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The root and word distinction: an experimental study of Hebrew denominal verbs

Abstract

The morpho-syntactic structure of Semitic languages, traditionally seen as based on abstract root morphemes, has been analysed by some as being fully word based. Others have proposed a root-based system which allows for word-based derivation as well. A distinction between word-based and root-based morpho-syntactic derivations has previously been posited in both morpho-syntactic and lexical semantic literature. Under this distinction the semantic and phonological access to a root morpheme during morpho-syntactic construction is fully available in a root-based derivation, but is restricted by the category bearing head in a word-based derivation. However, there has to date been no behavioural evidence for the distinction, and it is by no means universally accepted that words are morphemically decomposable into root morphemes. The current study utilized a masked priming experimental paradigm of word recognition in an attempt to differentiate root-based derivation from word-based derivation in Hebrew, proposing an analogy between availability under Marantz (2000) and Arad (2003), and linkage within the mental lexicon model under Frost et al. (2005). The results strongly support the proposed analogy, and the cognitive reality of the root morpheme as the basis of Hebrew morphological derivation. In addition they provide a first experimental verification of the theoretically motivated distinction between root derivation and word derivation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    My thanks to N. Faust, personal communication, for this insight.

  2. 2.

    Here and following, templates are represented with consonantal slots for the root consonants marked with C.

  3. 3.

    It is important to note, however, that the word form is obviously not completely constrained, as vowel changes as part of the inflectional paradigm of the verb template are freely available.

  4. 4.

    Quadri-consonantal roots in Hebrew are limited to two templates (CiCCeC and, hitCaCCeC). The Hebrew derivational paradigm includes gerundial forms—e.g. the form CiCCuC is a nominal derived from the verbal form in CiCCeC. Because many apparently denominal verbs are derived from this gerundial form, and thus could be seen a part of the verbal paradigm, these forms were excluded from the list of stimuli. The list of candidate verbs was thus further constrained.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Ram Frost, Noam Faust, Hadas Velan, Idit Doron and Noam Siegelman for their invaluable advice and helpful discussions; also two anonymous reviewers for their enriching comments on an earlier draft. This research was funded by an LLCC Graduate Fellowship at the Hebrew University to Henry Brice, and by the Israel Science Foundation grant (217/14) to Ram Frost.

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Correspondence to Henry Brice.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 5 Critical prime and target pairs as presented in the study

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Brice, H. The root and word distinction: an experimental study of Hebrew denominal verbs. Morphology 27, 159–177 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11525-016-9297-0

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Keywords

  • Semitic languages
  • Root morpheme
  • Masked-priming
  • Derivation