Since the study of morphological change in a Distributed Morphology (DM) framework has hardly begun, we do not attempt to construct an overarching framework for this chapter; instead we treat topics of interest one by one, demonstrating how the machinery of DM helps explain morphological changes of different types.
Resegmentation and reinterpretation of terminal nodes
Reinterpretation of the feature content of word-internal syntactic terminal nodes by native learners is a universal type of change. English provides some straightforward examples. Modern English -dom, -hood, -ship are destressed forms of Old English (OE) dōm ‘judgment, rule, power’, hād ‘person, rank, station (in life)’, scipe ‘state, condition’ (the first surviving also as the noun doom). The shift from major lexeme to suffix did not happen directly. The following stages of development can be distinguished (see Meid 1967: 218–21).
Fully transparent compounds were formed; at this stage OE wīsdōm, for instance, still meant ‘wise judgment’ or ‘discretion’, cynedōm ‘royal authority’, and so on.
Learners reinterpreted the meanings of the compounds; thus they acquired idiosyncratic meanings (Encyclopedia entries, in DM terminology), in these cases ‘learning, knowledge, wisdom’ and ‘area subject to royal authority, kingdom’ respectively.
On the basis of the shifted meanings of the compounds, later generations of learners increasingly reinterpreted the second element as a noun-forming suffix; eventually some began to use it productively, in this case yielding, e.g., boredom, martyrdom, and officialdom, among other innovative forms (see the OED s.v. -dom).
Stage (c) is almost inevitable if the lexemes which gave rise to the suffixes cease to be used as independent words or undergo substantial shifts in meaning, but that does not seem to be a necessary precondition for reanalysis. For instance, the adjective-forming suffix English -ly, German -lich reflects OE līċ, OHG līh, both ‘body’, and the oldest examples of such adjectives were compounds meaning ‘shaped like X’ or ‘looking like X’, where X represents the first member of the compound (Meid 1967: 226–7); but whereas the independent English word has largely been lost (see the OED s.v. lich), the corresponding German word survives with only modestly restricted meaning as Leiche ‘corpse’ (see Kluge 1995 s.v.). This kind of interplay between major lexemes and affixes seems to be typical.