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86. Morpheme Structure Constraints

Geert Booij

Subject Theoretical Linguistics » Phonology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184236.2011.00088.x


Morpheme structure constraints are constraints on the segmental make-up of the morphemes of a language. A textbook example of such a constraint is that bnik is an impossible morpheme of English, whereas blik is a possible English morpheme that happens not to exist. Hence, bnik is a systematic gap in the morpheme inventory of English, whereas blik is an accidental gap in this inventory. This can be taken to imply that there is a morpheme structure constraint that prevents English morphemes from beginning with a /b/ followed by a nasal consonant. Halle (1959 : 38) proposed to account for such distributional generalizations by means of morpheme structure rules, which define the class of possible morphemes of a language. Morpheme structure rules were conceived of as rules that fill in predictable specifications of the sound segments of a morpheme. For instance, in the case of English morphemes that begin with the consonant cluster b C, such as brick , it is predictable that the C must be a liquid, i.e. a non-nasal sonorant consonant. That is, the feature specifications [-nasal] and [+sonorant] of the second consonant of brick are predictable. They can therefore be omitted in the lexical phonological specification of the relevant morphemes. Morpheme structure rules fill in the blank cells of the lexical phonological matrix, and thus turn this under-specified matrix into a ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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