE: What is Morphology?
SUBTITLE: Second Edition
SERIES TITLE: Fundamentals of Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Wiley-Blackwell
YEAR: 2010

Phaedra Royle, School of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, Université de


''What is Morphology?'' is an introductory text to the study of word structure.
The intended audience is undergraduate students in linguistics but the text is
accessible enough for a person from a general audience wanting to understand the
basic concepts in morphological theory and practice in linguistics. The book
contains eight chapters focusing on different aspects of morphology
(morphological analysis and basic concepts underlying morphological theory,
words and lexemes, morphophonology, derivation, inflection, morphosyntax and
morphological productivity). The monograph also contains a list of
abbreviations, remarks on transcription, the most recent IPA chart, a glossary,
references and an index. Each chapter contains exercises to deepen understanding
of the concepts presented, and is followed by a section on the Kujamaat Jóola
language that is intended to be used for exercises on morphological analyses, as
well as a section on further readings.


This is the second edition of ''What is Morphology?''. A review of the first
edition was published in the LinguistList in 2005 (issue 16.1942). This review
will thus focus more specifically on differences between the first and second
editions, as well as aspects of the book that were not highlighted by the first
reviewer(s). In fact this book has been reviewed and commented on by a number of
people, as the back cover, and inner front pages attest. I find myself in the
company of giants (Blevins, Maidens, Corbett, Carstairs-McCarthy, Anderson).

The second edition is not just a reprint of the first edition, as the authors
have taken comments from previous reviews and edited the book in specific ways
related to these comments. Of particular interest to me are the Additional
Readings sections at the end of each chapter, which I always find useful. For
others, the answer key now available on the Web might be of interest, as the
authors respond to the seemingly large amount of requests that had been made for
this tool following the first edition. One must register as a professor to
access this key on the editor website. The process is relatively simple and I
assume it was set in place to avoid students accessing it too easily. It might
have been useful to mention in the book that access is restricted. Extra (short)
exercises and food for thought have been interspersed into the text as well as
boxes containing examples illustrating concepts outlined in the text. Another
major change with the previous version is the extent of chapter 8,
''Morphological Productivity and the Lexicon'' (previously called ''Morphological
Productivity''): the authors say that they have made significant changes to its
content in order to keep it up to date with recent research. In particular, a
subsection entitled ''The Mental Lexicon, Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics''
has been added at the end of the chapter (pp. 246-252). Below I will focus more
specifically on the content of this chapter (8) and the second one (''Words and
Lexemes''). It thus seems that the authors have taken great pains to make what
was a well-received book into something even better. However, if you already
have the older version of the book and do not intend to use it to teach, I do
not think it is necessary to run out and buy the new version. Teachers expecting
to use the book for class would probably find the new edition more interesting
to use.

The book has a particular structure, first presenting morphological concepts in
easily accessible language, without confining the analysis to a specific
theoretical framework and then adding a section with practical exercises and a
section on Kujamaat Jóola (except in the last chapter, since there is no
psycholinguistic or neurolinguistic work on Kujamaat Jóola -- the authors
suggest this as a thesis topic for interested students). Each chapter builds on
the previous ones without imposing specific analyses or solutions to issues
raised, while leaving quite a number of open questions for thought. There are
short exercises peppered throughout each chapter, allowing the reader to pause
and reflect on the concepts that have just been presented, but also to deepen
their learning experience by applying it to a new set of data or to a new
example. Every chapter section on Kujamaat Jóola slowly puts the student through
the moves of what it is to enact a true morphological analysis (with the
advantage of not having an informant we are asking questions to, and having to
transcribe and ''organize'' the responses from). This is about as close as I have
ever got to my student days at Concordia university in my Non-Indo-European
Structures class, when we had to figure out the structure of Oromo from an
informant. The discovery of a case-marking pattern, our ''breaking of the
linguistic code'', in the pronoun system of Oromo sent us to the moon and back,
and this kind of experience is hard to recreate. The fact that this book
systematically works through the structure of Kujamaat Jóola is a feature that
makes it stand out among introductory books on morphology.

In the chapter on ''Words and Lexemes'', some additions have been made to the
discussion of the concept of lexemes. For example, the authors state on page 44

''A lexeme is a theoretical construct. It is not a sound form (e.g., 'dog'), but
rather a sign or a set of signs, with sound form, syntax, and meaning all bound
together. Because it stands outside any syntactic context beyond the one for
which it is lexically specified or subcategorized, it is inherently unspecified
for categories that are determined by context and expressed through inflection.
Some linguists restrict the class of lexemes to the major lexical categories:
noun, verb and adjective/adverb.''

And on the following page, they expand on the properties of lexemes in their
text box ''What is a lexeme?''. In particular, they add the notions of theoretical
construct, independence from syntactic context, and restrictions on lexical
classes described above, in addition to the fact that each lexeme has a
particular meaning (viz. homophony). These additions are probably the result of
comments or questions raised about the first version, i.e. what is meant by the
term 'lexeme'? This same question occurred to me and has in fact been a
recurring question throughout my studies, teaching and research career. In fact,
I have often found the use of 'lexeme' to be confusing, because it has a number
of readings (just as is the problem with 'word' unfortunately); in some of these
it is synonymous with 'lemma', another term for an abstract mental
representation of 'word'.

The term 'lemma' seems to be used more often by psycholinguists with the meaning
that Aronoff and Fudeman propose for 'lexeme', while they use the term 'lexeme'
to describe what Aronoff and Fudeman term 'grammatical words'. This last
expression is ''[…] generally used to refer specifically to different forms of a
single word that occur depending on the syntactic context.'' (p.37) ''Distinct
grammatical words can belong to a single lexeme. For example, the grammatical
words 'sing' and 'sings' both belong to the lexeme SING.'' (pp.263-64). In
addition 'grammatical word' is often used synonymously with 'function word',
especially in neurolinguistics, aphasiology and speech language pathology; that
is, words that have a syntactic or functional role in language (e.g.
prepositions, auxiliaries and determiners), rather than a semantic one.

A review of a number of different authors on morphology has revealed that the
use of 'lexeme' and 'lemma' varies greatly. For example, Spencer (1991) uses
'lexeme' in a similar sense to Aronoff and Fudeman, while Levelt (1989), Levelt
et al. (1999) and Caramazza (1997) use the term 'lemma' to refer to the abstract
concept of a word. 'Lemma' seems to be the preferred term used by
psycholinguists and lexicographers, while morphologists prefer 'lexeme'. Why?
This is probably due to different traditions in theoretical backgrounds and
methodologies. A search of the ''Oxford English Dictionary Online'' and the
''Trésor de la langue française'' online indicate that the term 'lexeme' dates
from 1950 in French and was supposedly used as early as 1946 in English by
Swadesh, but I do not find this term in his article on Chitimaya phonology
referred to in the OED entry. Whorf used this term in his posthumous 1956 book
''Language, Thought and Reality'', and defines it as follows: ''The lexeme [is] the
word or stem as an item of vocabulary, and as a part analysed or abstracted from
sentence words'' and proposes that while the ''lexeme might be identical with word
[or the] lexeme is always different from word'' (p. 132). However, in the same
book, we find a reprint of Whorf's appendix to Voeglin's ''Shawnee Stems'' and the
Jacob P. Dunn ''Miami Dictionary'' (1938-1940), where he presents the opposition
between lexemes and other morphemes in the following way: ''C. F. Voegelin has
accomplished the difficult and signal work of analyzing an immense number of
baffling stem compounds of Shawnee into their component lexemes (stems) and
other morphemes (formatives).'' (p.160) 'Lemma', on the other hand, is used in
the dictionary (headword) sense starting in 1951 in English, but earlier in
Italian and German according to the OED online. In French, it is first
attributed to Chevrie-Muller, in 1974 (TLF Online) in a paper on corpus
analyses. Before this 'lemma' was used in logic to identify the initial or main
proposition of a theorem (TLF online).

I present the two systems schematically:
- LEXEMES vs. Grammatical words (sometimes only content words, depending on the
- LEMMATA vs. Lexemes (consisting of content/lexical words and
grammatical/function words)

As can be seen, the potential for confusion can be enormous. It might be useful
to point out this problem, at least in the chapter on ''Morphological
Productivity and the Mental Lexicon'', since in this domain of research the use
of 'lemma' is quite the norm, especially in European circles. I now turn to the
chapter in question.

In this final chapter, the notions of potentiality (productivity) and
possibility (constraints on productivity) are addressed, as well as issues
revolving around the psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic study of lexical
processing. Not many new studies are presented; however, additional readings
that are quite recent and broad are suggested at the end of the chapter. The
subsection on morphological constraints on productivity has been rewritten and a
box illustrating a morphological constraint to suffixation (suffixes that only
affix to underived stems) has been added. On the following page, a box
containing examples of phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic
constraints on morphological productivity has also been added, as well as an
example illustrating the Elsewhere Condition. However, to illustrate this, the
authors use the term 'rule' to describe the pluralisation of 'child'. It is
unclear to me why this should be called a rule, unless what we mean is that
there is some systematic relation between 'child' and 'children' that we can
describe in a systematic way (I conceive this relation more as a connection in
the lexical domain rather than a rule to form the plural from the singular
base). This is not in contradiction with the point of view stated later in the
chapter such that ''When multiple words formed by unproductive processes exist,
speakers are able to see the patterns that relate them, but this does not mean
that the rule is active in the mental grammar.'' (p. 244).

Finally, section 8.6, alluded to above, is completely new. In this section,
Aronoff and Fudeman present the notion that psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic
studies of comprehension and production (of the Mental Lexicon) can inform
linguistic-theoretic morphological models. They highlight the fact that a
majority of studies have focused on reading word comprehension (thus
overshadowing auditory language processing and production). I think this has
mostly been due to technological limits inherent in these approaches. We now
know that these limits have slowly been overcome using new approaches, in
particular electroencephalography (EEGs) and their Event related potentials
(ERPs) (see Bornkessel-Schlesewsky & Schlesewsky, 2009). Aronoff and Fudeman
illustrate how this type of research could be applied to Kujamaat Jóola, hoping
that the technological issues could be overcome, such that more remote language
groups could be studied without necessitating high-cost technology. In fact,
this technology exists, as many companies have developed portable EEGs for this
type of work. So the only barriers left are (1) Lack of interest in a specific
language (and here I am also referring to the difficulties inherent in acquiring
funding for this type of research) or (2) Lack of technological and
methodological expertise (here I am referring to the fact that not enough
linguists know how to run a simple Student T-test, let alone design a solid
psycholinguistic or neurolinguistic experiment, or running the complex data
analyses necessary with these approaches). Unfortunately, training in these
domains is not promoted in the more classic linguistic departments. However, It
is highly probable that cross-disciplinary research of this type will take off
in the next few years, allowing for the development of a new domain of language
research (Bornkessel-Schlesewsky & Schlesewsky, 2009). The potential certainly
exists for it.

I must add that I smiled when I read that ''[e]ven if everyone agrees that all
words in the mental lexicon have morphological structure, many other issues
remain undecided.'' (p. 250). Many researchers would disagree. A recent study by
Devlin et al. (2004) using neuroimaging, has the authors arguing that a
morphological module is not necessary for the description of neurocognitive
processes underlying word access, and that the convergence of semantic and
orthographic (or phonological) ''codes'' is sufficient to account for their
priming data. Thus the debate on whether morphology exists still rages on, while
few studies coming from the domain of linguistics even question or address this
issue of the reality of morphology (Royle et al., 2010). There is still much
ground to be covered before everyone agrees that words have morphological


Aronoff, Mark. (1994). Morphology by itself: stems and inflectional classes.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, Ina & Schlesewsky, Matthias. (2009). Processing Syntax
and Morphology: A Neurocognitive Perspective. Oxford University Press.

Caramazza, Alfonzo. (1997). How many levels of processing are there in lexical
access? Cognitive Neuropsychology, 14, 177-208.

Chevrie-Muller, Claude. (1974). La Lemmatisation, essai d'analyse mathématique.
Travaux de Linguistique et de Littérature, 12(1), 193.

Devlin, Joseph T., Jamison, Helen L., Matthews, Paul M., & Gonnerman, Laura M.
(2004). Morphology and the internal structure of words. Proceedings of the
National Academy of Science, 101 (41), 14984-14988.

Levelt, Willem J. M. (1989). Speaking: From Intention to Articulation.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Levelt, Willem J. M., Roelofs, Ardi, & Meyer, Antje S. (1999). A theory of
lexical access in speech production. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 22, 1-75.

Royle, Phaedra, Drury, John E., Bourguignon, Nicolas, & Steinhauer, Karsten.
(2010). Morphology and word recognition: An ERP approach. Proceedings of the
Canadian Linguistics Association 2010.

Spencer, Andrew. (1991). Morphological Theory. Blackwell, Oxford.

Swadesh, Morris. (1946). Phonologic Formulas for Atakapa-Chitimacha.
International Journal of American Linguistics, 12 (3), 113-132.

Voegelin, Carl F. (1938-40). Shawnee Stems and the Jacob P. Dunn Miami
Dictionary, Indiana Historical Society Prehistory Research Series 1 63-108,
135-167, 289-323, 345-406, 409-478 (1938-1940), Indianapolis.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee. (1956). John Carroll (Ed.) Language, Thought, and Reality:
Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Phaedra Royle holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the Université de Montréal and pursued postdoctoral studies at the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University. Her interests lie in psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, language disorders (Specific Language Impairment), language acquisition, morphology and morphosyntax. Her thesis investigated inflected verb processing in language-impaired French-speaking subjects. Her postdoctoral research focused on early verb acquisition in French-speaking children with and without SLI. She is presently carrying out research on language acquisition (French DPs) and processing of complex noun phrases in French- and bilingual Spanish-speaking populations, ERP imaging of morphological processing and agreement, as well as eye-tracking experiments on morphological processing in French. She holds a professorship at the School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology at the Université de Montréal, and is a member of the Centre for Research on Language, Mind and Brain (Montreal).

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