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5 - Morphological universals

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2010

Andrew Spencer
Affiliation:
Professor of Linguistics, University of Essex
Ricardo Mairal
Affiliation:
Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid
Juana Gil
Affiliation:
Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid
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Summary

Introduction

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, 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.).

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Linguistic Universals , pp. 101 - 129
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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  • Morphological universals
  • Edited by Ricardo Mairal, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Juana Gil, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid
  • Book: Linguistic Universals
  • Online publication: 08 January 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511618215.006
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  • Morphological universals
  • Edited by Ricardo Mairal, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Juana Gil, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid
  • Book: Linguistic Universals
  • Online publication: 08 January 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511618215.006
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Morphological universals
  • Edited by Ricardo Mairal, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Juana Gil, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid
  • Book: Linguistic Universals
  • Online publication: 08 January 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511618215.006
Available formats
×