Morphological universals

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The history of morphology in grammatical theory is somewhat checkered. For the American structuralist tradition, morphology was central. In the Chomskyan generative tradition, syntax is central and morphology has been either relegated to phonology and syntax or expelled from linguistics altogether. There is thus a good deal of controversy about the status of morphology itself. It is not even entirely clear what the subject matter of morphology is. Informally, we tend to think of the domain of morphology as the word, but the concept of word is notoriously difficult to pin down and it is clear that the pre-theoretical notion corresponds to several distinct and partially independent technical notions (see Dixon and Aikhenvald, 2002a, for a recent review of the issues). On the other hand, for American structuralists such as Bloomfield (1933), morphology seems to have been about morphemes. However, k the morpheme concept is no more secure than the word concept, and the utility of the morpheme has been flatly denied by many recent theorists. Even without these conceptual uncertainties, we must be careful to distinguish typological claims about morphology (words or morphemes) from claims about other aspects of grammar which are often reflected in morphology. Consider the expression of number: oversimplifying considerably, we can say that if a language has a trial number it has a dual; if a language has a dual number it has a singular-plural distinction (Corbett, 2000, 38f.).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLinguistic Universals
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9780511618215
ISBN (Print)0521545528, 9780521837095
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006


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