Implicational Morphology

Course time: 
Monday/Thursday 3:30-5:20 PM

Morphology is traditionally described as ‘the study of word structure’. For much of the modern period, this study has been guided by the goal of elucidating the relation between discrete units of ‘meaning’ and ‘form’; this semiotic goal is sometimes even taken to define the task of morphological analysis. Classical models develop a different conception of structure, one grounded in the implicational relations between patterns of form variation, rather than in the denotative function of their parts. This perspective is partially rehabilitated in studies of ‘morphomic’ patterns (e.g., Maiden 2005) but even within this literature (e.g., Aronoff 1994) implicational patterns are often treated as deviations from a normatively denotational organization.

This course traces the development of implicational models from their classical origins to their modern formulation in current word and paradigm (WP) approaches. Within this tradition, the fundamental locus of analysis is the morphological system, not inventories of elements abstracted from systems. Implicational analyses model system-level variation, regarding individual contrasts at the level of form, arrangement and distribution as dimensions of larger patterns with communicative functions.

The lectures explore a cluster of issues that arise within approaches that frame morphological analysis in terms of observable and quantifiable dimensions of system-level variation. The general topics covered in lectures include discussions of:

  • The principles and dynamics that define the organization of morphological alternations, patterns and systems,
  • The abstractive and discriminative dimensions of form variation, and the implicational function of structure,
  • The statistical basis and predictive value of linguistic ‘units’, and the secondary function of ‘diagnostics’,
  • The pedagogical biases that underlie analytic traditions based on constructs like ‘rules’, ‘lexicons’ and ‘grammars’,
  • The formal and distributional bases of familiar notions such as ‘features’, ‘classes’, ‘templates’ (and ‘meaning’),
  • The role that paradigmatic structures play in overcoming effects of sparse and biased input on acquisition and use,
  • The learning principles that allow discriminative models to resolve morphological ‘competion’ in the course of acquisition,
  • The form in which implicational relations are represented in integrated models of language learning and processing.

The course also suggests how the resources, tools and methods delivered by the ‘big data’ revolution have contributed to realizing the full potential of an implicational perspective on morphological analysis, and on grammatical analysis tout court.