Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login

New from Cambridge University Press!


Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

New from Wiley!


We Have a New Site!

With the help of your donations we have been making good progress on designing and launching our new website! Check it out at!
***We are still in our beta stages for the new site--if you have any feedback, be sure to let us know at***

Review of  Defective Paradigms

Reviewer: Kyle Gorman
Book Title: Defective Paradigms
Book Author: Matthew Baerman Greville G. Corbett Dunstan Brown
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 22.2894

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting
EDITORS: Matthew Baerman, Greville G. Corbett, Dunstan Brown
TITLE: Defective Paradigms
SUBTITLE: Missing Forms and What They Tell Us
SERIES TITLE: Proceedings of the British Academy
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2010

Kyle Gorman, Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania,
[email protected]

Defectivity is surely one of morphology's dirtiest little secrets. Despite
speakers' prodigious abilities to apply familiar patterns to unfamiliar data
(e.g., wug-tests and the like), there are, as Halle (1973) notes, corners of the
grammar where this generalization ability fails. For instance, many English
speakers find themselves unable to generate a preterite form of <forgo>: despite
<underwent>, both *<forwent> and *<forgoed> are ungrammatical.
In the introductory chapter to 'Defective Paradigms', a collection of papers from a
2008 conference of the same name, Matthew Baerman and Greville G. Corbett set
the stage, declaring that this type of data has important consequences for
morphological theory, because it is widely assumed that ''[m]orphology ought to
be the handmaid of grammatical meaning, producing forms where other components
require them'' and that ''there will be productive, default mechanisms that permit
the generation of a paradigm from any item whatsoever'' (p. 2), assumptions
difficult to reconcile with the behavior of <forgo>.

Stephen Anderson's contribution, 'Failing one's obligations: Defectiveness in
Rumantsch reflexes of DE:BE:RE', focuses on the paradigm of the verb <dueir>
'should' in a lesser-known Romance language, Surmiran. The author reports that
the verb cannot be used in inflections where it would be expected to show a stem
alternation (presumably, /do-/); instead, speakers substitute the verb <stueir>
'must'. Anderson proposes that this is an instance of neutralization to the
semantically-similar <stueir> paradigm. Anderson's chapter is unique in
grammaticalizing the avoidance pattern (cf. Legendre 2009 for a similar approach
of syntactic ineffability): that is, the author proposes that descriptively
''defective inputs'' (e.g., the 1sg. present of <dueir>) are neutralized to licit
inputs by the grammar (e.g., <stò> 'I must'). In contrast, the other authors
appear to assume (albeit implicitly) that ''defective inputs'' crash the derivation.

Gilles Boyé and Patricia Cabredo Hofherr assume that morphological paradigms are
defined by lists of suppletive cells and their interactions and use this to
derive defectivity in their chapter 'Defectiveness as stem suppletion in French
and Spanish verbs'. For Spanish, this means that the verb <dormir> 'to sleep' is
constructed from the stems /dorm-, dwerm-, durm-/ (e.g., <duermo> 'I sleep',
<durmamos> 'we would sleep'). Thus a defective paradigm cell is one for which
the learner knows no stem. The authors then test a competing hypothesis.
Albright (2003) has suggested that defectivity in Spanish verbs occurs when
learners are faced with competing generalizations supported only by
low-frequency data; this uncertainty is the quantity measured by the confidence
scores generated by Albright's minimum generalization learner (MGL). Boyé and
Cabredo Hofherr find no correlation between MGL confidence and defectivity in
French, leading them to reject Albright's hypothesis.

Andra Kalvača and Ilze Lokmane ('Defective paradigms of reflexive nouns and
participles in Latvian') present a new case of defectivity: Latvian reflexive
nouns lack a plural instrumental, and both singular and plural lack dative and
locative forms, and reflexive participles lack all but the accusative and
instrumental in the singular, and lack the instrumental, dative, and locative in
the plural. Kalvača and Lokmane show that this gap is general to nearly all
Latvian reflexives; apparent exceptions are non-standard and/or semantically
non-equivalent. Unlike many of the other cases reviewed in this volume, the
Latvian data suggest that the source of defectivity need not make any reference
to surface form at all.

John Löwenadler's study ('Relative acceptability of missing adjective forms in
Swedish') is a summary of a forthcoming article (it has since appeared in the
journal Morphology) investigating the description of the well-known case of
defective neuter indefinite adjectives in attributive position in Swedish.
Löwenadler administers a rating task to speakers and analyzes the results using
phonological markedness constraints.

In their chapter 'Defective verbal paradigms in Hungarian -- Description and
experimental study', Ágnes Lukaćz, Péter Rebrus, and Miklós Törkenczy administer
a judgment task and show a strong correlation between speakers' judgements and
their analysis.

Martin Maiden and Paul O'Neill ('On morphomic defectiveness: Evidence from the
Romance languages of the Iberian Peninsula') examine the evidence for gaps in
Spanish and Portuguese. The authors' analysis has certain similarities with the
chapter by Boyé and Cabredo Hofherr in that it relies on the notion that any
stem change is suppletion. But whereas Boyé and Cabredo Hofherr claim that
Romance defective verbs lack suppletive stems, Maiden and O'Neill argue that
defective verbs are those incapable of undergoing suppletion. This has a
precedent in Iverson's description of Swedish inflectional gaps (1981: 141):
''one characteristic common to all cases [of defectivity--KG] is that paradigms
with gaps show no allomorphy of the root morpheme, but would if the gap were
filled.'' They claim that ''defective verbs of learnèd origin never show any kind
of [root--KG] allomorphy'' (though they note one exception in Portuguese), and
that this inability to show stem alternations is the key to generating defectivity.

Marianne Mithun's chapter ('The search for regularity in irregularity:
Defectiveness and its implications for our knowledge of words') reports
defectivity in both Yup'ik and Mohawk dual possessives, and argues that this is
evidence for whole-word storage.

Milan Rezac's chapter 'Ineffability through modularity: Gaps in the French
clitic cluster' finds that, except in one familiar case, constraints on clitic
clusters belong in morphology, since any ''repairs'' to clitic clusters are
invisible to the syntax. Rezac concludes that this is incompatible with
globalist approaches to the morphology/syntax interface.

Lastly, Gregory Stump ('Interactions between defectiveness and syncretism')
considers cases where syncretism and defectivity overlap in Sanskrit and
daughter languages. Stump considers a hypothetical language in which
defectiveness and syncretism may partially overlap. Consider a four-cell
paradigm (with cells {A, B, C, D}) and imagine further that evidence from other
paradigms in the same language suggest a syncretism between {A, C} and
defectivity for {C, D}. How then will the four cells of this paradigm be
realized? First, defectiveness could override syncretism, so that C is
defective, despite the expectation of syncretism with A. Alternatively,
syncretism could override defectiveness, in which case C is well-formed, showing
syncretism with A. Finally, it is possible that ''syncretism determines a domain
of defectiveness'': that is, C's status as defective renders A defective, and the
only cell which can be realized is B. Stump gives evidence for all three
patterns, and presents an analysis using Paradigm Function Morphology.

In general, the descriptive content of this volume alone will be of great
interest to morphologists. The one place where the description is unclear is in
Mithun's chapter. While the editors in their introductory chapter are careful to
distinguish between defectivity and neutralizations in the morphology (i.e.,
syncretism), Mithun does not provide the reader enough information to confirm
that this distinction is being respected (though I do not intend to discount the
description itself). Asked for the 1sg. possessive form of ''paper'', a Yup'ik
informant responds:

''My two. That's hard. It just jumps to plural. There is no dual'' (p. 129).

Mithun takes this comment to indicate defectivity, but this limited description
is just as consistent with a partial syncretism between the dual and plural,
something which is not uncommon cross-linguistically. Unfortunately, the reader
is not given enough information to decide.

The theoretical content of the volume also merits morphologists' attention. I
will address issues raised by the analyses of defectivity given in this volume
in schematic order, rather than the alphabetic order in which the chapters
appear. Among the papers that deal with the cause of defectivity, there are two
major themes: missing stems and phonotactic constraints.

Regarding the former, advanced by Boyé and Cabredo Hofherr, and Maiden and
O'Neill, I would like to present a case for skepticism. My own view is that the
assumption that different forms of stems, even when the alternations are minimal
or predictable, are always stored in memory rather than derived online,
denigrates the long tradition of morphology, while making few interesting
predictions. The one prediction this account makes with regard to inflectional
gaps is one that I suspect is false (though I concede that this is an empirical
matter): it predicts that defectivity (and full suppletion, as in <go/went>; see
Embick & Halle 2005 for discussion) should be just as common as other types of
stem change. Chan (2008: chapter 4) finds, with reference to Spanish, that the
primary linguistic data to which children are exposed is so sparse that stem
storage alone would leave the child with a grammar in which defectivity is
practically the norm, not the uncommon phenomenon it is.

Maiden and O'Neill's proposal is difficult to evaluate for lack of explicitness.
The authors claim that Spanish defective verb <abolir> 'to abolish' violates the
expectation that it should have a stem-final [u] vowel in certain inflections,
such as the 3sg. preterite (in fact, this [o ~ u] alternation is only attested
in two other /-i-/-conjugation verbs, the non-defective <dormir and <morir>, and
derivatives thereof), but they do not spell out why a failure to meet this
expectation should result in ungrammaticality, nor do they explain why the 3sg.
preterite indicative <abolió> (p. 105), which also violates this expectation
(cf. <durmió, murió>), is well-formed.

Three chapters, the introduction and those by Löwenadler and Lukaćz et al.,
consider the hypothesis that some inflectional gaps are due to inviolable
phonotactic constraints. However, prior findings indicate that these gaps must
not be entirely phonotactic in nature, and in fact suggest the lexical nature of
the pattern of defectivity. Löwenadler assumes that the Swedish defectivity is
the result of phonologically-general inviolable constraints, but this is known
to be inadequate: Buchanan (2007: 7) and Löfstedt (2010: chapter 5) identify
morphological and lexical exceptions, respectively. Löwenadler's results provide
some anecdotal support for lexical effects in this case: for instance, two
loanwords from French, <disträ> 'absent-minded' (cf. French <distrait>) and
<blase> 'blasé', differ drastically in their acceptability as neuter indefinite
adjectives, despite their similar shape. This study also departs considerably
from the transcription given in prior studies of this case (e.g., Iverson 1981,
Buchanan 2007, Löfstedt 2010), without any discussion as to why this choice was
made; for instance, Swedish <fatt>, the neuter indefinite attributive form of
'bland' is transcribed as [fat] instead of the [fat:] given by other authors.

The phonotactic analysis given by Lukaćz et al., while sufficient for the data
considered in that chapter, does not extend to other superficially-similar
defective verbs in Hungarian. Verb stems which end with a final consonant
cluster in citation form generally show a harmonic vowel between the two
stem-final consonants when a consonant-initial suffix is attached. For instance,
the infinitive of 'to collapse' is <omlik> with the vowel-initial /-ik/ suffix,
but the subjunctive form, marked with /-jon/ is <omoljon>, with an stem-internal
[o] not seen in the infinitive. Some final-cluster verbs may not occur with
these suffixes; speakers reject both forms with an intervening harmonic vowel,
as well as (phonotactically invalid) forms without an intervening vowel. The
authors argue that these gaps result when certain /CC/- final stems, those which
are not marked to undergo an lexically-specific rule of epenthesis, bear a
consonant-initial suffix. However, Rebrus and Törkenczy (2009) note that certain
consonant-initial suffixes may not attach to some consonant-final roots, even if
the /CC-C.../ structure created would undergo a general process which deletes
one of the three consonants, resulting in a phonotactically valid [C.C] cluster.
For instance, the defective subjunctive for the verb 'to conceive' (stem
<fogamz->), where it counterfactually licit, would have no phonotactic
violations at all: the medial consonant cluster would be [m.z], since /j/, in
the subjunctive suffix /-jon/, deletes when it follows a /z/. To maintain the
intuition that a phonotactic constraint results in defectivity, the constraint
must have the power to ''crash'' the derivation before the process of
/j/-deletion, or /j/-deletion must somehow be constrained in a fashion that it
does not apply to stems like <fogamz->. But either way, a surface-true
inviolable phonotactic constraint is insufficient to generate the full pattern.

Stump's chapter poses a methodological conundrum. The author assumes that an
singular accusative/ablative syncretism in the personal pronouns in Vedic should
also be in effect for the relative pronouns, which exhibit defectivity. It is
trivial, however, to find an example where a personal and relative pronouns do
not share a pattern of syncretism. For instance, Latin shows a syncretism in the
singular accusative and ablative personal pronouns (1sg. <ME, ME>, 2sg. <TE,
TE>, 3sg. <SE, SE>), but accusative and ablative are distinguished in the
relative pronouns ( <QVEM, QVO>, <QVAM, QVA>, <QVOD,
QVO>). Without the assumption that these two classes must share patterns of
syncretism, there is no expectation that there would be any
syncreticism/defectivity overlap at all. In fact, this alternative provides a
simple explanation for a pattern Stump labels ''defectiveness overrides
syncretism''. Vedic neuter nominative and accusative singulars personal pronouns
are syncretic, but the author claims that the neuter personal pronoun
[enat] cannot be used as the All that needs to be said regarding the
fact that syncretism fails to ''rescue'' this defective cell is that learners have
not extended the nom./acc. syncretism to the defective paradigm.

Given that this collection focuses on paradigmatic approaches to morphology, it
is unfortunate that ''paradigm'' is left undefined, as this determines what a
paradigmatic theory of defectivity must account for. One important question that
is not addressed by this volume is whether derivational morphology, however
defined, is paradigmatic. The introductory chapter refers to derivation as a
diachronic source for defectiveness, but in the absence of further evidence, it
seems more natural to assume that the Russian defective verb <pylesosit'> 'to
vacuum' is synchronically, not just diachronically, related to the noun
<pylesos>. Another important question that the definition of paradigm would bear
on is whether defectivity should extend beyond the word. If the word determines
the scope of defectivity, then a large number of English adjectives which are
unable to form a synthetic comparative (e.g., <smart-er> but *<intelligent-er>)
are defective; alternately, if the paradigmatic domain extends beyond the word,
this is competition between a word and a phrase, not a canonical case of

The volume unfortunately does not include several of the papers which were
presented at the conference (though handouts and slides are available at the
website of the Typology of Defectiveness Project, administered by the editors: I mention these omitted
papers only to direct interested readers to related material, since the volume
itself is uniformly intriguing. This collection is an addition to the growing
literature which takes defectivity seriously, but it is by no means the last word.

Albright, Adam. 2003. A quantitative study of Spanish paradigm gaps. In G.
Garding and M. Tsujimura, eds., Proceedings of the 22th West Coast Conference on
Formal Linguistics, 1-14. Cascadilla, Somerville, MA.

Buchanan, Charles. 2007. Deriving asymmetry in Swedish and Icelandic inflexional
paradigms. Master's thesis, Universitetet i Tromsø.

Chan, Erwin. 2008. Structures and distributions in morphology learning. Doctoral
dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Embick, David and Morris Halle. On the status of stems in morphological theory.
In T. Geerts, I. van Ginneken, and H. Jacobs, eds., Romance Languages and
Linguistic Theory 2003: Selected papers from Going Romance 2003, 37-62.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Halle, Morris. 1973. Prolegomena to a theory of word formation. Linguistic
Inquiry 4(1): 3-16.

Iverson, Gregory. 1981. Rules, constraints and paradigmatic lacunae. Glossa
15(1): 136-144.

Legendre, Géraldine. 2009. The neutralization approach to ineffability in
syntax. In C. Rice and S. Blaho, eds., Modeling ungrammaticality in Optimality
Theory, 237-266. Equinox, London.

Löfstedt, Ingvar. 2010. Phonetic effects in Swedish phonology: Allomorphy and
paradigms. Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.

Rebrus, Péter and Miklós Törkenczy. 2009. Covert and overt defectivity in
paradigms. In C. Rice and S. Blaho, eds., Modeling ungrammaticality in
Optimality Theory, 195-236. Equinox, London.

Kyle Gorman is a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation research deals with the acquisition of morphological defectivity. He also studies phonology, language variation, and natural language processing.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0197264603
ISBN-13: 9780197264607
Pages: 200
Prices: U.S. $ 75.00