Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD REFERENCE ( (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2013. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single entry from a reference work in OR for personal use.

Subscriber: null; date: 25 February 2017

Generative Morphology

International Encyclopedia of Linguistics

William J. Frawley

Generative Morphology. 

Within the theoretical framework of early generative grammar, morphology was not considered an autonomous component of the grammar; it was split between morphophonology, as part of phonology, and morphosyntax, as part of syntax. Thus Chomsky 1957 used “morphophonemic” rules to describe the formation of the past tense of verbs, and Lees 1960 proposed that compounds were formed by transformational rules.

Morphology was first accorded a specific role in generative grammar by Chomsky 1970; within this framework, Halle 1973 proposed the first explicit model of generative morphology. This model is morpheme-based; it consists of a list of morphemes, a set of W[ord] F[ormation] R[ule]s, a Filter, and a Dictionary of existing words. The whole model is supposed to work inside the lexical component of the grammar. Halle's ideas have been seminal, attracting the attention of many scholars. Thus Siegel 1974 proposed a “level-ordered morphology”; Jackendoff 1975 developed the notion of lexical “redundancy rules”; Aronoff 1976 proposed a “word-based” morphology, introduced a set of constraints on WFRs, and offered a highly articulated theoretical model.

Subsequently, a number of linguists developed models of generative morphology in which word formation takes place in the lexical component of the grammar. Williams 1981, Selkirk 1982, and Lieber 1992 conceive of morphology as the syntax of morphemes: in word formation, morphemes are concatenated into complex words. The properties of complex words, such as syntactic category, are computed from their constituent morphemes by means of percolation of the relevant features from the morpheme that functions as head of the complex word to its top node. This model is also used for inflectional morphology.

The most studied aspects of morphology in this framework are the notion of heads; the mechanism of percolation; the way to constrain WFRs (adjacency, ordering); and the relationships among derivation, compounding, and inflection (see Scalise 1984).

In Anderson 1992, another model of generative morphology is proposed, that of a-morphous morphology. In view of the fact that in many languages there is no one-to-one relationship between morphosyntactic properties and morphemes, Anderson proposes that inflectional rules are rules that spell out (determine the overt manifestation of) the phonological form of words on the basis of the array of morphosyntactic features of a word. Hence, inflectional affixes are seen as a byproduct of spellout rules. More generally, Anderson conceives of word formation rules as operations on lexical stems to produce other lexical stems. The words thus derived are claimed not to have internal morphological structure.

Another variant of generative morphology that aims at dealing with the problem of the complex relationship between morphosyntactic content and form in morphology is distributed morphology (Halle and Marantz 1993). In this model, morphology is distributed across the component of grammar. Syntactic operations create complex nodes (morphosyntactic configurations), and subsequently lexical insertion takes place, in which these complex nodes are matched with phonological form.

Aronoff 1994, in contrast, stresses the autonomy of morphology. It is not seen as an appendage of syntax and phonology but has its own formal systematics, as shown by patterns of stem allomorphy and inflectional classes.

The distinction between the syntactic component and the lexical component that is presupposed in all these models of generative morphology has been challenged by Jackendoff 1997, who argues that lexical expressions can be created in a systematic way by both morphological and syntactic rules. The Handbook of morphology (Spencer and Zwicky 1998) and Spencer 1991, a textbook on generative morphology, are useful guides to these theoretical debates.

See also Heads; Lexicon; and Morphology.


Anderson, Stephen R. 1992. A-morphous morphology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

    Aronoff, Mark. 1976. Word formation in generative grammar. (Linguistic Inquiry monographs, 1.) Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Find this resource:

      Aronoff, Mark. 1994. Morphology by itself. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Find this resource:

        Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic structures. (Janua linguarum, Series minor, 4.) The Hague: Mouton.Find this resource:

          Chomsky, Noam. 1970. Remarks on nominalization. In Readings in English transformational grammar, edited by Roderick A. Jacobs and Peter S. Rosenbaum, pp. 184–221. Waltham, Mass.: Ginn.Find this resource:

            Halle, Morris. 1973. Prolegomena to a theory of word formation. Linguistic Inquiry 4.3–16.Find this resource:

              Halle, Morris, and Alec Marantz. 1993. Distributed morphology and the pieces of inflection. In The view from Building 20: Essays in honor of Sylvain Bromberger, edited by Ken Hale and Samuel Jay Keyser, pp. 111–176. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Find this resource:

                Jackendoff, Ray. 1975. Morphological and semantic regularities in the lexicon. Language 51.639–671.Find this resource:

                  Jackendoff, Ray. 1997. The architecture of the language faculty. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Find this resource:

                    Lees, Robert B. 1960. The grammar of English nominalizations. (Indiana University Research Center in Anthropology, Folklore, and Linguistics, publication 12; International Journal of American Linguistics, 26:3, part 2.) Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Find this resource:

                      Lieber, Rochelle. 1992. Deconstructing morphology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

                        Scalise, Sergio. 1984. Generative morphology. Dordrecht: Foris.Find this resource:

                          Selkirk, Elisabeth O. 1982. The syntax of words. (Linguistic Inquiry monographs, 7.) Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Find this resource:

                            Siegel, Dorothy. 1974. Topics in English morphology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT dissertation. Published, New York: Garland, 1979.Find this resource:

                              Spencer, Andrew. 1991. Morphological theory. Oxford and Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell.Find this resource:

                                Spencer, Andrew, and Arnold Zwicky. 1998. The handbook of morphology. Oxford and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.Find this resource:

                                  Williams, Edwin S. 1981. On the notions ‘lexically related’ and ‘head of a word’. Linguistic Inquiry 12.245–274.Find this resource:

                                    Geert Booij and Sergio Scalise

                                    Was This Useful?