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Review of  Construction Morphology

Reviewer: Saskia Schuster
Book Title: Construction Morphology
Book Author: Geert Booij
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 22.2984

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AUTHOR: Geert Booij
TITLE: Construction Morphology
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2010

Saskia Schuster, Institute of German and Dutch Philology, Free University Berlin

''Construction Morphology'' (CM) presents a synthesis of Geert Booij's writings on
constructionist approaches to word formation and lexical units over the past
years. A number of ideas and case studies have been published before, but are
now gathered for the first time in a monograph to contribute to a detailed
picture of the interaction of morphological and syntactic constructions.

In chapters 1 - 3, Booij develops his idea of how a lexicon should be conceived
of from a constructionist point of view. According to him, the lexicon is not a
''prison for the lawless'' (Di Sciullo and Williams 1987), but a hierarchically
structured entity that contains pairings of form and meaning, i.e. constructions
in the sense of Goldberg (2006). These constructions may be idiomatic and/or
conventionalized (complex) words and phrases on the one hand and partially
underspecified constructional schemas on the other hand. Assuming constructions
as a basic entity in the lexicon is motivated by the fact that complex
linguistic items may have holistic properties that cannot be derived from one of
their constituents (36ff.). For instance, exocentric compounds in French such as
''chauffe-eau'' (heatV-waterN 'water heater') may have an agentive or instrumental
meaning although this cannot be assigned to any of its constituents, but is a
property of the whole.

The lexicon is the place where all constructions -- may they be individual words
or constructional schemas -- are related to each other in several ways. They may
be related via instantiation: for instance concrete words such as ''skyper'' or
''baker'' instantiate the abstract constructional schema [[x]V er]N 'one who Vs'.
On a more general level, AN compounds (with an adjective as first member) also
instantiate the more general schema [[a]Xk [b]Ni]N for nominal compounds where
the word class of the first member is not further specified. Moreover, there are
part-of relationships which can hold between a base word and a word derived from
it (as in the case of ''skype'' and ''skyper'') or between items with the same
degree of morphological complexity: these can share the same idiosyncratic
semantics although there is no common base in the lexicon, see Dutch
''padvind-er'' 'boy scout' -- ''padvind-ster'' 'girl scout' -- *''padvind-en'' 'be a
scout'. The essential mechanism for linking specific constructions and general
schemas is default inheritance: words inherit the specification of a particular
property from the dominating node, unless their actual lexical entry has another
specification concerning this property (27ff.) Through this, regularities and
exceptionalities among related, hierarchically structured constructions can be

According to Booij, morphological schemas can be considered to be basically
word-based rules in the sense of Aronoff (1976). Moreover, he follows Jackendoff
(2008) assuming that there is not a principled difference between words and rule
(schemas actually in his terminology): A lexical entry is said to be more
word-like if it is fully specified, and more rule-like if it contains some
variables (15). Morphemes do not play a role in this constructional account as
units on their own, but only exist as bound forms inside larger constructional
schemas. CM thus is to be considered a kind of word-based morphology.

The essential mechanism for coining new items or schemas is unification: e.g.
the verb ''bake'' is unified with the schema [[x]V er]N to coin ''baker''. Schemas
might be unified among each other to coin new (and more elaborate) schemas, e.g.
the unification of [de[X]V]V and [[x]N ate] V which makes it possible to derive
''decaffeinate'' immediately from ''caffeine'' without assuming a possible
intermediate verb ''caffeinate''. Productivity, an essential issue in morphology,
is accounted for by assuming subschemas, i.e. low-level schemas that are more
specific in contrast to higher ranked, abstract schemas. They indicate
productive subtypes of a general schema (51f.), e.g. nominal compounding in
Germanic languages can be accounted for by a more specific subschema [[a]Nk
[b]Ni]Nj with special properties (e.g. recursivity), while isolated examples of
non-productive patterns are related directly to the general schema [[a]Xk [b]Yi
]Yj in the lexicon (e.g. N+V-compounds such as ''babysit'').

Chapters 4 - 8 provide case studies on phrasal structures that are functionally
similar to complex words: quasi-incorporation, that is, noun-verb-combinations
that display word-like properties though not being one single morphological item
(chapter 4); particle verbs, a very common phenomenon in Germanic languages
(chapter 5); the grammaticalization of progressive constructions with special
focus on the ''aan het +INF''-construction in Dutch (chapter 6); adjective-noun
combinations that function as phrasal names (chapter 7) and numerals as a mixed
category of phrasal and morphological structure in Dutch (chapter 8). Booij
mainly focuses on Dutch data, though he also relies on data from other languages
from time to time.

Chapter 9 deals with what Booij terms construction-dependent morphology:
morphological markers may get tied to specific constructions in the course of
time and are reanalyzed as constructional markers (e.g. the former morphological
marker for genitive -s which is now used in phrasal constructions such as ''The
king of England's crown'' (219)). Chapter 10 is about the way in which
phonological information is stored in the lexicon and deals with the question if
abstract underlying phonological forms are necessary (238). Chapter 11 finally
presents some issues that are rarely touched upon in the book and hints at
future fields of research.

Construction Morphology aims at a ''better understanding of the relation between
syntax, morphology, and the lexicon, and at providing a framework in which both
the differences and the commonalities of word level constructs and phrase level
constructs can be accounted for'' (p. 1). There are thus two distinct formal
mechanisms, morphology and syntax, which differ in their domain of application:
syntax deals with linguistic items above the word limit, morphology deals with
linguistic items beneath it. However, they may serve the same purposes in
language from which follows that lexicon and grammar (comprising both morphology
and syntax) are not as neatly separated as it is assumed in strictly modular
approaches (see Goldberg 2006).

In my view, the great strength of a constructionist approach to language lies in
the fact that it allows us to capture morphological and syntactic structures
that are functionally equivalent with one theoretical notion (that of
''construction''). Furthermore, meaning and form are both part of the analysis and
are not considered separately, which is important because there is evidence that
both interact in various ways (see Hay and Baayen 2005). The case studies
presented in CM show exemplary phenomena where morphological and syntactic
procedures complement each other as in the case of numerals or where there are
systematic syntactic alternatives to non-productive morphological patterns. For
example, in chapter 4 Booij presents phrasal N-V constructions like ''piano
spelen'' 'to play the piano' as having special syntactic and semantic properties
that allow these constructions to fill the (semantic) gap of verbal compounding
which is unproductive in Dutch. According to the author, constructions that
instantiate these patterns display a greater tightness than normal regular
syntactic phrases and might be considered to be ''syntactic compounds'' (see
101f., 181f.): although not being single morphological items, they manifest both
syntactic and lexical properties. Another example that makes clear that meaning
should be included in the analysis are phrasal combinations of adjective and
noun used as names, which are discussed in chapter 7. They also display
properties that do not comply with their phrasal nature. For instance, they may
not be modified without losing their kind-referring function: ''bruine beren''
'brown bears' (ursus arctos) - *''heel bruine beren'' 'very brown bears'. As this
class of expressions can be readily extended and is not a closed set of phrases,
Booij proposes to capture these phrasal patterns by assuming a constructional
schema with open slots for adjectives and nouns. This schema, then, can be
unified with appropriate adjectives and nouns to coin a new phrasal name that
displays the same properties (that is, among other things the impossibility to
modify the adjective).

An interesting issue that deserves some more discussion in the book is the
question of whether constructional schemas, which are thought of as being
symbolic representations in CM, give a proper characterization of the speakers'
linguistic knowledge. Booij discusses one possible alternative to this view,
namely linguistic models that negate symbolic representations and rely on the
concept of analogy. In a range of cases, this has proven to be very useful in
order to explain linguistic behavior, see for instance the choice of linking
elements in Dutch compounds (see Krott 2001). Rather than simply stating that
there are several (partially) abstract schemas equal in terms of meaning and
function, analogy might help explain why one special option is selected out of a
pool of competing options (as in the case of the compound linking elements -s-,
-en-, -Ø- in Dutch). Booij addresses the issue of schemas vs. analogy briefly in
chapter 3 and at the end of the book, but leaves it finally open to further
research, especially with regard to its psychological dimensions.

As is clear from my comments so far, Construction Morphology is more and
something other than what the title suggests: Although morphological structures
are dealt with at length in the first chapters, the middle part of CM (chapter 4
- 8) discusses multi-word units. Booij gives two reasons for this: first of all,
they are functionally similar to complex words. Second, he stresses that
syntactic structures might also perform morphological tasks, as can be seen from
the passive in English (20 f.). Thus in fact, CM is a book about the interaction
of morphological and syntactic constructions in the domain of word and word-like
entities, and it presents a conceptualization of the nature and structure of the
lexicon from a constructionist point of view. Also it is not about inflectional
phenomena, as Booij indicates right at the beginning. A theoretical account of
constructional morphology with respect to inflection and morphosyntax can be
found in Gurevich (2006). In contrast to Riehemann (2001) who gives an account
of derivation of adjectives in German, CM deals with both derivation and

All in all, this very interesting book fills a gap in construction grammar in
regard to word formation. Booij succeeds in linking syntax, morphology and the
lexicon in a coherent way and giving fascinating insights into the nature of the
lexicon as a network of syntactic and morphological constructions with varying
degrees of abstractness. Concerning its formal qualities, I really enjoyed the
abundant use of examples, its minimally formalized presentation as well as its
clear writing style, which is very characteristic for Booij's writings.

Aronoff, Mark. 1976. Word formation in generative grammar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Di Sciullo, Anna Maria & Edwin Williams. 1987. On the definition of word.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Goldberg, Adele E. 2006. Constructions at work: the nature of generalization in
language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gurevich, Olga. 2006. Constructional morphology: the Georgian version. Stanford:
Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University.

Hay, Jennifer B. & R. Harald Baayen. 2005. Shifting paradigms: gradient
structure in morphology. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9, 342-348.

Jackendoff, Ray. 2008. Construction after construction and its theoretical
challenge. Language 84, 8-28.

Krott, Andrea. 2001. Analogy in morphology: the selection of linking elements in
Dutch compounds. Nijmegen: Max Planck Institut für Psycholinguistik.

Riehemann, Susanne Z. 2001. A constructional approach to idioms and word
formation. Stanford: Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University.

Saskia Schuster is a research assistant in the department of German and Dutch Philology at the Freie Universität Berlin and is currently working on her thesis as part of the project “Words and phrases” (for more information, see: Her research interests concern historical linguistics, construction grammar and contrastive linguistics (Dutch, German, French).

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