Academic journal article SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics

Memorization and the Morphology-Syntax Divide: A Cross-Linguistic Investigation

Academic journal article SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics

Memorization and the Morphology-Syntax Divide: A Cross-Linguistic Investigation

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Connecting the question presented in (1) to the assumption given in (2) leads us to the central question of our paper, which is shown in (3).

(1) Following the lexicalist tradition and assuming that morphological and syntactic products differ from each other categorically (e.g. Chomsky 1970; Di Sciullo & Williams 1987; Scalise & Guevara 2005: 182-183), the question arises whether morphological constructions are better candidates for memory storage--an idea suggested in the literature (Wunderlich 1986: 209; Olsen 2000: 899).

(2) It has been observed that languages differ with respect to the use of morphological and syntactic constructions in order to express novel complex lexical concepts. Looking at adjective-noun/noun-adjective (henceforth: AN/NA) constructions, we assume that German prefers using compounds (morphological constructions) as naming units, whereas French favors phrases (syntactic constructions) (Bucking 2009; Van Goethem 2009). In English, constructions with initial stress, i.e. compound-like constructions, rather than constructions with non-initial stress, i.e. phrase-like constructions, typically fulfill naming needs (McCauley, Hestvik & Vogel 2012: 27).

(3) Combining (1) and (2), we ask whether compounds/compound-like constructions, i.e. German AN compounds and English AN compound-like constructions, show a memorization advantage in comparison to phrases/phrase-like constructions, i.e. French AN/NA phrases and English AN phrase-like constructions. We will only investigate typical naming units in German and French, i.e. AN compounds and AN/NA phrases respectively. That means, we will ignore German phrases and French compounds in our experimental studies. In English, we decided to examine both constructions with initial stress and constructions with non-initial stress because the amount of research on stress in English AN constructions is rather small (in comparison to NN constructions). Based on the results of two experimental studies, we claim that items originating in the domain of morphology show a memorization advantage in comparison to items of syntactic provenance.

The structure of the paper unfolds as follows. In Section 2, the theoretical background of our studies will be discussed. We will define the terms compound as well as phrase and outline difficulties in clearly distinguishing between a compound and a phrase in English. Aiming at a clarification on empirical grounds, Section 3 will report on a psycholinguistic study we conducted in order to go beyond a mere structural analysis by examining the cognitive reflexes, i.e. the memorization, of non-lexicalized AN/NA constructions in the three aforementioned languages. The results obtained here will serve as the starting point for our second experiment that exclusively focused on the memorization of AN constructions in English (Section 4). Finally, Section 5 will discuss the implications of these two studies for the morphology-syntax divide and conclude our paper.

2. Theoretical background

In the literature, arguments for and against a principled distinction between morphology and syntax have been discussed for decades. While proponents of lexicalist conceptions emphasize the necessity to separate the two domains (e.g. Sadock 1985; Bisetto & Scalise 1999; Ackema & Neeleman 2004), other authors reject the idea and prefer to think in terms of a single grammatical module (e.g. Baker 1985; Lieber 1992; Kremers forthcoming). The debate on whether or not a categorical distinction between compounds and phrases needs to be assumed plays a crucial role in the present contribution and mirrors the two opposing views just mentioned. In order to find out whether compounds and phrases differ from each other, several factors have been investigated.

Inflection or, more precisely, inflectional agreement represents a typical factor discussed in the context of the separation between compounds and phrases. …

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