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Review of  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Morphology

Reviewer: Alexandra Galani
Book Title: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Morphology
Book Author: Rochelle Lieber
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 32.2424

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“The Oxford Encyclopedia of Morphology” by Rochelle Lieber (Editor-in-Chief) is a three-volume set, organised into fourteen sections. This is a review of the first volume.

Morphological Units

Laurie Bauer in “Morphological Entities: Overview and General Issues” introduces some of the most fundamental morphological concepts: formal/semantic/morphological/dictionary words, morphemes, lexical/functional affixes, processes (i.e. reduplication, internal modification) and formatives (e.g., splinters, extenders, interfix).

In “The Status of the Morpheme”, Thomas Leu discusses conceptual issues as far as the notion “morpheme” is concerned, such as the emergence of the term, views about the relation between form and meaning, morphs’ relations and shapes, and how morphemes are treated in various theoretical models.

Paul Kiparsky in “Morphological Units: Stems” presents the main principles of Paradigm Function Morphology, Distributed Morphology (DM) and Minimalist Morphology, focusing on the stand they take on stems. An analysis of the English verb inflection is sketched according to the principles of each framework, whereas the effectiveness of the Level-Ordering Hypothesis is also highlighted.

Paolo Ramat in “Morphological Units: Words”, refers to various definitions of word, the “wordhood” debate and cross-linguistic definitions proposed in the Association for Linguistic Typology (LINGTYP), the characteristics of multi-word expressions and compounds as well as Haspelmath’s (2011) “wordhood” criteria to conclude that a prototypical approach can best account for the morphological complexity. This approach, though, leaves out splinters and blenders. Word classes are seen as typological categories.


Gregory Stump refers to the criteria which distinguish “Inflectional Morphology” from derivational, to inflectional exponence (IE), periphrastic expressions, clitics, theoretical treatments of IE, the canonical relation of content to form in inflectional paradigms and their deviations (i.e., inflectional classes in Latin and Sanskrit, morphomic properties) as well as to what the deviations have to say about the interface of inflection with the grammatical components within DM and lexeme-based approaches.

Michael Daniel in “Person in Morphology” discusses how person is expressed in pronouns and affixal units, the properties of third person, person as a morphosyntactic category expressed in verbal and possessive constructions, issues related to treating person indexes as pronominal reference or agreement markers, the interaction of person with number, mood, modality, case alignment, grammatical gender and spatial deixis, person hierarchies and pragmatics (politeness, logophoricity, egophoricity).

“Number in Language” is explored by Paolo Acquaviva who touches upon how number generally functions in languages, how it is expressed across word classes, general number, number values (e.g., cardinality, approximative) and variation in morphological (i.e., number/noun classification, inverse number), syntactic (i.e., plurality and classifiers, numerals and quantity expressions) and semantic contexts (e.g., “oneness”, genericity) as well as theoretical treatments.

Jenny Audring in “Gender” examines gender as a noun classification and agreement feature, its interaction with person, its canonical properties, gender parametric variation (i.e., number of gender values, gender assignment rules, gender in sign languages), the development of gender systems, how it is acquired in first/second language and relevant theoretical issues (e.g., gender regularity, psycholinguistics).

Andrej L. Malchukov refers to various definitions of “Case”, morphological, syntactic, structural and semantic case, the conflation of syntactic, semantic and discourse-pragmatic case, case hierarchy and the semantic map approach to the study of meaning of cases (p.191).

Marianne Mithun discusses “Tense and Aspect in Morphology” by exemplifying tense inventories in various languages, the shift of deictic centers, nominal tense, aspect inventories, obligatoriness, aspectual category comparability, aspectual markers’ richness and nominal aspect.

Tyler Peterson explores the origin of the study of “Mirativity in Morphology” and highlights its diversity cross-linguistically as well as issues related to the testing, the analysis and (functional/historical, formal/theoretical) explanations of the phenomenon.

Rik van Gijn defines notions related to “Switch Reference in Morphology” (SR) and discusses pivots and SR markers of agreement cross-linguistically, the SR morphological (i.e. affixes, clitics, enclitics, non-linearity, exponence) and paradigmatic (markedness, asymmetry) nature and its development.

Peter Milin and James P. Blevins offer some notes on the role of “Paradigms in Morphology” in terms of grammar organisation. Paradigms are discussed from a linguistic (Word-and-Paradigm (WP), realisation approaches), psychological, computational (e.g., classes, inflectional exponents, relations between words and paradigms or word families/classes) and learning-based perspective (memory-based/error-driven learning, learning theory).

Pavel Caha in “Syncretism in Morphology” exemplifies accidental versus systematic and absolute versus contextual syncretism, shows how syncretism is modeled (e.g., decomposition, marker competition) and presents analyses which explain possible restrictions of syncretism (e.g., linear adjacency constraint, feature hierarchies).

Antonio Fábregas looks at “Defectiveness in Morphology” and, more specifically, at gaps due to syntactic, phonological and semantic restrictions or lexical specification to distinguish such constructions from narrow defectiveness. He concentrates on what differentiates defectiveness from syncretism, the challenges it imposes for language acquisition, competition-based and neoconstructionist approaches, its properties, what causes defectiveness, the role attestations play and how it is accounted for in morphological theories.

Ljuba N. Veselinova discusses the origin of “Suppletion”, genuine/pseudo, affixal/stem, strong/weak and overlapping suppletion, suppletion in inflection and derivation, suppletion according to polarity, lexicalisation of negation and how suppletion is accounted for theoretically. Suppletion in verb, nominal and adjectival paradigms and ordinal numbers’ derivation support the view that suppletion is a frequent cross-linguistic phenomenon.

Laura Grestenberger in “Deponency in Morphology” shows how the canonical distribution of morphological patterns has driven various definitions of deponency. Deponence (real or spurious) can(not) serve as evidence for the claims that morphology is/is not autonomous. Semi-deponency in Greek and Latin, semi-deponency triggered by finiteness in Latin participial forms and the role diachrony plays for deponency are also discussed.

Anna M. Thornton in “Overabundance in Morphology” explains that different terms have been used to refer to related phenomena. Exceptional and systematic cases of overabundance, frequency ratios, the conditions and manifestations facilitating overabundance patterns, the environments in which it occurs, what gave rise to the phenomenon (i.e., loss/non-acquisition of phonological conditions) and an evaluation of the (in)adequacy of theoretical approaches to account for overabundance are the main discussion topics.

Patricia Cabredo Hofherr in “Agreement in Morphology” shows that if the asymmetric view on agreement is adopted, issues (i.e., the identification of a controller, the absence of a lexical controller, grammaticalised agreement mismatches) arise. Agreement targets and features, the agreement domain, the conditions on the choice of agreement markers, semantic and syntactic conditions, default agreement, agreement on coordinations definiteness, respect/politeness and wh-agreement as agreement features are explored.


Rochelle Lieber in “Derivational Morphology” exemplifies the differences between derivation and inflection/compounding and inversion, its morphological patterns (e.g., affixation, reduplication, subtraction), its semantic categories (nouns, verbs, adjectives, relational/prepositional meanings), issues related to the semantics of derivation, its typological characteristics and theoretical (i.e., productivity, blocking) and psycholinguistic issues.

In “Nominalization: General Overview and Theoretical Issues”, Rochelle Lieber explores lexical nominalisations, the pervasiveness of polysemy, theoretical approaches to nominalisation (generative, cognitive, functional) as well as competition and blocking in nominalisation.

Artemis Alexiadou in “Event/Result in Morphology” discusses Grimshaw’s (1990) proposal for nominalisations, the problems associated with this treatment (i.e., argument structure and de-adjectival nominals, nominalisation and argument structure, conversion cross-linguistically) and shows how specific semantic and structural approaches account for event and result nominalisation.

Marios Andreou looks at “Personal/Participant/Inhabitant in Morphology” focusing on inhabitant derived nouns, their semantic classification ((a)thematic), their polysemous function, syntactic/non-syntactic/cognitive and functional theoretical approaches as well as issues for future research.

Livio Gaeta examines “Collective/Abstract in Morphology” by looking at abstract nouns, deverbal nouns and their typification, the way verbal arguments are expressed, semantic shifts, the verbal base’s semantic properties, abstract deadjectival and denominal nouns, collective as an inflectional feature and collective nouns in word formation.

Mercedes Tubino-Blanco in “Causative/Inchoative in Morphology” discusses causative/inchoative alternations and their universal status, lexical/semantic (i.e., the unaccusativity of the intransitive variant) and morphological issues (e.g., morphological coding, reflexive morphology on anticausative markers), theoretical approaches (lexical, syntactic) and questions which remain open for future research.

In “Denominal Verbs in Morphology”, Heike Baeskow explores their formation by overt derivation (i.e., phonological/morphological constraints, the semantics of English denominal verbs) and conversion (e.g., generic knowledge, lexical propositions, recategorisation, qualia structures, Neo-Construction Grammar).

Petra Sleeman examines formal and semantic aspects of “Adjectivalization in Morphology” (e.g., nature/category of the base, semantic distinctions), the categorial ambiguity expressed in deverbal adjectives, adjectival and nominal suffixes, adjectivisation in relation to the native/non-native distinctions between suffixes and Level-Ordering in French and Dutch.

In “Functional Categories: Complementizers and Adpositions”, Lena Baunaz shows that illocutionary force of the clause, factivity and modality are properties of complementisers cross-linguistically. Finite complementisers can be identical to nominal, verbal or prepositional categories which may also co-occur in a language. According to recent approaches, complementisers can be decomposed into smaller pieces.

Olaf Koeneman and Hedde Zeilstra in “Form and Meaning of (Indefinite) Pronouns” refer to indefinite pronouns, their functions and their classification (negative polarity items, free-choice items, negative and positive indefinites). They propose that evidence about indefinite pronouns from morphologically rich and poor languages can be extended to the study of the properties of definite pronouns.

Nicola Grandi in “Evaluatives in Morphology” draws on the properties of evaluative morphology (ΕΜ) as identified by Scalise (1984, 1994), Dressler and Merlini Barbaresi (1994) and Jurafsky (1993, 1996). He defines ΕΜ based on parameters he identifies for quantitative and qualitative evaluation--and explores the properties of evaluative suffixes based on cross-linguistic evidence and the position of evaluatives in the morphological component.

Karen De Clercq in “Negation in Morphology” looks at low-scope negative markers (LSNM) in English, wide-scope negative markers (WSNM) in Korean and syncretisms between LSNM and SSNM to support the view that negation should be treated in a single grammatical component.

Gianina Iordăchioaia in “Quantitative Derivation in Morphology” covers the following topics: quantifiers, phrasal expressions of quantity, nominal and verbal plural, pluractional markers and the properties they express (i.e., distributivity), their differences with nominal expressions of plurality, the prefix re- in English, collective nouns from verbs and nouns, noun classifiers with -ful, nominal gender morphology, nominalising suffixes and their semantic properties, quantitative prefixes and suffixes in English, adjectives diminutives and augmentatives, syntactic and lexicalist treatments, formal approaches to pluractionality.

“Numerals in Morphology” are discussed by Ljuba N. Veselinova who looks at cardinals and their morphological characteristics (heads, markers of number and agreement), their behavior in derivation (i.e. complex numerals, distributed/ordinal numerals, numerals expressing indeterminate/large quantities) and directions for future research.


Pius ten Hacken’s discussion on “Compounding in Morphology” revolves around four axes: delimitation, classification, formation and interpretation. He also looks at expository and substantive issues of compounding.

In “Subordinate and Synthetic Compounds in Morphology”, Chiara Melloni reviews the classification and the features of subordinates and synthetic compounds alongside with their theoretical treatments. A cross-linguistic discussion of the input units’ lexical category and their morphological form, compound markers and derivational suffixes in synthetic compounds as well as issues related to headedness, interpretation and recursivity are explored.

“Coordination in Compounds” is discussed by Angela Ralli who reviews the criteria according to which coordinative compounds are distinguished, their semantic features and transparent nature, their structural status and their typological distribution. N-N, Adj-Adj, V-V and Adv-Adv compounds are discussed.

In “Exocentricity in Morphology” by Maria Irene Moyna explores the notion of head, the criteria according to which headedness is established, semantic and, mainly, syntactic (in possessive, deverbal nominal, concatenative compounds) exocentricity, the semantic properties of syntactic exocentricity and the role conversion plays in exocentric compounds, theoretical approaches and, finally, a note on syntactic freezes in Spanish.

Formal Morphological Means

Claudio Iacobini in “Parasynthesis in Morphology” sketches the relation between parasynthesis and circumfixation. Verbal parasynthesis in the Romance languages is exemplified: from the establishment of the term to the characteristics of parasynthetic verbs, verbs with prefixes expressing an egressive meaning, the origin (from Latin to the Romance languages) and the types of parasynthetic verbs. The analyses of verbal parasynthesis within the Item-and-Process and the WP models and notes about adjectival and nominal parasynthetics as well as parasynthetic compounds conclude the discussion.

In “Conversion in Morphology”, Sandór Martsa outlines major and partial conversion and lookalike types of conversion (i.e., grammaticalisation, category indeterminacy, multifunctionality, semantic specialisation/ transfer). Input and output homonymy in conversion is examined from a cross-linguistic perspective. Semantic issues (i.e., semantic changes, the syntax-semantics interaction, conceptual shifts) and issues related to the productivity of conversion (e.g., morphosemantic transparency, constraints, conversion rules) are also presented.

Suzanne Urbanczyk in “Phonological and Morphological Aspects of Reduplication” reviews total, foot/syllable-sized and a-templatic reduplication, segmental (non-)identity patterns of reduplication, its morphological structure, exfication as well as phonological and morphological repetition. A critical evaluation of the Morphological Doubling Theory and the Correspondence Theory Model of Reduplication in terms of the stand they take on the afore-mentioned behaviour of reduplication is also offered.

Outi Bat-El in “Templatic Morphology (Clippings, Word-and-Pattern)” offers a sketch of the concept. Prosodic templates (PT) are reviewed on the basis of the root as a word-size restriction. Clippings might consist of a PT or a PT and a suffix, a PT and a vocalic pattern or a combination of the above. As far as the structural relations of such configurations are concerned, it is shown that anchoring and stem modification is relevant.


As stated by the Editor-in-Chief, Rochelle Lieber, in the Preface, “(W)hat makes the Oxford Encyclopedia of Morphology different is not the kind of articles per se but rather the scope of the volume, in terms of both breadth and depth of coverage” (p. xiv). This is exactly the first impression you get once the book set is in your hands. The first volume discusses morphological units and processes. Each article is well-structured, includes ample references to studies, theoretical frameworks and rich (cross-) linguistic data. As a result, readers can grasp not only a better understanding of the topic but also an overall picture of the research conducted in the field. Areas for future research are also highlighted. The volume is well-written and the discussions are easy to follow. In some instances, when reference to theoretical frameworks/questions is made, depending on the reader’s degree of familiarisation, the discussion may not be that straightforward. This is completely understandable, though, given the diversity of topics and the scope of the book set. So, based on the first volume, it seems that “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Morphology” will satisfy the needs of experts or newcomers to the field, who will certainly find something interesting to challenge themselves with. A minor point is that the section “Formal Morphological Means” concludes in the second volume, although it would have made sense to include the remaining five articles in the first volume.

Typos: p.15 (in Bell): Tsoulos should appear as Tsoulas. p.640: there is no section 1.3.


Dressler, W. U. and Merlini Barbaresi, L. (1994). Morphopragmatics: Diminutives and intensifiers in Italian, German, and other languages. New York: De Gruyter Mouton.

Grimshaw, J. (1990). Argument structure. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Haspelmath, M. (2011). “The indeterminacy of word segmentation and the nature of morphology and syntax”. Folia Linguistica, 45, 31-80.

Jurafsky, D. (1993). “Universals in the Semantics of the Diminutive”. Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. 19 (1): 423-436.

Jurafsky. D. (1996). “Universal Tendencies in the Semantics of the Diminutive”. Language 72(3): 533-578.

Scalise, S. (1984). Generative morphology. Dordrecht: Foris.

Scalise, S. (1994). Morfologia. Bologna: Il Mulino.
Alexandra Galani is a Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Primary Education at the University of Ioannina (Greece). Her main research interests are in morphology, its interfaces and language teaching and learning.

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