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Review of  Explorations in Nominal Inflection

Reviewer: Veena Dixit
Book Title: Explorations in Nominal Inflection
Book Author: Gereon Müller Lutz Gunkel Gisela Zifonun
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 16.3268

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Date: Mon, 07 Nov 2005 12:23:33 -0500
From: Veena Dixit
Subject: Explorations in Nominal Inflection

EDITORS: Müller, Gereon; Gunkel, Lutz; Zifonun, Gisela
TITLE: Explorations in Nominal Inflection
SERIES: Interface Explorations
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Veena Dixit, Center For Indian Language Technology, Department of
Computer Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology,

This is the tenth volume in the series 'Interface Explorations' edited by
Artemis Alexiadou and T. Allen Hall. The volume contains a collection
of eleven articles with a scholarly introduction. The articles are based
on the talks given at the workshop 'Feature Distribution in the Noun
Phrase', part of the 24th annual DGfS conference in Mannheim
(February 27 - March 1, 2002) and at the workshop 'Inflectional
Paradigms: Primitives and Structures' at IDS, Mannheim (May 23-24,
2003). The articles draw examples from over 45 typologically diverse


As the nominal inflection is considered in this volume to be an
interface between morphology and syntax, the articles remain focused
either on the syntactic component or on the morphological component.
The major morphosyntactic features, namely, case, gender, inflection
class and number are discussed. The emphasis changes from article
to article. A number of theoretical approaches are discussed. They
are, Distributed Morphology, Optimality Theory, Minimalist Program,
Lexical Approach, Inferential Approach, and mixed Lexical-Inferential


Introduction, Gereon Müller, Lutz Gunkel, & Gisela Zifonun: The
introduction opens with examples of determiner inflection in German
and noun inflection in Russian & German. This leads to a discussion
on nominal inflection as an interface phenomenon focusing on
inflection classes along with the syncretism and underspecification in
German language. The issues regarding morphosyntactic features
such as, linkage between morphology and syntax in nominal inflection
and how morphology has direct impact on syntax are discussed.
Theories of Inflection are put in four major classes based on the views
towards the inflectional markers and the information rendered by
them. There are Incremental Theories, Realizational Theories, Lexical
Theories and Inferential Theories. Different approaches like
Minimalist, Optimality are discussed with reference to the features
based on above referred four classes of inflectional theories, null
suffix, position of inflectional markers in syntax and status of such
markers in lexicon. The notion of paradigm as seen in various
approaches is delineated to supplement this discussion. The
introduction ends with a brief note on the contributions made to this

Comment: The authors have not discussed theory of Whole Word
Morphology in the context of the classification of Inflectional Theories.
Whole Word Morphology has its application in the field of
unsupervised Natural Language Processing Tasks.

Inflectional Class, Gender and DP Internal Structure, Artemis
Alexiadou: This paper discusses the relations between nominal
features like gender and inflection class. The question whether these
give rise to a functional projection in the extended context of the noun
or not is scrutinized. The writer poses that the gender and the
inflection class features are not syntactically active. He argues that
phenomenon such as noun movement and noun ellipsis in his view
appears to be related to the status of gender and class markers. Noun
ellipsis seems to be related to the presence of morphological gender
agreement between nouns and the adjectives modifying them. In the
course of the argument he considers different parameters like ellipsis,
class markers, gender, number, case, adjective-noun agreement and
theme vowel. The argument is supported with the examples from
Spanish, Greek, Italian, Hebrew and French.

Inflection Classes and Economy, James P. Blevins: The basic issues
regarding inflection class raised in this paper are as follows.
* Which elements of a morphological system are assigned to inflection
* Which principles govern class assignment?
* How are classes distinguished?
* Is there any bound on the number of possible classes within a given
* Why do these classes play no role in agreement or other
grammatical process?

In the word-and-paradigm model, full word forms are assigned to
inflectional paradigm, which are in turn grouped into inflection classes.
The attempt is to locate the answers in terms of 'economy', word and
paradigm economy, affix and paradigm economy, and lexical
economy. The economy of an inflectional system rests on patterns of
interpredictability. The 'Paradigm Economy Principle' and 'No Blur
Principle' are targeted in the discussion. These principles account for
the relation between the 'leading form' and other members of the
paradigm. The paper concludes that there is no need for dedicated
stem-based or affix-based economy principles; recognition of words
and paradigms as the basic components of a morphological system
can resolve the problems arising from shared sources.

Left of Number, Animacy and Plurality in German Nouns, Peter
Eisenberge & Ulricke Sayatz: The paper is descriptive in nature. It
talks about the order of suffixes in the maximally inflected form. It
establishes the hierarchy of suffixes in German Language as follows.
(verb / noun stem-masculine/feminine/neuter-± animacy) > (-er/-ler-
masculine- +agent) (-ling/-in- masculine/neuter- +sex-marked) (-
schaft/-tum- feminine/neuter- +collective) > (-chen/-lein- neuter-
+diminutive) (plural markers- no gender- +plural).

Verb and noun stems are referred as 'gender-inherent' while plural
markers are marked as 'gender-determined' and others are called
as 'gender-determiner'. Similarly the hierarchy of abstract nouns
derived from verbs as well as adjectives is established. Further, the
quest on whether these hierarchies are structured only by plurality is
examined. The interdependence of countability and plurality is
demonstrated in terms of semantic features [± bounded] and [±
internal structure]. In short, plurality value is judged with respect to the
Animacy hierarchy.

Comment: A more detailed discussion about the nature of abstract
nouns and the way they are related to plurality would have been

Feature Sharing in DPs, Peter Gallmann: The paper attempts to prove
the validity of the following hypotheses. Firstly, 'Syncretism in affix
paradigms is the result of two independent regularities'. The first
regularity consists in that the constraints determine the features which
may be combined in phrase heads. The second regularity would be
that the formal expression of the available feature bundles obeys the
Principle of Maximal Paradigmatic Contrast. The paper is chiefly
concerned with markedness and faithfulness constraints on
morphosyntactic features. The manner in which the affix paradigms
are stored in the mental lexicon is considered as the base for the
Principle of Maximal Paradigmatic Contrast. Secondly, the distribution
of the strong and weak declension of German adjectives depends on
the percolation of case features in the NP, and so does the
distribution of noun forms with and without case suffixes. The paper
demonstrates the interaction of co-occurrence constraints and
percolation constraints. The writer foresees the 'visibility constraints'
determining morphosyntax of DPs which are not discussed in the
paper due to 'space constraint'.

A Typological Schema for Noun Phrases in German, Pawel Karnowski
& Jürgen Pafel: It is correctly stated that typology based discussion
provides an opportunity to bring to the fore elementary questions
without committing to any particular syntactic framework. The
issue 'What is typology' and the related terms like schema, slot, field
and position are explained before the discussion commences. It
introduces the typological schema, (Z Def. X Nom Y), for noun
phrase in German. The number and the nature of the slots in a
typological schema are determined by the restrictions the elements
filling the slots have to comply with. The restrictions concerning Z
(field), Def. (position) and Noun (position) are formulated as three
generalizations. The schema and the restrictions are further
discussed in detail with exhaustive illustrations. The paper
acknowledges that the typological theory of German noun phrases is
inspired by the typological theory of German sentences. The
proposition advanced is that a noun phrase in German is well formed
with respect to word order if and only if it is constructed in accordance
with above referred schema and its restrictions. The writers propose
to supplement this schema in future with the suitable restrictions for
the X-field and the Y-field and make the theory descriptively more

On Decomposing Inflection Class Features: Syncretism in Russian
Noun Inflection, Gereon Müller: Inflection class features are more
abstract and differ from other morphological features. These features,
unlike gender, number and case, are not grounded in any way, they
are not independently motivated and they do not seem to play any
role in syntax. There is a general tendency to either avoid inflection
class features in analysis of noun inflection or to accept them as an
imperfection in grammar design. The writer refuses to agree with
either of the views. He argues that inflection class features can be
decomposed into more primitive features. Such decomposition offers
explanation for instances of trans-paradigmatic syncretism. The
decomposed inflection class features play a role in morphology that is
analogous to the role played by uninterpretable features in syntax.
Being uninterpretable in the syntactic component, inflection class
features drive morphological operations that delete the class features
before syntax is reached. Hence these features are not instances of
imperfection. He claims that this reasoning provides an argument
against late insertion in a minimalist grammar. The writer presents the
main paradigms of noun inflection in Russian and shows that inflection
class features are necessary to account for them. He further illustrates
the decomposing of both case and inflection class features into more
primitive features. The primitive features like ([± subj(ect)], [± gov
(erned)], [± obl(ique)]) for case features and ([± α] and [± β]) for
inflection class features are proposed. This is claimed to be useful to
account for most of the instances of intra-paradigmatic and trans-
paradigmatic syncretism in interaction with the Specificity condition. He
argues that inflection class features can be seen as the triggers of
inflection with portmanteau markers.

Comment: The primitive features used to decompose inflection class
features are more abstract than those used for case features.

A Factorial Typology of Number Marking in Noun Phrases: The
Tension between Economy and Faithfulness, Albert Ortmann: This
paper is the result of work done on capturing the various empirical
and theoretical aspect of number marking restricted by language
economy. It aims to establish a factorial typology of plural morphology
in the framework of Optimality theory. This paper highlights the
typological aspects of plural marking in the DP. The major parameters
that the factorial typology accounts for are as follows.
* DP-internal number agreement vs. non-redundant plural marking as
the result of the relative ranking of MAX constraints and an Avoid
* Lexical vs. phrasal plural markers,
* Sensitivity to such concepts as specificity and animacy in DP plural

The parameters that determine cross-linguistic variation with respect
to the distribution of number markers over the constituents of the noun
phrase are described. After introduction of constraints on the
economic number agreement approach, analysis of the above
mentioned main parameters of variation is developed. Discussion is
supported with examples from Hungarian, Georgian, German,
Tagalog, Persian and Turkish. An overview of the subtypes that result
from the various possible rankings of the involved constraints is
provided. The paper ends with a summary of partial rankings
established for the languages analyzed in the paper.

Feature Checking, Case, and Agreement in German DPs, Wolfgang
Sternefeld: The paper aims to reanalyze the phenomenon that certain
morphological case markings of German nouns can or must be
dropped under specific syntactic conditions. The phenomenon is
studied in terms of Optimality Theory as well as (Minimalist) Checking
Theory. It concludes that the observed phenomena are more
adequately described in terms of the conditions regarding the shape
of certain suffixes than in terms of their grammatical contents. This
paper talks about the other side of the issue.

Feminine vs. Non-Feminine Noun Phrases in German, Rolf Thieroff:
This paper examines and confirms the Gallmann's Suffix Corollary
(German),Nominal words are underspecified with respect to case
unless they are preceded by an adjectivally inflected word-form with
case suffix within its DP. This is supported by extensive examples from
the language. Further, the predominance of Feminine morphology in
German language is shown while considering 'Functional Verb
Constructions', 'Measure Constructions', and Prepositions Governing
the Genitive and the Dative'. The dominance of Feminine morphology
extends to syntax of noun phrase in general. This is examined and
confirmed considering Accusative and Dative Singular, Genitive
Singular and Dative Plural. The reason for the dominance of Feminine
morphology is located in its weakness, i.e., the feminine noun phrase
cannot mark case on the noun. It is accepted that there is a possibility
that the opposite process exists, i.e., the adoption of non-feminine
morphology by feminine morphology as in the instance of genitive
marker-s overtaken by feminine proper nouns from masculine nouns.
Categories and Paradigms.

On Underspecification in Russian Declension, Bernd Wiese: An
uneconomic complexity of homonymous endings is claimed as an
artifact of uneconomic descriptions. It is argued that the distribution of
markers over forms or cells in paradigms is structured. A tangled web
of many-to-many relations between form and function can be reduced
to a rather well organized common structure that underlies
declensional paradigms. The categorization can be assigned to the
endings to account for their functional unity and for their diversity of
application. Categorization refers to bundles of categories. The
approach is classificatory than being feature-based. A brief outline of
an analysis of Russian pronominal declension based on a conception
of underspecified paradigms is provided. The conception developed is
extended to nouns. A brief on types of syncretism focuses on the
Russian genitive-accusative. Instead of dealing with syncretism in
terms of a combinatorial system of syntactic or semantic features, the
present investigation is based on a detailed inspection of formal
marker, i.e., endings, as they are used to distinguish word forms of
paradigms. A limited inventory of pairs of inflectional endings and
categorizations is established.

Is There Any Need for the Concept of Directional Syncretism?, Dieter
Wunderlich: The directional syncretism is favored as it can be
formalized by a grammatical rule (rule of referral) that operates on
paradigms. Wunderlich doubts whether directional syncretism is an
adequate concept. He claims that rules of referral are undesirable for
theoretical reasons. It is shown that A/N syncretism is most naturally
captured by underspecification and the syncretism, which is subject to
animacy (accusative-nominative of inanimate nouns), can be captured
by the interaction of lexical entries with well motivated constraints. syncretism of Russian nouns is captured as symmetrical.
The paper concludes that all syncretism should be regarded as a
matter of lexical information supplemented by a set of constraints that
determine the choice between inflected forms. The concept of lexical
economy makes it plausible that independent grammatical features
may share their exponents.

Comment: By making available the dimension of acquisition to
understand syncretism makes the study multifaceted.


The book is primarily meant for research scholars, working in the area
of inflectional morphology. A good grounding in the subject is a
prerequisite for reading. The technical issues are handled in a
scholarly manner. The focus is on inflectional classes and their
properties. It is studied from various angles offering various answers
to the question. Many of the issues raised in the book merit further
discussion. Each paper contains an exhaustive list of references
which can serve as a resource for other researchers. The reader may
well wish that he should have been a participant of the base
workshops and the discussions.


Veena Dixit is engaged in research on less-studied and resource-poor
language, Marathi, the state language of Maharashtra State of India.
She is a significant contributor to the development of Morphology Rule-
based spellchecker for Marathi. At present she is working on Rule-
based Part-of Speech Tagger for Marathi. She has presented her
work in national and international conferences.