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Re: Unilang: the Morphology

From:Andreas Johansson <and_yo@...>
Date:Monday, April 23, 2001, 20:14
Marcus Smith wrote:
>Andreas wrote: >>Marcus Smith wrote: >>>>I am, of course, operating on the theory that a 'word' is an speech unit >>>>that can be pronounced by itself and is "complete". According to this >>>>definition, the reduced forms of the English copula (-'m, -'re, -'s) >>>>aren't >>>>proper words - you won't say [z] in isolation if asked what the 3rd sg >>>>present of 'to be' is. If that Russian {s} is pronounced as part of the >>>>preceeding or following word, I won't consider it a 'word' on its own, >>>>but >>>>rather as an affix. >>> >>>So, English possessive -'s is an affix that attaches to any part of >>>speech >>>what-so-ever, providing that the phrase containing the word is headed by >>>a >>>noun, and that the noun is the possessor of another noun? >> >>Something like that, yes. It would perhaps be better to desribe it as >>attaching to the end of a phrase functioning as a noun in relation to the >>rest of the sentence. If we consider it a 'word' we have pretty much >>abolished the distinction between 'word' and 'morpheme'. > >Two completely different responses came to my head immediately. > >1) There is nothing necessarily wrong with the abolishment of the >word/morpheme distinction.
I didn't mean to imply it necessarily was wrong. But I think that for describing syntax etc we need some sort of unit(s) that's bigger than a morpheme but smaller than a phrase. Obviously, this doesn't have to be called 'words'.
>A "morpheme" is a purely theoretical notion that >can be redefined anytime linguists (as a whole) feel the need to do so. >"Word" has a pre-theoretical meaning, but that meaning runs afoul of all >kinds of problems so that it is unworkable in a formalized context. The >relatively popular theory Distributed Morphology claims that words do not >exist -- only morphemes do, so abolishing the distinction between 'word' >and 'morpheme' is an idea that some linguists are taking seriously. > >2) Possessive -'s and plural -s behave differently, and these differences >need to be captured somehow. Calling possessive -'s a phrasal affix will >cause more problems than it solves (not necessarily for English, but >certainly cross-linguistically). The best thing to do is call it a clitic. >As a clitic, it is a word (in a syntactic sense); but it lacks the prosodic >requirements of a word (in a phonological sense), so the clitic will lean >on (attach to) whatever word happens to precede it.
Then we should, I think, either use 'word' only in the "phonological" sense, or alternatively use other names for both senses you describe and leave 'word' as a non-technical word that can be used according to whatever traditions exist for a particular lang.
> >>>A serious problem in linguistics that few people have addressed is that >>>there is no decent definition of what a "word" is. Phonological >>>definitions >>>run afoul of the syntactic data, and vice versa. >> >>I didn't claim my defintion was perfect, but it seems workable to me. Any >>better suggestion? > >I don't know if this is better, but I would suggest not ignoring the >syntactic side of words. Syntax overtly manipulates words but not affixes. >(I have a professor or two who would probably skewer me for saying that.) >If something can appear in different positions relative to other relevant >words, it should probably be considered a word (or clitic) even if it can't >stand on it own.
Hm. 'Clitics' and 'words' could be sorted as "syntactic units" or something like that, without being equated themselves. Andreas _________________________________________________________________________ Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at