Word-based Morphology

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roninbodhisattva
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Word-based Morphology

Post by roninbodhisattva »

This article is one of the coolest linguistics articles that I've read in a while, and anyone interesting in morphology and morphological theory should read it:

Word-based Morphology, James Blevins, 2006

The abstract:
This paper examines two contrasting perspectives on morphological analysis, and considers inflectional patterns that bear on the choice between these alternatives. On what is termed an ABSTRACTIVE perspective, surface word forms are regarded as basic morphotactic units of a grammatical system, with roots, stems and exponents treated as abstractions over a lexicon of word forms. This traditional standpoint is contrasted with the more CONSTRUCTIVE perspective of post-Bloomfieldian models, in which surface word forms are 'built' from sub-word units. Part of the interest of this contrast is that it cuts across conventional divisions of morphological models. Thus, realization-based models are morphosyntactically 'word-based' in the sense that they regard words as the minimal meaningful units of a grammatical system. Yet morphotactically, these models tend to adopt a constructive ‘root-based’ or ‘stem-based’ perspective. An examination of some form-class patterns in Saami, Estonian and Georgian highlights advantages of an abstractive model, and suggests that these advantages derive from the fact that sets of words often predict other word forms and determine a morphotactic analysis of their parts, whereas sets of sub-word units are of limited predictive value and typically do not provide enough information to recover word forms.

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Post by Rory »

Yes! Morphology is awesome!

Morphological theories look like this:

Code: Select all

            incremental
                ^
                |
                |
lexical <-------+-------> inferential
                |
                |
                \/
           realizational


Lexical theories are concerned with "arrangement" and "concatenation", like traditional structuralist morphology. Inferential theories are based on "processes" rather than morphemes - this helps deal with things like Arabic morphology, or ablaut (e.g. foot~feet), which are harder to deal with from a concatenative approach.

Incremental theories regard form as licensing meaning - i.e. when you add some form (i.e. some segments, like -s onto chicken), you necessarily add some meaning (in this case, plural).

Realizational theories, on the other hand, regard meaning as licensing form - the syntax (or whatever) says "this is plural", and so -s is fetched and added to the chicken.

The word-based morphology that the Blevins article discusses is a type of inferential realizational morphology. The other big theories are morpheme-based, which is a lexical incremental theory, and Distributed Morphology, which is a lexical realizational theory. (For the completists, inferential incremental morphology exists in the form of Articulated Morphology, but no-one really takes that seriously.)
The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision whereas he who is ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive, alive; the mind callous and indifferent is deaf and dead. - 'Abdu'l-Bahá

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Post by roninbodhisattva »

Rory wrote:Yes! Morphology is awesome!

Morphology is, indeed, the bees knees.

I've been getting more and more into morphological theory lately, and definitely think it's one of the main avenues that I want to pursue when I (crosses fingers etc) go to grad school. I'm especially getting interested in inferential models, and this is why Blevin's article really got me excited. I don't know how I had missed this before. Oh well. I'm waist deep in thesis writing right now, so I've only been able to do a very not detailed read through, but I really need to.

I'm especially interested in apply word-based models to very morphologically complex languages, and his analysis of Georgian is very cool indeed. I'm generally interested in North American languages, more specifically Salish and Athabaskan, and I think that taking this kind of model and applying it to that kind of morphology would probably be one of the funnest things ever. [/giddy with excitement at the thought]

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Post by Rory »

If you like inferential models, check out Gregory Stump's Inflectional Morphology: A Theory of Paradigm Structure (this article is also pretty good) and Joan Bybee's Morphology: a Study of the Relation between Meaning and Form. Also, I believe the second edition of Understanding Morphology (which hasn't yet been published, but should be by the end of the year) uses an inferential model for most of its explanations.

Apologies if you knew this already! Maybe it will help some other budding linguists on the board :)
The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision whereas he who is ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive, alive; the mind callous and indifferent is deaf and dead. - 'Abdu'l-Bahá

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Post by TomHChappell »

It's a great resource. You should add it to the "Resources" thread in the L&L Museum.

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Post by merijn »

Thank you, both Rory and Roninbodhisattva!

I have been on the look-out for good introductions to morphology other than Distributed Morphology, which is sort of "my" framework. I am a syntactician interested in the syntax/morphology interface, how syntax informs morphology and how morphology informs syntax. Rory, I think your distinction of incremental vs. realizational theories is the same as what in mainstream generative grammar is called early insertion vs late insertion, that is morphology comes before syntax and the features of words determine what the syntax does vs syntax comes before morphology and the structure resulting from the syntax determines what form a word has. Is this correct?

I haven't read the papers linked here yet but I do want to explain what some of the pros of theories like distributed morphology are, especially for someone like me who works on Bantu languages. It all boils down to the fact that there is no separation of syntax and morphology. That means that there is no need for the postulation of the concept of "word" in the morphology (which is a concept that isn't really clear in a lot of Bantu languages; some fairly closely related languages have very different rules about what constitutes an orthographic word), and it makes it easier to explain some issues that have syntactic and morphological components. For instance, the presence of object markers in Bantu languages can be explained the same way as object clitics are explained in Romance languages; by movement from the object position. The cons of Distributed Morphology is that it does not elegantly work for languages that aren't agglutinative languages. Reading an introduction for DM it seems sometimes that for every potential problem there is another tool added to the toolbox, which makes it a bit ad-hoc-ish

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