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Synchrony and diachrony in Menominee derivational morphology


This paper identifies two difficulties with treatments of derivation in Algonquian languages. In traditional approaches to grammar, in which the morpheme is seen as a unitary entity, morphemes are understood as minimal units of meaning and/or function. Definitions share an appeal to the morpheme’s indivisibility. In the Algonquianist literature, in contrast, some morphemes (‘components’) can themselves contain other morphemes (which we call ‘formatives’) and they can also be synchronically derived from other components or stems. Drawing data from Menominee, we propose that these difficulties disappear if the formatives are seen as historical rather than synchronic units, while the components are the synchronic morphemes. Formatives bear the hallmarks of historical products of morphologization (phonetic/phonological reduction, semantic bleaching, and increase in grammatical function), and we conclude that they are not part of synchronic grammatical computation. This resolves problems present in traditional and modern theoretical approaches to Algonquian derivation, and has broader ramifications for linguistic theory: in both the structuralist and generativist traditions, synchronic grammar has often been seen as expansive, responsible for generating surface patterns that may instead be products of history. This has been the case in phonology and syntax. The present paper provides a study of the phenomenon in derivational morphology, and suggests that a more modest role for synchronic rules is called for.

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  1. 1.

    See, for example, Bloomfield (1962), Goddard (1990), Valentine (2001), Rhodes (2016).

  2. 2.

    This, of course, is not just an echo from the distant past; consider the readjustment rules which derive past tense and past participle forms of English verbs (Halle and Marantz 1993:128, the paper which founded the contemporary theory of Distributed Morphology).

  3. 3.

    See Wolfart (1971) for discussion of these and other early approaches to the problem.

  4. 4.

    In this paper we address only what Algonquianists call ‘primary derivation,’ the derivation of stems from morphemes. We leave aside ‘secondary derivation,’ the derivation of stems from other stems.

  5. 5.

    All data in this paper come from Bloomfield (1962) and (1975), unless otherwise noted. Abbreviations used in this paper are as follow: 0—3rd person inanimate; 3—3rd person (proximate); a—adverb; adj—adjective; ai—animate intransitive; in—animate; C—consonant; dim—diminutive; epen—epenthetic; H—heavy (syllable); ii—inanimate intransitive; L—light (syllable); obv—obviative; pr—postradical; TA—transitive animate; TI—transitive inanimate; UL—underlying; V—vowel. The symbol ‘>’ is used in glosses to mean ‘acts on’. Examples are given in the Menominee practical orthography, which uses a macron for vowel length, the separate symbols <ae> for [æ], and <q> for [ʔ]. We also make use of Bloomfield’s morphophoneme <N> for an /n/ which becomes [s] before /e/, /ē/, and /y/. Glossing of examples has been done by the first author. Where a subject in the translation is written as “s/he,” this should be interpreted as shorthand for ‘he, she, it (animate).’

  6. 6.

    Things are ultimately somewhat more complex; for example, some stems have zero finals, and Bloomfield treats dependent (inalienably possessed) nouns as having a medial but no initial (1962:68–72). Goddard (1990) revises Bloomfield’s approach to stem structure significantly, clarifying many aspects of it, but ultimately retains the assumptions mentioned in the first paragraph of this paper.

  7. 7.

    As (2b) indicates, each component can be made up of a component of the same category plus one or more formatives; e.g., an initial could be composed just of an initial, or it could be composed of an initial plus a postradical extension. We can think of the components (initial, medial, final) as heads of their categories, although the terminology is a little unsatisfying because the head and the higher level category are called by the same name.

  8. 8.

    We set aside for present purposes the cases in which Bloomfield claims that inflectional morphemes are derived from derivational morphemes or stems (e.g., the recollective -cet is claimed to be derived from mecet, which only occurs in kah-mecet ‘come to think of it, after all’, 1962:421). Nor do we consider cases in which derivational morphemes are claimed to contain inflectional morphemes (e.g., the claim that the final -Ekose—which creates a “verb of undergoing”; 1962:299—contains the inflectional inverse marker -Ek).

  9. 9.

    See Anderson (1992:51–56) and (2015:17–25) for a thorough catalog of what he calls “classical problems with morphemes” and Matthews (1993) for a good synopsis of the debates.

  10. 10.

    We set aside in this idealized version the many issues debated in these ‘classic’ approaches, e.g. distinctions between whether morphemes are abstract units or phonologically realized entities, the best definition and even existence of the phoneme, and different ways in which the word can be defined. Again, these debates do not bear directly on the issues we consider.

  11. 11.

    After this definition Harris includes a footnote which points the reader to Bloomfield (1933:161).

  12. 12.

    Languages can of course have ‘cranberry morphs’, where factoring out the meaningful part(s) of a word leaves an apparent morpheme with no meaning or function. Phonaesthemes have the same property (Kwon and Round 2015). But these are the exception, never the rule, while the formative/component structure is the rule in Bloomfieldian Algonquianist analyses.

  13. 13.

    Recall from footnote 7 that components are heads of their categories and as such appear at two levels. For simplicity, however, we will refer to the lower level as the ‘formative level’ and the higher level as the ‘component level’.

  14. 14.

    Bloomfield recognizes only five premedials (1962:381). All occur also as medials; the premedial category is thus a maneuver to allow two medials in a single word without losing the generalization that there can be only one.

  15. 15.

    The other two roots which are given as having the postradical -qN show the same alternation.

  16. 16.

    Considering the focus here on the division of labor between synchrony and diachrony, it is striking that this analysis aims to capture phonological history in a synchronic syntactic analysis.

  17. 17.

    Note that in Bloomfield’s usage, “deverbal” does not mean derived from a verb; rather it means “derived from another form.”

  18. 18.

    In what follows, we enclose stems in slashes and note their internal structure with hyphens, where it is known and relatively transparent (when there is fusion between elements it is impossible to show the boundary without also giving a full underlying representation, which we have avoided for simplicity).

  19. 19.

    Bloomfield’s (1962) descriptions of these two medials and the related root maskw- and noun final -askw are somewhat confusing; see his Sects. 14.292, 18.159, and 20.18.

  20. 20.

    Here, an initial /ae/ is also added; in Sect. 18.74 Bloomfield describes the relationship between this stem and final as “vaguely deverbal” (1962:392).

  21. 21.

    The material on metrical structure in this section is based on Macaulay (2016), which in turn relies heavily on Milligan (2005).

  22. 22.

    Traditionally, it was believed that stress assignment was not sensitive to syllable onsets, but Davis (1988, with further references) shows that in fact it can be. We see in the present case weakening or elimination of onsets but retention of some codas, a pattern which invites further investigation.

  23. 23.

    “Foot Type” in the tables provides the underlying initial foot type for the source form. A form with an asterisk is given by Bloomfield as a non-occurring stem.

  24. 24.

    Bloomfield actually describes this as -py- occurring “beside” -aepy- (1962:422), but there are several problematic aspects to his description of the relationship: first, there are two medials of the form -aepy-, but neither has an allomorph -py-. There is a medial -āpy- (the one given in the table) which corresponds to a final of the form -py, but not to a medial of that form (as he says). So if we accept these corrections to his presentation, then -āpy- > -py is the sole example of loss of an initial heavy syllable in the data.

  25. 25.

    Bloomfield also mentions that “[d]everbal suffixes sometimes appear with an additional vowel, or a long vowel instead of a short vowel, at the beginning” (1962:423), but he does not include those additions in his catalogue of changes that occur in deverbalization; rather, he says that such vowels “have the character of a prefinal element” (1962:423). Although we think that ultimately the prefinals should be included in suffix allomorphy, we follow Bloomfield in setting them aside for present purposes.

  26. 26.

    Both nasals (/m/ and /n/) and one of the glides (/w/) participate in initial consonant reduction, but /y/ does not.

  27. 27.

    Although Kroeber suggests that a compounding analysis is probably right, he concludes his discussion by saying, “tempting though it may seem to explain [the Algonquian verb] as compounded of two verbal elements […], it is wiser to proceed with caution. Accordingly, for purposes of presentation, the old concepts of stem, prefix, and suffix have been retained” (1916:97).

  28. 28.

    Bloomfield himself made this point while discussing internal and external sandhi, as follows: “The distinction between compounds and derived words is not removed by the fact that some suffixes are homonymous with independent stems” (1946:103).

  29. 29.

    Mānestānes ‘sheep’ belongs to a small class of words with underlying final /hs/; instead of the normal final cluster simplification whereby the second consonant is deleted, in these the /h/ is deleted (Bloomfield 1962:88). (The plural, for example, retains the /h/: mānestāne h sak.) One way that we can tell that (36a) is a derived word rather than a compound is because the simplification of /hs/ to /s/ does not take place.

  30. 30.

    There is documentation on Meskwaki (formerly called Fox) from the early twentieth century showing words related to the first member of the hypothetical compound source in (37a), e.g. matâkwi ‘enjoyable, interesting, curious; with enjoyment, interest, curiosity’ (Goddard and Thomason 2014:76; thanks to David Costa for pointing this out to us). This indicates that there could have been a Menominee source for the initial member of the compound which is no longer known, or that the compound predates modern Menominee.

  31. 31.

    Bloomfield’s chapter on compounds (1962:201–222) does not mention this as a possibility, there are none in his Lexicon (Bloomfield 1975), and the first author has not found any verb-verb compounds in her fieldwork on the language. We do note that Nichols (1980:262) mentions a few V-V compounds in Ojibwe, so this may be an idiosyncrasy of Menominee.

  32. 32.

    This notion of grammaticalization does not involve positing an independent mechanism of change. For present purposes, we agree with Vincent (2015:113) that “what we are dealing with under this rubric is a phenomenon in need of a theory to help us understand and explain it; it is not a theory in its own right.”

  33. 33.

    Bloomfield was, of course, not unaware of this phenomenon. He tells a story about variation in the use of medials between different speakers of Menominee, and says “It is evident that so complex a system as this cannot be perfectly rigid. One can sometimes observe the dying out of elements” (1927:401; emphasis in original). He also describes an “obscure” initial in Cree as “archaic” in the same passage.

  34. 34.

    These data are from the first author’s fieldwork.

  35. 35.

    Bloomfield gives this final as -Naqtō; we treat the /ō/ as inflectional.

  36. 36.

    We informally surveyed several English speakers and it seems that semantic transparency (widewidth) may be more helpful to speakers in making connections than phonological similarity between forms, while semantically more opaque relationships (deardearth) may correlate with speakers’ failure to recognize connections.

  37. 37.

    Wiese (2000:100–103), we hasten to add, argues for splitting -igkeit into these two elements.

  38. 38.

    Rankin et al. (2002:192) point out that lexicalization is of course not instantaneous: “The process of lexicalisation is slow, and it is not uncommon to find compounds near some mid-point along the diachronic lexicalisation continuum.”


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This paper grew from ideas of the first author developed together with the second. We thank the following for comments and discussion on this topic: Mark Aronoff, David Costa, Amy Dahlstrom, Ives Goddard, Heidi Harley, John Nichols, Elly van Gelderen, Adam Ussishkin, Andrew Wedel, and the students in the first author’s seminar on Algonquian derivation in the Spring semester of 2014: Noah Diewald, Hunter Lockwood, Sarah Lundquist, Meredith Johnson, and Bryan Rosen. Versions of this paper were presented to the Historical Linguistic Reading group at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and at the 46th Annual Algonquian Conference, and we thank the audiences for comments and suggestions. The usual disclaimers apply.

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Macaulay, M., Salmons, J. Synchrony and diachrony in Menominee derivational morphology. Morphology 27, 179–215 (2017).

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  • Morpheme
  • Derivation
  • Compounding
  • Synchrony
  • Diachrony
  • Menominee
  • Algonquian