The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

MorPhun 5/12 - Niels Torben Kuehlert (Harvard)

Speaker: Niels Torben Kuehlert 
Title: The Limits of Root-Controlled Allomorphy: A Reply to Caha et al. 2019
Time: Wednesday, May 12th, 5pm – 6:30pm

Abstract: In Nanosyntax, affixal allomorphy is conditioned by the size of a given root structure, predicting that roots may only directly control allomorphs of adjacent affixes. If an affix intervenes between the root and a more peripheral affix, its structure blocks the root from determining which allomorph may be selected. Caha et al. 2019 provide evidence for this claim based on the Czech comparative where the the different allomorphs -ěj-š, -š, -Ø stand in an apparent containment relation, with *-ěj-Ø being unattested due to the inability of the root to condition the presence of the peripheral zero. This paper argues that this generalization is too restrictive and fails to account for cross-linguistic variation. I provide two types of counterexamples based on plural allomorphs in German, Welsh, and Albanian as well as Latin deponent verbs that show a containment relation like the Czech comparative. The first type of counterexample involves a static affix intervening between the root and a peripheral zero morpheme.

1) German Masculine Plurals

a. Mantel-[+front]-Ø -> Mäntel ‘coats’
b. Fuß-[+front]-e -> Füße `feet‘

In the second type, a static affix intervenes between the root and two alternating overt allomorphs, leading to a situation where the root must choose between the two peripheral affixes.

2) German Masculine Plurals

c. Mann-[+front]-er -> Männer ‘men’
d. Fuß-[+front]-e -> Füße `feet‘

Both cases present a situation in which the root must condition an affix that it is not adjacent to, contra the prediction in Caha et al. 2019. This evidence suggests that it is necessary to posit a less restrictive model like Distributed Morphology, in which these types of alternations can be captured via diacritic features.