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Review of  Morphology 2000

Reviewer: Michael B. Maxwell
Book Title: Morphology 2000
Book Author: Sabrina Bendjaballah Wolfgang U. Dressler Oskar E. Pfeiffer Maria D. Voeikova
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 13.3169

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Date: Mon, 2 Dec 2002 10:50:37 -0500
From: Mike Maxwell
Subject: Bendjaballah et al. (2001) Morphology 2000

Bendjaballah, Sabrina, Wolfgang U. Dressler, Oskar E. Pfeiffer, and
M. D. Voeikova, ed. (2001) Morphology 2000: Selected Papers from the
9th Morphology Meeting, Vienna, 24-28 February 2000. John Benjamins
Publishing Company, $95.00, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, 218.

Announced in Linguist List 13.1236.

Mike Maxwell, Linguistic Data Consortium

As the title says, this book contains a selection of papers from a
meeting, the main topic of which was "comparative morphology". The
editors mean by this term "cross-linguistic analysis, including
typology, dialectology and diachrony" (p. 1). An additional topic was
the psycholinguistic of morphology. But in fact a good third of the
papers do not clearly fall into any of these categories.
As one might expect in a conference proceedings, most of the papers are
10-15 pages long, 24 in all. Unlike most conference proceedings,
however, there is an index of language and subjects (but not of

In the remainder of this review, I will briefly summarize each paper,
adding my own commentary where appropriate. Extended abstracts of all
the conference papers, including some which do not appear in the book,
can be found at the following site.

Adam Albright ("The lexical bases of morphological well-formedness")
examines how native speakers evaluate the well-formedness of nonce
formations in Italian (much like the hypothetical past tense forms of
the non-existent English verb 'spling' which were the subject of debate
some years ago). Some linguists (e.g. Bybee) would claim that native
speakers evaluate such forms by their conformance to other patterns (in
the case of this English example, real verbs like 'ring', 'sing' and
'fling') on the basis of the type frequency of the patterns, i.e. the
number of words conforming to a given pattern. A connectionist, on the
other hand, might claim that it was the token frequency of the words
belonging to a given pattern that was important. Since patterns with low
type frequency tend to contain words having high token frequency
(presumably because words with low token frequency tend to regularize,
leaving only higher token frequency words in low type frequency
patterns), the predictions should diverge. Albright's tests (and other
tests which he cites) support the predictions based on type rather than
frequency, although the results are not as clear-cut as one might hope.

Mark Baker ("On category asymmetries in derivational morphology")
demonstrates on the basis of a sample of languages that verbalization of
adjectives is much more common than verbalization of nouns, even in
languages where there nouns and adjectives behave otherwise quite
similarly. While one might attempt to account for this on the basis of a
feature counting metric, this would not account for similar asymmetries
between other categories. For instance, feature counting could not
account for the fact that nominalization of verbs is much more common
than verbalization of nouns, since both should involve the same number
of feature changes. To account for the adjective-noun asymmetry, Baker
proposes his own feature system, based on the syntactic properties of
categories, and shows that a feature counting metric then explains the
adjective-noun asymmetry. But while it works for this particular
asymmetry, Baker's system is still not capable of explaining the
asymmetry between the nominalization of verbs and the verbalization of

In a paper which is nicely complementary to Baker's, Laurie Bauer
explores the varieties of category changes that derivational affixes
make across languages. Her paper takes a typological perspective, and
she does not try to explain the results.

For many years, Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy has explored constraints on
the behavior of inflectional affixes. On the face of it, the
conditioning of stem alternations by inflectional properties seem much
less restricted. His paper, "How stems and affixes interact", compares
two possible constraints governing stem allomorphy (including one by
Wurzel). Both proposals face apparent counter-evidence, and
Carstairs-McCarthy closes with a hope that other linguists will explore
these claims further.

Many tests have been proposed for distinguishing unaccusative and
unergative verbs, and it is not uncommon to find conflicts among these
tests. Bozena Cetnarowska explores one such diagnostic, the derivation
of resultative adjectives from telic verbs in Polish. Cetnarowska
attributes the absence of certain otherwise expected resultative
adjectives to diachronic changes which rendered the adjectives in
question unacceptable for reasons not having to do with telicity,
thereby explaining the partial failure of this diagnostic. That is,
while the existence of a resultative adjective is sufficient evidence
for the telicity (hence unaccusativity) of a verb, it is not necessary
evidence, for the absence of such an adjective may be attributable to
other factors.

Bernard Comrie asks whether morphophonological alternations can take on
new morphosyntactic meanings over time. As test cases, he chooses Celtic
'mutations', and gemination in Italian and Maltese. The evidence is less
than conclusive.

In an invited paper, Greville G. Corbett, Dunstan Brown and Nicholas
Evans demonstrate how computational tools can be used to validate (or
invalidate!) a linguistic analysis. Their test case is the generation of
paradigms; their admission that the computer showed their initial
analysis to be wrong should be a lesson for all of us. The authors also
show how computer science can throw light on linguistic problems by
bringing out hitherto overlooked distinctions; the specific example here
is the notion of defaults, which turns out to have more than one

Wolfgang U. Dressler and Mária Ladányi investigate whether derivational
affixation can be said to be more semantically transparent in an
agglutinating language than in a fusional ('inflecting') language; they
use Hungarian and German as exemplars of these two language types. While
the answer is difficult to quantify (and two languages is a small
sample), they conclude that there is not a significant difference.

Hilke Elsen studies the acquisition of the various plural markers in
German, using data collected from a single child, arguing that the
results support an 'associative learning mechanism' (under a
connectionist approach), as opposed to a rule-based generative approach.
But her characterization of the generative model of acquisition is a
caricature: "The development of inflection is independent of the
lexicon. Steps of development are irreversible." I know of no
generativist working in acquisition who would make such claims; indeed,
the point of the U-shaped curve controversy is that children change
their minds (twice). In short, while her data is interesting, it is
probably insufficient to refute all but the most naïve model.

A second article on acquisition is that by Steven Gillis and Dorit
Ravid, who examine how learning spelling influences children's
morphologies, and vice versa. Specifically, they look at the acquisition
of spelling of Hebrew and Dutch words, where the spelling makes
distinctions that are neutralized in the spoken language. In both
languages, the children make use of allomorphy to recover neutralized
sounds. Differences between how the children treat morphology and
spelling in the two languages surface as well, which the authors
attribute to differences between the languages; but it seems to me that
they might just as well be caused by differences in the way spelling is
taught in the two school systems (in Israel and Belgium).

In an experimental study, Laura M. Gonnerman and Elaine S. Andersen
attempt to disentangle effects of semantic relatedness and phonological
similarity on priming. (An example of two words that are phonologically
similar but semantically unrelated are 'corn' and 'corner'.) Perhaps
unsurprisingly, their experiments show that varying degrees of semantic
relatedness correlate with varying degrees of priming; and likewise with
regard to phonological similarity. On the other hand, prefixing and
suffixing do not seem to differ significantly in their effects on
priming. Gonnerman and Anderson suggest that these gradient results
favor connectionist approaches over "traditional decomposition"
theories, as well as over dual mechanism models which allow either
lexical storage or decomposition. However, it appears from the
presentation of the data that the results from the 58 participants in
the study were lumped together for analysis. If so, then the gradient
results would be compatible with a dual mechanism model in which some
speakers stored certain words as wholes, while others analyzed those
same words into their constituent morphemes.

A second experimental study, by Georgi Jetchev and Pier Marco
Bertinetto, compared reaction time in Bulgarian perfective and
imperfective verbs, under the assumption that the members of a
perfective and imperfective pair of verbs are derivationally, rather
than inflectionally, related. As the authors note, the issue of whether
such aspectual pairs in Bulgarian are indeed derivationally related is
controversial, and in my view they do not make a strong case for the
derivational nature of the relationship (assuming of course that the
inflection vs. derivation division is well-founded). In any case, their
experimental results did not demonstrate a significant difference in
priming between inflectionally related forms and so-called
derivationally related forms (aspectual pairs).

The last paper in the book also concerns aspectual pairs in a Slavic
language. The authors (Marina Roussakova, Serguei Sai, Svetlana
Bogomolova, Dmitirij Guerassimov, Tatiaia Tangisheva, and Natalia Zaika)
investigate whether aspect in Russian is a "classifying category" or an
inflectional category, by which question they mean "Are members of
aspectual pairs stored and processed as separate lexemes or are they
rather the forms of one lexeme?" Again, this is an experimental study,
in which subjects (ranging from three-year olds to adults) were given
the present tense form of verbs (either imperfective or perfective) and
asked to provide the past tense forms. Naturally, this was a difficult
task for the youngest subjects, and the authors briefly describe how the
task was modified for them (but not for the adults). These modifications
resulted in the youngest children scoring the best, and the adults
scoring the worst!

With regard to the kinds of errors the subjects made, there was a wide
variation in the number of errors across verbs. But since only eleven
verbs were used, the authors admit that it is difficult to decide what
caused this variation. In addition, subjects based their answers more
often on the imperfective stems than on the perfective stems, regardless
of whether the form presented to them was perfective or imperfective,
which they argue is consistent with the lexically stored form being the
imperfective. The authors conclude that the "members of aspectual pairs
are acquired separately and that their mental representations are
combined during the course of the development of language competence."
However, this conclusion seems rather tenuous to me.

Gary Libben and Roberto G. de Almeida use experimental methods to study
whether native speakers of English analyze words into their
morphological constituents, even though the words may be relatively
common. Previous studies had given inconsistent answers to this
question. Libben and Almeida postulate that morphological analysis might
occur either "pre-lexically" (before lookup provides semantic clues) or
post-lexically; the results might then be expected to differ for words
whose meaning is non-compositional. For example, a "dumb" (pre-lexical)
parser might parse 'humbug' into 'hum' and 'bug', but the semantics
should block such a post-lexical analysis. Unlike previous work where
these two effects were not distinguished, Libben and de Almeida's
experiment was designed to tease apart these two sorts of parsing. The
authors interpret the results (as well as a study of errors by an
aphasic patient) to indicate that parsing occurs both before and after
lexical lookup, regardless of whether the words being parsed are

Generative linguists have sometimes been accused of forcing their
analysis of other languages into the mold of English. In a reversal of
this, Peter Hallman re-analyzes the English passive on the model of his
analysis of the Arabic passive. Specifically, he proposes that the
English passive suffix turns a verb into an adjective; valence reduction
is caused by another (zero) affix. (Hallman mentions, but does not
discuss, the claim by Wasow 1977) that English has both verbal and
adjectival passives, and that their properties are different.)

Marit Julien argues that the positions in which tense and aspect markers
can and cannot appear are explicable under certain assumptions about
underlying syntactic structure. The argumentation is theory-internal
(Julien assumes a recent version of MIT-style syntax), and
counter-examples (only a few, to be sure) are re-analyzed. The evidence
for re-analysis is not presented-the reader is instead referred to
Julien's doctoral dissertation.

Elena Kalinina gives examples from a number of languages in which stems
which otherwise appear to be verbs take nominal inflectional morphology,
or in which nouns can be inflected as if they were verbs. Kalinina
reviews the explanations which have been proposed for this phenomenon,
and argues in the end for a syntactic resolution, with the inflectional
morphemes in question attaching at the phrasal level-as clitics,
apparently, although Kalinina does not use this term. I confess to
finding her arguments hard to follow (an unparsable sentence at a
crucial point on page 194 did not help).

A. E. Kibrik outlines the agreement system for transitive verbs in
Alutor. A system which at first glance appears complex and arbitrary
turns out to be relatively straightforward when a deictic hierarchy is
taken into account; the resulting system is reminiscent of the
well-known Potawatomi agreement system (Hockett 1948). Kibrik's
analysis, with its ordered list of rules and overrides, strongly
resembles the analysis one would propose in a realizational theory of
morphology (see e.g. Stump 2001, particularly the discussion of rule
competition in chapter 3).

Michele Loporcaro gives a historical analysis of the origin of
syncretisms among clitics in a dialect of Italian. A formalist
explanation of the synchronic system might attribute the syncretism to
language-particular constraints on a universal morphosyntactic system.
While accepting this as a synchronic explanation, Loporcaro sketches an
account of the historical origin of the syncretism, an account which
includes elements of sociolinguistic causation.

Igor Mel'cuk lays out a set of criteria to "constrain the use of zero
signs by linguists." To a generative linguist like myself, this seems an
odd throwback to the American structuralists of the 1950s, and their
agnosticism about the mental reality of the linguistic structures they
studied. With that caveat in mind, Mel'cuk's criteria seem fairly
reasonable. It would, however, be interesting to study the extent to
which they are rendered irrelevant by an approach such as Realizational
Morphology (see e.g. Stump 2001).

Thomas Menzel attempts to "examine the iconic relation between Slavic
[specifically, Polish and Russian] noun and adjective/pronoun markers",
and he claims that the "oppositions [are] organized in certain levels of
iconic structure" (pp. 261-262). Again, I must confess my bias as a
generativist; there simply seem to be too many loopholes in this
theoretical approach, in that any counterexample can be relegated to the
marked categories of "non-iconic" relations or "counter-iconic"
relations (both of which are acknowledged). Granted, the claim is that
marked categories will be replaced by unmarked categories
diachronically-but only "if they change at all and if the change does
not come from outside the system." Menzel finds factors which allegedly
prevent iconicity, even under change, among them a "proposed tendency to
establish 'phonologically similar' markers" across paradigms (p. 268).
In short, if there is such a thing as iconicity in linguistics, it is
only one of many factors that affect diachronic change-and for all I can
tell, not a very important one.

Tore Nesset and Hans-Olav Enger also investigate iconicity, as it
affects morphological splits (the situation in diachrony where two
morphological markers exist where only one did before, with the two
markers dividing up the semantic domain which was previously the meaning
of the one marker). Their claim is that of the two markers, the longer
will be more 'informative'. Again my bias as a formalist comes up. For
example, the use of a longer allomorph for marking plural vs. a zero
marking is held to correlate with unexpectedness, since (among other
uses) the longer allomorph is "preferred" with polysyllabic nouns, which
are "often abstract". Furthermore, since "many" abstracts are
non-countable, they are less likely to be pluralized (p. 274). The use
of a longer allomorph of the plural marker with a polysyllabic form is
therefore "unexpected". But in view of all the qualifiers ("preferred",
"often", and "many"), the conclusion seems rather tenuous. Moreover,
what does 'more informative' mean? Information Theory (as in Claude E.
Shannon's work) seems to be standing in here for a real theory of the
semantics of grammatical meaning (Nesset and Enger suggest that
iconicity applies to affixes, but not to stems). Perhaps information
theory is appropriate here (there is something intuitively right about
it), but it would be more convincing if it were made explicit, and

Michel Roché surveys the genders assigned by modern Romance derivational
suffixes which are descended from a small set of Latin suffixes. In some
cases, the reason for the present-day gender is clear from a historical
perspective, while in others it seems arbitrary. One such apparently
arbitrary process Roché labels 'gender inversion', in which a single
affix derives masculine nouns from feminine ones, and vice versa.

The next paper invites a historical introduction. Years ago, when I was
a grad student, there was a theory called generative semantics, which
tried to push transformational syntax down into the sub-word level. One
of the arguments against that theory was that sub-word constituents to
fail to act as antecedents at the syntactic level. The classical example
was "John is an orphan, and he misses them," where "them" is intended to
refer to his dead parents, on the assumption that the word 'orphan'
means something like 'child whose parents have died.' The idea that
sub-word constituents cannot serve as syntactic antecedents has been
labeled the "lexical integrity hypothesis."

As originally conceived, the issue of independent reference (or lack
thereof) was actually applied at the sub-morphemic level. More recently,
the argument has been used to bolster the claim that noun incorporation
in polysynthetic languages must be morphological, not syntactic, since
the incorporated noun cannot have independent reference. In the present
volume, David S. Rood applies the argument in reverse, using data from
the polysynthetic language Wichita (a nearly extinct language now spoken
by a few elderly people in Oklahoma, in the United States).

Rood first seeks to demonstrate that certain long sequences of morphemes
are words, then shows that personal affixes inside those sequences can
have independent reference. Crucially, Rood must demonstrate that those
personal affixes are not agreement morphemes (since if they did mark
agreement with a possibly covert pronoun, one might argue that it was
the pronoun that made independent reference). Rood makes this argument
on the basis of the fact that there are no independent pronouns in the
language with which the affixes could agree. This reasoning seems to be
undermined by the fact that in Spanish (a so-called 'pro-drop' language,
i.e. a language where subject pronouns are optional), a verbal subject
agreement suffix has independent reference even when there is no subject
pronoun in a particular sentence to agree with.

At any rate, Rood argues further that noun incorporation in Wichita must
be syntactic, under the assumption that independent reference implies
syntactic independence at some level (the lexical integrity hypothesis
in reverse).

In summary, the articles in this book cover a diverse range of topics in
morphology-as I said at the beginning of this review, more than just the
ostensible topic of "comparative morphology." This leads to the question
of whether you should buy the book. Given the price, and the fact that
this is a conference proceedings with a very wide range of topics, I
suspect that few linguists will want to buy this for their personal
libraries. The publisher has made a later book of conference
proceedings in the same series available on-line (viewable for free,
with individual articles downloadable and printable for a price). That
seems a reasonable thing to do for this book, too.

Hockett, Charles. 1948. "Potawatomi". International Journal of American
Linguistics 14:1-10, 63-73, 139-149, 213-225.
Stump, Gregory T. 2001. Inflectional morphology : a theory of paradigm
structure: Cambridge studies in linguistics, 93. Cambridge ; New York:
Cambridge University Press.
Wasow, Thomas. 1977. "Transformations and the Lexicon". In Formal
Syntax, eds. Peter W. Culicover; Thomas Wasow; and Adrian Akmajian,
361-377. New York: Academic Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Mike Maxwell works in computational morphology at the Linguistic Data Consortium of the University of Pennsylvania. He holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Washington.