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Oneida prepronominal prefixes in Information-based Morphology


Oneida (Northern Iroquoian) inflectional morphology is highly complex. We focus here on the eleven so-called prepronominal prefixes. These prefixes display a number of interesting paradigmatic and syntagmatic properties that make them challenging to model in incremental or sequentialist approaches. Instead, we utilize Information-based Morphology (hereafter IbM; Crysmann and Bonami 2016), which treats inflectional rules as descriptions of regularities between features, forms, and positions. We discuss three main issues: competition for realization among semantically compatible features; borrowing of exponence from one feature realization to another; and exuberant and atypical morphotactic variability. Our analysis highlights the unique complexities of Oneida’s position class morphology and illustrates how an IbM approach is equipped to deal with such complexities.

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  1. 1.

    Almost all of the examples in this paper may be found in Michelson and Doxtator (2002), or in Michelson et al. (2016). Additional examples come from the third author’s collaborators at the Oneida Nation of the Thames, especially the late Mercy Doxtator, the late Norma Kennedy, and Olive Elm. We acknowledge their mastery of the Oneida language, and are grateful for their generosity and their enthusiasm for linguistic endeavors. Abbreviations used in this paper are a agent, coin coincident, contr contrastive, cisloc cislocative, du dual, excl exclusive, fact factual mood, fem feminine, fut future mood, fz feminine-zoic, hab habitual aspect, imp imperative, inch inchoative, incl inclusive, loc locative, masc masculine, neg negative, neut neuter, nmzr nominalizer, opt optative mood, p patient, part partitive, pl plural, prog progressive, pnc punctual aspect, rep repetitive, semirefl semi-reflexive, sg singular, stv stative aspect, transloc translocative, zoic/neut feminine-zoic/neuter. Feminine-zoic is a gender, used for some females and animals (Abbott 1984; Michelson 2015). The symbol > indicates a proto-agent acting on a proto-patient; for example,>1sg should be understood as 3rd person masculine singular acting on 1st person singular. ʌ is a low-mid, central unrounded nasalized vowel, and u is a high or (for some speakers, close to mid) back mildly rounded nasalized vowel. A raised period indicates vowel length. Underlining indicates segments which are devoiced due to a set of phonological changes that take place at the ends of utterances.

  2. 2.

    Note that ʔ is regularly replaced by vowel length when the preceding vowel is accented.

  3. 3.

    This hierarchy is part of a larger hierarchy of prepronominal and pronominal features that interested readers can view in the Appendices A–C. The complete hierarchy also includes the grouping of features which we listed in (9).

  4. 4.

    It is tempting to analyze the distribution of the allomorphs with and without i as phonological: allomorphs with the vowel occur before consonants, and allomorphs without the vowel occur before vowels. However both allomorphs occur before a following y. Forms with i occur before pronominal prefixes that begin in y while forms without i occur before the y of the translocative prepronominal prefix.

  5. 5.

    The glottal stop of the inchoative is deleted by a regular phonological rule that affects glottal stops in certain prosodic positions.

  6. 6.

    As described in Sect. 5, there is no overt realization of the factual in (32) and (33), thus [fact] in the glossing line.

  7. 7.

    The distribution of y- and ye- can be described phonologically: y- occurs before consonants while ye- occurs before vowels. But the alternation is not a regular phonological process in Oneida and is only true of these two translocative allomorphs. Since reference to prepronominal prefix identity is required, we treat the alternation as morphological in nature, rather than phonological. Nothing critical hinges on this analytical choice though.

  8. 8.

    The form yaháʔ- with the ʔ is an abstract form; ʔ is regularly replaced by vowel length when the preceding vowel is accented.

  9. 9.

    At a basic level Oneida has penultimate accent, i.e. a trochaic foot aligned with the right edge of the word, disregarding certain weightless or invisible e vowels in the final syllable (usually before a glottal stop). Under certain conditions, due to a historical accent shift, it is the dependent of the right-aligned trochaic foot that bears the accent in contemporary Oneida; see Michelson (1988) for accent in Northern Iroquoian languages.

  10. 10.

    The division of stems into classes based on the initial segment of the stem, and the hypothesis that the distribution of pronominal prefix allomorphs is sensitive to phonologically-defined stem classes, were originally proposed in Barbeau (1915), and has continued in all work on Iroquoian since.

  11. 11.

    The fact that the conditioning environment (a peripheral prefix) for the aʔt- allomorph of the dualic precedes the allomorph violates the so-called No Look Ahead constraint, a typical property of templatic morphology according to Simpson and Withgott (1986).

  12. 12.

    Phenomena similar to what we discuss here as cumulative exponence are discussed by Stump (1993a) as portmanteau position classes.


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Correspondence to Thomas S. Diaz.


Appendix A: Formal assumptions

Following Koenig and Michelson (2014) we assume the syntax of Oneida does not include formal syntactic features. Oneida signs (within Head-driven Phrase-Structure Grammar) only include semantic and pragmatic information (that are the values of the sem and background attributes); they do not include a syn feature (see Ginzburg and Sag 2001 or Sag 2012 for the interpretation of the features we include in our representations here).

  1. (61)

In contrast to phrases, stems and words in Oneida include information relevant to their form, i.e. morphological information. That information consists of featural and realizational information. The morphological feature information includes information about pronominal prefixes, prepronominal prefixes, aspect suffixes, and stem form information, the four pieces of information relevant for Oneida’s obligatory inflectional processes. (We refer readers to Koenig and Michelson 2015 for the features relevant for pronominal prefixes; lid abbreviates lexical identity.)

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The realization feature is most relevant to our paper. As (65) shows, its value consists of three pieces of information, the set of inflectional features relevant to the word form, the value of ms (for Morphosyntactic property Set), the set of morphs that realize these features, the value of mph, and the set of realizational rules that a word form instantiates and which are gathered in the value of rr. Realizational rules themselves, as we discuss in the paper, consist of a set of features that they realize, the word’s inflectional features (minus aspect in Oneida), and a set of morphs that realizes the set of features, as shown in (66).

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To model the fact that prepronominal features are privative, we define the (prefixal) inflectional features of a word (the value of its ms) as the union of the pronominal features, the stem information, and a subset of prepronominal features ().

  1. (67)

As we mention in the paper, although prepronominal features are part of the prefixal inflectional system of Oneida, these features resemble derivational features in that they contribute semantic information (except for roots that idiosyncratically require the presence of a particular prepronominal prefix feature). We model the association between prepronominal features and concepts by positing rules that introduce in the word’s ms a prepronominal feature as well as the relevant concept in the word’s sem. An example rule is provided in (68). The feature parts in the rule gathers all the pieces of semantic information conveyed by a word or phrase; the addition of ¬ thus amounts to adding negation to the set of concepts conveyed by the verb (see Richter and Sailer 2004 for details). To model the fact that some verbs may require the presence of a prefix but without the concomitant semantics, the input to rules for prepronominal prefixes do not include the feature (the output uses disjoint union, ⊎, which requires the input ms set not to contain the prepronominal feature the rule is adding).

  1. (68)

Two idiosyncratic feature co-occurrence restrictions are needed. The first one restricts the mood feature to verbs in the punctual aspect. The restriction is stated in (69).

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The second co-occurrence restriction was discussed in the body of the paper: When both the cislocative and repetitive are present in a verb’s ms, so is the dualic. The restriction is repeated below in (70).

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Finally, we assume with Zwicky (1990), Stump (2001) and Crysmann and Bonami (2016) and others a default null realization provided in (71) (from Crysmann and Bonami 2016, 347). We assume this default applies to each dimension of the factual realization rules. In other words, we assume that when a feature is realized through the application of two rules (chosen from two different sets), each rule can consist of the null realization rule.

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Appendix B: Hierarchy of (prefixal) inflectional features

As discussed in the body of the text, prefixal inflectional features form a hierarchy provided in Fig. 7. As is standard within IbM and HPSG, features can be subtypes of more than one category. Thus, the feature fact is a subtype of the (ir)realis (and mood) feature, as well as a subtype of the peripheral feature, i.e. a feature that can occur in positions 1 or 2. Similarly, the future is a subtype of both the mood and rim categories, the latter being the category of features that must occur in positions 1–4.

Fig. 7

A hierarchy of MS members

Appendix C: Realizational rules for prepronominal prefixes

There are five classes of realizational rules for prepronominal features, as shown in Fig. 8. The following subsections expand on these five classes of rules. Before covering each of the rules, it should be noted that rules are written with redundant information excluded. That is, information that is inherited from higher in the hierarchy is not shown in lower rules. This saves space and remains faithful to the purpose of hierarchies as capturing vertical generalizations. This is illustrated in Fig. 9 in which the mud and its value in the tshi-rr and tsh-rr rules are inherited from the coin-rr rule. The grayed-out information, being inherited information, will not appear in the rules going forward. It should also be noted that the mph in the coin-rr rule is grayed-out because that information is inherited from the edge-rr rule (see Fig. 10). As mentioned in Sect. 2.2, pronominal and stem features are obligatory and therefore always part of the value of ms, although for simplicity we omit them whenever they are irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Fig. 8

The five classes of prenominal prefix realizational rules

Fig. 9

Inherited (redundant) information is grayed out

Fig. 10

The edge rules

Fig. 11

The translocative rules

Fig. 12

The dualic rules

Fig. 13

The factual and optative rules

Fig. 14

The inner rules

C.1 Exponents of edge features

Figure 10 provides the hierarchy of rules for features realized in position 1. Rules for all edge features are provided in (72)–(75). in the statement of rules is a shorthand for the mud value each rule inherits from the relevant more general rule. For example, the included in the value of ms in the representation of the tshi-coin-rr rule corresponds to the value of the mud of the coin-rr it is a subtype of and inherits from.

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C.2 Exponents of the translocative

Below is the hierarchy of translocative rules followed by the rules themselves; in the statement of these rules is shorthand for the mud value of transloc-rr (i.e., {transloc}) each rule inherits. In the description of the ms of transloc-rr and y-basic-rr, we include relational constraints (Richter 2000) to the effect that the ms values include a (possibly empty) set of edge or inner features, respectively. So, ∧ set(edge)⊂ after the description of the transloc-rr rule in Fig. 4 means that the value of the ms, , must include a (possibly empty) set of edge features; similarly, ∧ set(inner) ⊂ after the description of the y-basic-rr in (76) means that the value of the ms, , must include a (possibly empty) set of inner features. Our descriptions of the exponence rules for the dualic and the cumulative exponents of the factual also make use of such relational constraints.

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C.3 Exponents of the dualic

Below is the hierarchy of dualic rules followed by the rules themselves; in the statement of these rules is shorthand for the mud value (i.e., {dualic}) that each rule inherits from the dualic-rr. As in the case of the translocative, rules for the dualic include relational constraints. As we mention in the paper, names enclosed in boxes indicate distinct dimensions and are interpreted conjunctively. So, a word form which satisfies the dualic-rr must satisfy a rule in both the and dimensions. In this way, the four forms of the dualic – t, te, aʔt, and aʔte – are accounted for.

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C.4 Exponent of the future

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C.5 Exponents of the optative and factual

C.5.1 Hierarchy of rules for the optative and factual

C.5.2 Exponents of the optative

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C.5.3 Exponents of the factual

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C.6 Exponents of the cislocative and repetitive

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Diaz, T.S., Koenig, JP. & Michelson, K. Oneida prepronominal prefixes in Information-based Morphology. Morphology 29, 431–473 (2019).

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  • Oneida
  • Northern Iroquoian
  • Information-based Morphology
  • position class
  • Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar
  • templatic morphology