, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 1-37
Date: 11 Jan 2007

Blocking Effects and Analytic/synthetic Alternations

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A number of interactions in grammar are referred to as showing blocking effects, typically defined as cases in which the existence of one form prevents the existence of a form that is otherwise expected to occur. Patterns of analytic/synthetic alternation, in which two-word and one-word forms alternate with each other, have been taken to be instances of blocking in this sense. An example is found in the formation of English comparatives and superlatives, where, for example, the synthetic form smarter appears to block the analytic form *more smart. Analytic forms are available in other cases (e.g. more intelligent), such that the interaction between the “one word” and “two word” forms is crucially at issue. This paper examines English comparative and superlative formation, concentrating on the question of how the morphophonology relates to syntax and semantics. A central point is that in the architecture of Distributed Morphology, these cases do not involve word/word or word/phrase competition-based blocking. Rather, blocking effects broadly construed are reduced to the effects of distinct mechanisms: (1) Vocabulary Insertion at a particular terminal node (morpheme), and (2) the operation of combinatory processes. The paper provides a detailed discussion of the latter type, showing that synthetic comparative/superlative forms are created post-syntactically by affixation under adjacency. Throughout the discussion, questions concerning the status of blocking effects in Distributed Morphology, and those found in analytic/synthetic alternations in particular, play a central role.

An earlier version of this paper—in particular, the initial attempt to distinguish different types of so-called blocking effects and the outline of a treatment of comparative and superlative formation—was presented at Princeton University and the Coloquio de Morfosintaxis at the University of Buenos Aires, and parts were also discussed in my 2004 seminar at the University of Pennsylvania. I am grateful to these audiences for a number of helpful comments, which prompted a more detailed examination of comparatives along the lines presented here. For discussing this material with me at different points and commenting on earlier handouts or drafts I would also like to thank Rajesh Bhatt, Robin Clark, Morris Halle, Alec Marantz, Rolf Noyer, Marjorie Pak, and Maribel Romero. Finally, the article has improved because of the comments of NLLT reviewers.