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Paradigmatic allomorphy

Regular plurals in English illustrate the kinds of conditions that would have to be met for recurrent structure to be genuinely redundant. There is no need to appeal to inflection classes in English to describe regular plurals, which appear to be decomposable into noun stems and plural suffixes with no loss of information. The properties of the plural form are the sum of the lexical properties of the noun stem and the number properties of the plural suffix /z/. The surface form of the suffix, [s], [z], or [sz], is likewise conditioned by the final segment of the noun stem. Let us also provisionally assume that, unlike in Dutch (Baayen et al. 2003; Kemps et al. 2005), the phonetic properties of a noun stem in isolation do not contrast systematically with its properties in a plural form.[1] Although differences in frequency are known to influence duration and patterns of reduction (Bybee and Hopper 2001; Gahl 2008), let us assume that the variation between individual singular and plural forms does not determine discriminative contrasts. Under these conditions, the stem+affix structure in vans and boxes is recurrent and redundant, and the plural forms can be reconstituted from the stems van and box and the plural suffix.

Table 4.1 Inanimate ‘soft stem’ declensions in Russian (Timberlake 2004)

I (Masculine)

II (Feminine)

III (Feminine)

Sg

Pl

Sg

Pl

Sg

Pl

Nom

slovar’

slovari

nedelja

nedeli

tetrad’

tetradi

Gen

slovarja

slovarej

nedeli

nedel’

tetradi

tetradej

Dat

slovarju

slovarjam

nedele

nedeljam

tetradi

tetradjam

Acc

slovar’

slovari

nedelju

nedeli

tetrad’

tetradi

Inst

slovarem

slovarjami

nedelej

nedeljami

tetradju

tetradjami

Loc

slovare

slovarjax

nedele

nedeljax

tetradi

tetradjax

‘dictionary’

‘week’

‘notebook’

Yet what is not predictable is the fact that these noun stems occur with the regular marker, rather than following the irregular patterns exhibited by men or oxen. The ‘morphologically conditioned allomorphy’ involved in the selection of an irregular plural marker is not redundant, since it is not predictable from the properties or the form of the noun stems man or ox in isolation.

Given that relatively few nouns follow these irregular patterns in English, a speaker can learn them as exceptions and assume that other nouns follow the regular pattern in general. However, ‘morphologically conditioned allomorphy’ has a more central role in languages with inflection classes because this type of ‘allomorphy’ is what essentially defines inflection class morphology. The Russian noun declensions in Table 4.1 provide an illustrative example.

The three declensions in Table 4.1 are not defined by class-specific endings, but by class-specific distributions of a set of common endings. The dative plural -am, instrumental plural -ami and locative plural -ax can all be assigned the same meaning in all declensions. But the interpretation of the endings 0, -a, -u, -e, and -ej is context dependent. For example, each declension contains a form in -u (marked in bold in Table 4.1). It is possible to eliminate this recurrent structure by separating the stems slovar’, nedel’ and tetrad’ from three homophonous -u endings: a dative singular ending in the first declension, an accusative singular ending in the second and an instrumental singular ending in the third. Yet this analysis does not eliminate any redundancy, because there is then no principled basis for deciding which ending occurs with each of the stems. The choice is not phonologically conditioned (as in English), given that all of the stem forms end in a ‘soft’ palatalized consonant. The exponent is also not predictable from gender (or any other features), as the interpretation of forms in -u differs for feminine nouns in the second and third declensions.4

There are of course technical strategies for restoring the information lost in disassembling the forms in Table 4.1. Following Chomsky (1965:171) and Matthews (1965,1972), inflection class is frequently expressed by ‘class features’. In the present

4 Moreover, although the second declension consists mainly of feminines (and is sometimes referred to as a ‘feminine’ class), it also contains animate masculine nouns such as muzcina ‘man’ and masculine hypochoristics such as vanja or vololdya, all of which follow the same inflectional pattern as animate second declension feminines.

Table 4.2 Class-indexed stem, exponent, and word entries

Stem

Exponent

Word Form

(slovar’, [N, I]) {nedel’, [N, II]) (tetrad’, [N, III])

(u, [I, Dat Sg]) (u, [II, Acc Sg]) (u, [III, Inst Sg])

  • (slovarju.
  • (nedelju,
  • (tetradju,

, [N, I , Dat Sg]) [N, II, Acc Sg])

, [N, III, Inst Sg])

example, declension class features can be used to associate stems with exponents. As in Table 4.2, the entries for each of the stems are annotated with the features ‘I, ‘II’ and ‘III’, and the exponents are marked for the same features. If the features of a stem and exponent must match, these entries will define just the three forms in -u in Tables 4.1 and 4.2.[2]

The status of class features and other types of indexical features is considered in more detail Chapter 6, in the discussion of the realizational models that make the most systematic use of these devices. However, in the present context, the key point illustrated by ‘morphologically conditioned class allomorphy’ is the way that it brings out the contrast between recurrent and redundant structure. Russian nouns exhibit a recurrent stem+suffix structure. But this structure is not redundant because it is not predictable from the parts of the structure in isolation. Hence an analysis that reduces recurrent structure by separating out minimal parts must be augmented by ‘assembly instructions' that restore information about the co-occurrence of stems and exponents.

  • [1] The apparent redundancy exhibited by English plural forms mayjust reflect the fact that phonemic(and orthographic) transcriptions are too coarse-grained to capture distinctive sub-phonemic contrasts,or that they generalize over realizations of these contrasts that vary across populations, individualsand/or across lifespans (Ramscar etal. 2013b).
  • [2] The ‘matching’ requirement can be regulated by a ‘destructive’ unification operation (Shieber1986), by a‘nondestructive’ nondistinctness check (Ingria 1990) or by a‘semi-destructive’ subsumptionrequirement (Blevins 2011).
 
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