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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: 32.3561

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“The Oxford Encyclopedia of Morphology”, by Rochelle Lieber (Editor-in-Chief), is a three-volume set. The third volume includes twenty-eight articles, a directory of the set’s contributors, and an index (for all three volumes). The articles which explore morphological systems in various language families offer information about the family’s typology, history, and/or classification.

The Morphology-Semantics Interface

Salvador Valera explores data (from affixation, conversion-related pairs) and issues related to the distinction of “Polysemy Versus Homonymy”: i.e., (word class, lexeme membership) restrictions, criteria (relatedness, distinctiveness), tests (ambiguity, paradigmatic associations), semantic relatedness, and formal (form/meaning) changes. Evidence from theoretical models further highlights the difficulty in distinguishing the two phenomena.

Réka Benczes examines the relationship between “Morphology and Lexical Semantics” by looking at meaning compositionality in complex words, reduplication patterns, derivatives and affixation (suffixation, affix replacement). On a theoretical level, reference is made to Construction Morphology, usage-based models, the two conceptual metaphors (CONTAINER, building block) which the theory of compositionality was based on, and the “connectionist model” (Gonnerman et al., 2007).

Martin Hilpert defines “Lexicalization in Morphology” and sketches the morphological processes which are relevant to lexicalisation (affixation, compounding, conversion, clippings, acronyms, initialisms, blending, coinage, borrowing). Non-compositional meaning in complex units, obliteration of morpheme boundaries, univerbation, and context expansion serve as diagnostics for lexicalisation. How lexicalisation is differentiated from grammaticalisation and the typological differences in lexicalisation are also explored.

Diachronic Aspects of Morphology

Carola Trips explains what “Morphological Change” (MC) is and what causes it (constructional iconicity, language contact, abductive change, analogy). MCs occur at the interface with phonology (dephonologisation: i-mutation in the Germanic languages, Umlaut), syntax (desyntacticisation: development of inflectional suffixes in French, nominal compounding in the Germanic languages) and semantics (reanalysis of morphological complexes, the development of derivational suffixes). Morphology-internal changes (analogy in Neogrammarians and Anderson’s (2015) treatment) are also sketched.

Muriel Norde discusses “Grammaticalization in Morphology”. She sketches grammaticalisation as a language change phenomenon and as a framework. The common properties of (de)grammaticalisation are highlighted prior to introducing arguments in favour of/against primary and secondary (de)grammaticalisation. Representative examples of primary grammaticalisation (loss of morphological properties), secondary grammaticalisation (the development of bound morphemes), degrammaticalisation, deinflectionalisation and debonding are offered. Reference to other composite changes (the development of derivational affixes, lexicalisation as increase of autonomy, category change without (de)grammaticalisation, exaptation) is made.

Silvina Montrul and James Yoon explore the relationship between “Morphology and Language Attrition” in bilinguals. They identify factors which affect attrition (i.e., input availability/lack, age, language use) and outline attrition patterns (reduced fluency, code-switching), measuring methods (i.e., online/offline tasks) and theoretical treatments (i.e., Regression Hypothesis, Interface Hypothesis, Activation Threshold Hypothesis, Dynamic Systems Theory). They discuss attrition in (inflectional/derivational) morphology and age effects.

Daniel Fertig approaches “Analogy in Morphology” from a Neogrammarian perspective. He refers to analogical morphological changes (proportional analogy, back-formation, paradigm leveling, contamination, folk etymology), constraints (e.g., grammar optimisation/simplification, relative likelihood, system independent preference), and the role of morphological similarity.

Morphology in the Languages of the World

In “Morphology in Typology: Historical Retrospect, State of the Art, and Prospects”, Peter M. Arkadiev sketches the history of morphological typology. Issues related to the cross-linguistic morphological diversity of words and affixes, as well as to the distinction between inflection and derivation (features of prototypical inflection/derivation, productive non-inflectional concatenation, lexical relatedness) are discussed. Reference is made to qualitative and quantitative cross-linguistic approaches (e.g., biuniqueness model, Mirror Principle, Principle of Relevance, template/layered morphology, entropy-based approach) to morphological phenomena (i.e., affix ordering, inflectional classes, paradigms).

In “Lexical Typology in Morphology”, Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm and Ljuba Veselinova discuss “word-class categorization within a language and across languages” (p. 1826), “categorization within major word classes” (p. 1828) and “irregularities in morphological patterns” (p. 1832) (i.e., suppletive forms, morphological leveling, paradigm organisation). They explore the structure of lexical items (basic, non-derived items versus complex lexical ones), the Greenbergian index of complexity, the semantic analysis of events, states and satellites, (anti)causative and action nominal formation, lexical affixes (locationals, directionals, instrumentals), closed-class verbs expressed by multiword expressions/complex predicates, and the lexical profiles of languages.

In “Head/Dependent Marking” (HDM), Johanna Nichols and Yury Lander examine HDM patterns. These include head/dependent/double/neutral/detached/none marking, indexation, registration, whole-language types and constituent types’ locus of marking (i.e., clauses, NPs, PPs, sentences). HDM has been incorporated in structural overviews, descriptive grammars, typological research and theoretical frameworks (i.e., lexical functional grammar, role and reference grammar, generative grammar). Issues are raised with HDM in the presence of determiners/linkers/free clitics, when the dependent appears in/on the head, when the locus of marking is on non-arguments, and when markers exhibit head/dependent/split/multiple-head properties. HDM can be assigned to phrases and is achieved on the basis of three strategies (HEAD/EDGE/EVERYWHERE-based). HDM is typologically (dominant alignment, word order, inclusive/exclusive oppositions, possessive classes, verbal high inflectional synthesis, positional/general absence of number oppositions, polysynthesis, (in)alienable possession oppositions, inflectional person) and geographically distributed.

Asli Göksel explores “Morphology in Altaic Languages” and, more specifically, in Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic. She outlines the general properties of (phonological) words, morphological operations (stems, suffixes, clitics, affixoids, allomorphy, base modification, conversion, suspended affixation), inflection (nominal, including number, possessive person-number, case, adjectival, and verbal, including voice, negation, tense, aspect, modality, predicative person-number, and non-finite), derivation, reduplicative prefixation, compounding, doubling, blends, acronyms, and alphabetisms.

In “Morphology in Arawak Languages” (ArL), Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald sketches ArL word structure, morphological processes (i.e., circumfixation, infixation, subtraction, apophony, reduplication), nominal/verbal/adjectival morphology, word-class changing derivations, common affixes in verbs/nouns and closed word classes (manner adverbs, personal pronouns, demonstratives, adpositions, discourse particles). Possession, number, gender, classifiers, case and nominal tense are marked in nouns, whereas morphologically complex nominal forms consist of suffixes/enclitics expressing additional grammatical categories. The structure of verbal forms (i.e., thematic suffix), verbal classes (e.g., active/stative, transitive/ditransitive/intransitive, split/fluid-s marking), verbal categories (tense, aspect, evidentiality, modalities, valency-changing derivations), noun incorporation, and morphological patterns due to language contact are highlighted.

Theodore Levin and Maria Polinsky outline the basic units (roots, stems, prefixes, suffixes, infixes), reduplication and cliticisation patterns present in the “Morphology in Austronesian Languages” (AL). Valency-changing operations (voice, transitivity, causativisation, applicativisation), verbal/wh-agreement and nominal morphology (case/number/gender marking, pronominal forms, possessive markers) are also sketched.

In “Morphology in Dravidian Languages” (DL), R. Amritavalli exemplifies person/gender/number marking on nominal forms, gender/number agreement on postnominal quantifiers and predicative/postnominal adjectives, (monstrous) agreement/tense/finiteness on verbal forms, case marking on nominal/non-finite verbal forms and adjectivisation processes. Light/serial verbs and affixes representing transitivity, causativity, reflexivity and benefactivity are present in DL. Pluractional verbs and suffixes marking distal action/movement appear in the verbal forms. Quotative, topic particles, and conjunction/disjunction markers exhibit reduplication patterns (echo, distributive quantification).

Yongxian Luo sketches the origin of affixes and the morphosyntactic/phonological features of the “Morphology in Kra-Dai Languages” (KDL). Initial/vowel/tone alternations form word families. Class nouns serve as classificatory prefixes and numeral classifiers as class prefixes, whereas locative/temporal meanings are expressed by prefixes. Verbalising/adjectivising prefixes and expressive affixation are present in KDL. Nominalisation is achieved by prefixes, suffixes and possessives, whereas gender marking is achieved by prefixes and suffixes. Affixes mark plurality, interrogative, reciprocal, and diminutive meanings. Reduplication and its properties (phonological/morphosyntactic (quantification, collectivity, attenuation, limitation, degrees of intensity, category shift) as well as compounding and its properties (coordination, subordination, constituents’ semantic relationships, body-part incorporation, elaborative expressions) are discussed.

Giorgio Francesco Arcodia and Bianca Basciano explain that ”Morphology in Sino-Tibetan Languages” (STL) has been influenced by language contact. The morphology of Sinitic is first described; from Old and Middle Chinese to Modern Chinese and Chinese dialects. Due to the morphological variability in STL, the most characteristic morphological phenomena in Tibeto-Burman are outlined; namely verb-stem alternation, verb agreement, derivational morphology (voice markers, prefix preference in SOV order), compounding, incorporation, and reduplication.

In “A Typological Perspective on the Morphology of Nilo-Saharan Languages” (NSL), Gerrit J. Dimmendaal explores the formal morphological properties in NSL (i.e., analytic, synthetic, suffix preference, person/number agreement as proclitics/prefixes, reduplication). The discussion of the derivational, inflectional, and compounding patterns further shows that the morphological processes may be related to lexical/morphosyntactic features present in NSL. Morphological differences may be further attributed to multilingualism and language contact.

In “Morphology in Austroasiatic Languages” (AaL), Mark J. Alves explains that AaL differ in terms of affixation patterns, morphological types, syllable/clause structure, lexical stress and tone systems. The most common morphological features include: word/syllable structures, expressives, lexical categories (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, stative verbs, adverbs), causative affixes, nominalising infixes, reciprocals affixes, verbalising/stativising prefixes and grammatical categories (subject marking, case, plurality, aspect, existential/locative). AaLs exhibit full/partial/alternating reduplication and full/pseudo compounding. Polysyllabicity as a result of affixation and morphological patterns in Munda, Nirobaric, Vietnamese, and Muong are highlighted.

Yury Lander discusses various issues (i.e., the notion of word, word classes) in the “Morphology in Northwest Caucasian Languages” (NWCL). He sketches argument structure, causatives, spatial meanings, tense, aspect, modality, negation, and propositional operators. Notes about nominal morphology, incorporation, compounding, and reduplication patterns are provided. Morpheme combinations, compositional rules, recursion, distinctions between the functions of prefixes/suffixes, and lexical/grammatical morphemes are also outlined.

In “Morphology in Quechuan Languages” (QL), Willem F. H. Adelaar sketches the structure of QLs (e.g., constituent order, case marking), prior to discussing its morphological typology, parts of speech, morphological classes and phonotactic constraints. Verbal morphology is examined with reference to tense, mood, subordination, personal reference, plural marking, speaker orientation in verbal suffixes, benefactive/restrictive/valency-changing/directional suffixes, vowel modification, and irregular verbs. Nominalisations and independent suffixes are present in QLs, and nominal morphology is also explored (i.e., personal reference, plural/case marking, ownership, inclusion, diminutive, augmentative, verbalisation).

Keren Rice focuses on verb words’ properties in “Morphology in Dene Languages” (DL). Issues related to verb word productivity, prefixation, discontinuities in verb themes, semantic idiosyncrasy, affixal mobility, fusion, haplology, homophony and neutralisation/consonant loss are discussed. As far as verb word formation is concerned, various treatments (templatic analysis, Lexical Phonology models, affix ordering and its relation to scope/shape, the bipartite verb forms, grammaticalisation) are explored. Reference is made to the verb stem, its formation and semantics, suppletion and stem-initial variations. Evidence about the verb word is drawn from research on psycholinguistics, acquisition and sociolinguistics. Nominal morphology, noun classes, (double) possession, evaluative morphology, directional, postpositions, and particles are also examined.

Brett Baker looks at the properties of “Morphology in Australian Languages” (AusL). Reference is made to AusL word structure, the characteristics of templatic morphology, headedness, scope, incorporation, stem forms, inflection classes, multiple case stacking, reduplication, and agreement markers (person, number, noun classes and gender marking).

Denis Creissels examines word structure in “Morphology in Niger-Congo Languages” (NCL): isolation/synthesis in nominal/verbal morphology, allomorphy, zero marking, sandhi, affix types, separative/cumulative/multiple exponence, reduplication, and segmental/prosodic alternations. In terms of nominal inflection, the discussion focuses on gender-number marking, plural markers, and definiteness/case/possessive/construct/predicative marking, as well as on the expression of distributivity and indefinite free choice. As far as verbal morphology is concerned, agreement, indexation, tense, aspect, modality, polarity, expression of interclausal dependencies and information structure are explored. Word formation processes include verb-to-verb, noun-to-verb, noun-to-noun, and verb-to-noun derivation, as well as nominal and verbal compounding.

Anna Sörés and Krisztina Hevér-Joly discuss features of the “Morphology in Uralic Languages” (UL). They sketch word classes and inflectional classes and refer to UL typology in terms of suffix allomorphy, vowel harmony, stem alternation (consonant gradation), analytic features, syncretism, and suppletion. ULs inflect for number, case (mainly grammatical and spatial), person, tense, aspect and mood. Predicative declension, definiteness and polarity also occur in ULs. Word formation processes include suffixal/verbal derivation, reduplication, and compounding.

In “Morphology in Trans-New Guinean Languages” (TNGL), Sebastian Fedden explores word classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, directional, numerals, postpositions, conjunctions) and word formation processes (compounding, category/valency-changing derivation, serial/light-verb constructions). Due to the fact that copulas are not usually present in TNGLs, existential verbs and verbless-topic comment clauses are used instead. As far as nominal inflection is concerned, possessive/gender/case marking is sketched. Verb roots, stems, marking for core argument indexing, morphosyntactic alignment, experiential clauses, tense, aspect, mood and illocutionary force are the relevant features of verbal morphology. Clause chains and reference tracking are common features of TNGLs.

In “Morphology in Indo-European Languages” (IEL), Paolo Milizia draws evidence from Old Indic and Greek to examine the main morphological features of archaic IEL. Reference is made to parts of speech, word structure, ablaut, affixation, reduplication, inflectional types thematicity, accent distribution, nominal/verbal grammatical categories, nominal/verbal suffixes, cumulative exponence, syncretism, nominal stem alternations, pronouns, verbal stems, and word formation processes. The second half of the discussion focuses on morphological developments in IEL and, more specifically, in relation to morphological decay, morphological enrichment, morphophonology, inflectional classes, cases, adpositions, nominal typological shifts, number/gender/noun classes, verbal stems/suffixes, person agreement, definiteness, diathesis, mood, tenses, past participles periphrasis, split ergativity, preverbation, and prefixation.

Taro Kageyama in “Morphology in Japonic Languages” (JL) explains that lexical strata, lexical categories (noun, verb, adjective, verbal noun, adjectival noun) and morphemes such as roots, words, word plus affixes, clitics, and independent words play a role in the morphological processes in JL. As far as word-level morphology is concerned, JLs exhibit nonconcatenative and concatenative morphology. Word formation processes include prefixation, suffixation, lexical alternations of transitivity and compounding (noun-verb, noun adjective, verb-verb, deverbal compounds). On the sentence-level, phrasal verbs in syntactic verb-verb compounds, gerundive auxiliary constructions, suffixal predicates representing voice/aspect, polarity and modality, nominalising suffixes, postsyntactic compounds, and predicate agglutination are discussed. Reference is also made to conjugational and inflectional patterns in verbs, adjectives, and copulas. The way morphology interacts with syntax and semantics can be seen in agent compounding (transitive verb-noun and its agent subject), category change via prefixes and compounds, and lexical aspectual verb-verb compounds.

Matthew J. Carroll describes “The Morphology of Yam Languages” (YL). He offers background information on the family, documentation sources and notes on glossing. Reference is made to the parts of speech (nouns, adjectives, pronouns, demonstratives, verbs) and word formation processes, the most common of which is the derivation of infinitives. Nominals are marked for case, number, and gender, whereas verbal morphology is discussed in terms of inflectional classes, undergoer prefixes, actor suffixes and tense/aspect/mood suffixes/categories. YLs exhibit distributed exponence patterns.


The third volume of “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Morphology” concludes the discussion of the interface of morphology with other grammatical components, and more specifically with semantics. It further explores morphological issues related to diachrony and typology as well as morphological systems in eighteen language families. One of the assets of the third volume is the very same degree of cohesion and clarity which is maintained throughout the three-volume set. Additionally, there is rich, cross-linguistic (where necessary) exemplification of the morphological phenomena/structures under examination. Diverse topics, morphological phenomena, and approaches/frameworks are thoroughly presented and supported by reference to well-established research studies. Given the size of the volume, typos (e.g., p. 1712: 2. FROM DECOMPOSITIONALITY TO NONDECOMPOSTIONALITY) are inevitable, but these nonetheless do not lead to confusion. Overall, “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Morphology” makes a strong contribution to the field and it will satisfy academics and researchers at different levels of expertise and/or experience. It is an extremely valuable source of reference for the community of linguists.


Anderson, S. R. (2015). “Morphological change”. In C. Bowern & B. Evans (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Historical Linguistics (pp. 264-285). Abingdon: Routledge.

Gonnerman, L. M., Seidenberg, M. S. & Anderson, E. S. (2007). “Graded semantic and phonological similarity effects in priming: Evidence for a distributed connectionist approach to morphology”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 136 (2): 323-345.
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.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780190682361
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