On the relationship between morphological and semantic markedness

The case of plural morphology

Abstract

This paper explores two possible connections between the diagnostics for morphological and semantic markedness. One possibility, a positive correlation, predicts that if a grammatical feature is diagnosed as being morphologically marked then it should also be semantically marked. This possibility follows from the assumption that features are interpreted as restrictions on denotations. The second possibility, a negative correlation, predicts that if a grammatical feature is diagnosed as being morphologically marked then it should be semantically unmarked. This systematic inconsistency follows from the assumption that features are interpreted as augmenting functions. In our exploration of number marking, we find that the negative correlation is not only theoretically consistent with the semantic literature (in particular Link, in: Bartsch et al. (eds.) Semantics and contextual expressions, 1983), but it is also more consistent with the empirical landscape (as noted by Sauerland, in: Young and Zhou (eds.) Proceedings of Semantics and linguistic theory SALT XIII 2008). As a result, the morphological diagnostics lend support to the view that plural features are interpreted as augmenting functions.

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Correspondence to Alan Bale.

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Bale, A., Gagnon, M. & Khanjian, H. On the relationship between morphological and semantic markedness. Morphology 21, 197–221 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11525-010-9158-1

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Keywords

  • Semantic markedness
  • Morphological markedness
  • Plural
  • Feature interpretations