Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 1–37 | Cite as

Blocking Effects and Analytic/synthetic Alternations

  • David EmbickEmail author
Original Paper


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.


Terminal Node Syntactic Structure Normal Comparative Synthetic Form Phonological Form 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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