Reading 2

Reading 2 - Productivity[begin boxed text Important...

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Productivity [begin boxed text] Important questions in this chapter What governs or restricts how new words can be formed? Is morphological productivity gradient or categorical? [end boxed text] 5.1 Possible, actual and occasional words As we saw in Section 2.4, a morphological rule or pattern is said to be productive if (and to the extent that) it can be applied to new bases and new words can be formed with it. The notion of productivity is in principle applicable both to word-formation and to inflection, but in this chapter we will focus more on productivity in word-formation. Now one might ask why productivity should be such a big issue in morphology. After all, syntactic rules are productive as well, but few syntacticians worry much about how to define and determine their productivity (and no syntax textbook devotes an entire chapter to productivity). In syntax, linguists study possible sentences , and they do not care much whether these are actual sentences in some sense or not. Indeed, some morphologists have proposed that this procedure should be carried over to morphology: linguists who are interested in the morphological systems of languages should study possible words , regardless of whether these words happen to be in common use or not. In other words, linguists should focus on morphological competence (the possibilities of the linguistic system) and can afford to ignore morphological performance (the use of the system for communication and other tasks). If this position is adopted, productivity is uninteresting: whether or not a possible word is likely to become an actual word is 1
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not an issue. Such a strict competence/performance division has serious drawbacks. Most importantly, it is often very difficult to distinguish between possible and impossible words. Speakers tend to be more reluctant to accept new words than to accept new sentences, maybe because they do not encounter new words very often in ordinary life. For this reason, grammaticality judgements about morphology are more difficult to interpret than judgements about syntax. To be sure, there are many cases in which speakers’ judgements are unambiguous: hypothetical words like *helpnessful (with the wrong order of the suffixes - ful and -ness ) or *frownity (where the suffix -ity attaches to a verb) are clearly ungrammatical, as every speaker will agree. But in many other cases, it is less clear what speakers’ judgements mean. Consider the set of words bearded, winged, pimpled, eyed . The last word in this set, eyed , seems odd, and speakers may judge it unacceptable. But does that mean that it is truly ungrammatical, – i.e. not allowed by the morphological system? A straightforward explanation of the difference in the acceptability of bearded, winged and pimpled , on the one hand, and eyed , on the other, is that not all creatures have beards, wings and pimples, but virtually all have eyes, so one would rarely describe a person or an animal as eyed . But
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Reading 2 - Productivity[begin boxed text Important...

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