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Morphological reversals

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 February 2007

Surrey Morphology Group, University of Surrey


The term morphological reversal describes the situation where the members of a morphological opposition switch their functions in some context (as with Hebrew gender marking, where -Ø~-a marks masculine~feminine with adjectives but feminine~masculine with numerals). There is a long tradition of polemic against the notion that morphology can encode systematic reversals, and an equally long tradition of reintroducing them under different names (e.g. polarity, exchange rules or morphosyntactic toggles). An examination of some unjustly neglected examples (number in Nehan, aspect in Tübatulabal, tense in Trique and argument marking in Neo-Aramaic) confirms the existence of morphological reversal, particularly as a mechanism of language change. This is strong evidence for the separateness of morphological paradigms from the features that they encode.

Research Article
2007 Cambridge University Press

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For discussion of the issues here, I thank Greville Corbett, Bill Palmer and Nigel Vincent, as well as audiences at Cambridge (Linguistics Association of Great Britain annual meeting, 2005), Albuquerque (Linguistic Society of America annual meeting, 2006) and Leipzig (Rara and Rarissima conference, 2006). The comments of two anonymous referees were of particular help in improving the paper. The research was supported by grants from the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number RES-000-23-0375) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant number AH/D001579/1). Their support is gratefully acknowledged.