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date: 22 May 2017

Construction Morphology

Summary and Keywords

Construction Morphology is a theory of word structure in which the complex words of a language are analyzed as constructions, that is, systematic pairings of form and meaning. These pairings are analyzed within a Tripartite Parallel Architecture conception of grammar. This presupposes a word-based approach to the analysis of morphological structure and a strong dependence on paradigmatic relations between words. The lexicon contains both words and the constructional schemas they are instantiations of. Words and schemas are organized in a hierarchical network, with intermediate layers of subschemas. These schemas have a motivating function with respect to existing complex words and specify how new complex words can be formed.

The consequence of this view of morphology is that there is no sharp boundary between lexicon and grammar. In addition, the use of morphological patterns may also depend on specific syntactic constructions (construction-dependent morphology).

This theory of lexical relatedness also provides insight into language change such as the use of obsolete case markers as markers of specific constructions, the change of words into affixes, and the debonding of word constituents into independent words. Studies of language acquisition and word processing confirm this view of the lexicon and the nature of lexical knowledge.

Construction Morphology is also well equipped for dealing with inflection and the relationships between the cells of inflectional paradigms, because it can express how morphological schemas are related paradigmatically.

Keywords: Construction Morphology, Construction Grammar, paradigmatic relation, construction, Parallel Architecture, constructional schema, constructional idiom, second-order schema, affixoid, construction-dependent morphology

1. What Is Construction Morphology?

Construction Morphology (CxM) is a theory about the structure of words that makes crucial use of the notion ‘construction’ as developed in the theoretical model of Construction Grammar (Goldberg, 2003, 2006). A (syntactic or morphological) construction is a pairing of form and meaning. The English compound word structure, for instance, has the form of a right-headed nominal compound with the structure [N N]N and the meaning ‘structure of words.’ This established word of English is an instantiation of the more abstract English construction of Noun-Noun compounds, complex words that denote a subclass of the entities denoted by the rightmost constituent. The abstract meaning of this [N1 N2]N construction can be circumscribed as ‘N2 that has some relation to N1.’ This is a construction that is very productive in English and is used frequently to coin new compounds.

A basic idea of CxM is that the acquisition of abstract constructions for word structure is based on the acquisition and storage of individual complex words. For instance, once an English speaker has acquired a number of English NN compounds, (s)he will be able to conclude to an abstract construction of the form mentioned above. This implies that morphology is word-based: abstract morphological constructions, that is, morphological schemas, emerge with the growth of one’s knowledge of complex words.

The English construction for NN compounds can be accounted for by the following constructional schema:


Construction Morphology

The double arrow stands for the correspondence relation between form and meaning. The < and > demarcate the constructional schema. In this schema it is indicated how the meanings (SEM, for ‘Semantics’) of the individual constituent nouns contribute to the meaning of the compound as a whole, by means of co-indexation of a formal constituent and its semantic contribution. The meaning contribution of the construction as a whole is specified on the right-hand side of the schema. The semantic nature of the relation R is left unspecified, as it is not determined by the compound structure but depends on encyclopedic and contextual knowledge.

Constructional schemas for sets of complex words have two roles. On the one hand, they provide motivation for the set of existing complex words of a language (Bochner, 1993). A word is motivated when the relation between its form and meaning is not completely arbitrary. The relation between form and meaning is arbitrary for the word word but is at least partially non-arbitrary, that is, motivated, for the compound word word structure, because the meaning of word structure can be partially derived from the meaning of its constituents word and structure. On the other hand, these abstract constructional schemas provide ‘recipes’ for the coinage of new words. Thus, they account for the creativity of the language user who can make up new words (and new sentences) that (s)he never came across before.

The format of the constructional schema can also be used for the analysis of other types of word formation such as derivation and reduplication. An example from the domain of derivation is the set of English de-adjectival nouns in -ness that denote the property expressed by the corresponding adjectives: afraidness, aliveness, awakeness, badness, belovedness, bigness, childishness, cleanness, etc. The corresponding constructional schema for these words is:


Construction Morphology

In this schema the variable x stands for the phonological composition of the base adjective. The variable x indicates that all sorts of adjectives can be used in this slot. The phonological form of the second constituent is fully specified. The schema accounts for the bound nature of the suffix -ness. This morpheme cannot be used as a word by itself, and its meaning is only accessible by being embedded in a complex word. Hence, affixes, as bound morphemes, do not form lexical items by themselves, they are only listed in the lexicon as building blocks of complex words.

In reduplication, a copy or a partial copy of a word is added to it, and the reduplicated form has a meaning based on the meaning of the base word and the meaning contribution of the reduplication construction as such. An example from Yoruba is the expression of agentive meaning by means of full reduplication:


Construction Morphology

The corresponding constructional schema is:


Construction Morphology

This schema captures that the copying configuration (a sequence of two identical verbs Vi) expresses the meaning of agentive. This agentive meaning is a holistic property of the morphological schema as such and does not derive from one of its constituents, as is confirmed by reduplication in Creole languages (Lúis, 2014). In addition, the syntactic category of the reduplicated form (N) is not inherited from one of its constituents, as is the case for the right-headed nominal compounds of English. That is, the syntactic category of complex words may be a property of the morphological construction as a whole. This is also the case in Akan: Akan compounds are always nominal in nature, whatever the syntactic category of their constituents. Hence, this nominal character is a holistic property of the compound construction (Appah, 2015). Thus, this case of reduplication illustrates how constructional schemas can account for the holistic formal and semantic properties of a morphological construction. Another illustration of holistic meaning of a construction is the reduplication of the type café-café ‘real coffee’ in Spanish. The copying configuration evokes the holistic meaning of ‘real, prototypical,’ which does not derive from one if its constituents (Felíu Arquiola, 2011).

2. CxM and the Parallel Architecture of Grammar

The way in which the form side of schemas is represented in section 1 is a simplification. Complex words have two types of formal structure: morphological structure and phonological structure. The morphological structure is a linear and hierarchical arrangement of stems and affixes, and the phonological structure is a linear and hierarchical arrangement of sound segments and prosodic categories such as the syllable, the foot, and the prosodic word. Hence, the formal representation of the left part of a morphological schema is a conflation of the phonological and the morphological tier. In (5) the constructional schema shows all three levels of representation for English denominal nouns ending in -hood such as boyhood and motherhood:


Construction Morphology

The symbols σ‎ and ω‎ stand for ‘syllable’ and ‘prosodic word,’ respectively.

Schema (5) illustrates that the phonological structure and the morphological structure of words are not necessarily isomorphic. The suffix -hood has the status of independent prosodic word, even though it is a bound morpheme and therefore not a word in the morpho-syntactic sense.

The three parallel representations for both words and phrases and for the constructional schemas that they are instantiations of constitute the basic ingredients of Parallel Architecture, a theory of grammar developed in Jackendoff (2002a), and summarized in (6):


Construction Morphology

The level of conceptual structure comprises the semantic (SEM), pragmatic (PRAG), and discourse (DISC) properties of language constructs. A similar view can be found in Croft (2001):

(7) Constructions as pairings of form and meaning

Construction Morphology

Each type of structure is subject to the rules or constraints that hold for a particular type of representation. Prosodic structure is governed by phonological rules or constraints such as those for building syllables and higher-level prosodic constituents. Morphological and syntactic structure (morpho-syntactic structure, for short) are governed by the rules of syntax and morphology. Conceptual structure is specified by the constraints and regularities of conceptual representations. The double arrows in (6) stand for correspondence relations between these different types of information within a particular language construct. Correspondence relations may also be referred to as interface relations.

In the default case, the lexical specification of a word comprises these three levels; hence, each word is a specification of interfaces between three pieces of information. The same holds for constructional schemas for words, which are generalizations over sets of words. The interface between the different levels of representation in a constructional schema may be subject to general principles or constraints that hold for more than one schema. For instance, in Dutch prefixed words, the word-internal prefix boundary always coincides with a syllable boundary. This generalization can be expressed in a schema that dominates all Dutch prefixed word constructions.

Morphological constructions often have phonological properties that are unique to that construction. Dutch compounds carry main stress on their first constituent and thus contrast with the same word combinations when used as phrases: zwárt-boek ‘black-book, black paper, type of document’ versus zwart bóek ‘black book.’ The phenomenon of construction-specific phonology is also found for syntactic constructions. For instance, in Dogon, a language spoken in Mali, syntactic constructions are characterized by specific tonal patterns (Heath, 2015; Heath and McPherson, 2013).

An important feature of the Parellel Architecture is that different types of information (phonological, syntactic/morphological, and semantic) are simultaneously accessible (Booij and Audring, 2016). For instance, the attachment of an affix to a base may be dependent on prosodic properties of the base, which must therefore be available for this morphological operation. Hence, information on the level of phonological structure must be accessible for the expression of generalizations on the morphological level. An example from English is that the comparative suffix -er only attaches to adjectives that are monosyllabic or disyllabic with a light second syllable (as in big—bigger, happy—happier). This generalization cannot be expressed if morphology (the construction of complex words) is assumed to precede phonology, since phonology provides essential information on the syllable structure of the base words for this morphological process. A similar analysis, with a crucial role for phonological information, is presented in Tsujimura and Davis (2011) for so-called innovative verbs in Japanese.

3. The Nature of the Lexicon, Intermediate Schemas, and Affixoids

In CxM the lexicon contains fully specified representations for both simplex and complex words. Constructional schemas specify the systematic properties of sets of complex words and thus reduce the amount of non-arbitrariness in the form-meaning relationships of words (Booij, 2016b).

In between abstract constructional schemas and the complex words that instantiate these schemas, CxM posits intermediate levels for subclasses of the relevant set of complex words. For instance, for Dutch [N N]N compounds we need subschemas in which the first N is lexically specified, because nouns can have a specific meaning bound to their occurrence in compounds. An example is the use of the noun pracht ‘beauty, splendor’ in compounds such as prachtvrouw ‘great woman’ and prachtkans ‘great opportunity’ in which pracht has acquired a more abstract meaning of very positive evaluation. Hence we need a schema for these words that expresses this generalization:


Construction Morphology

This phenomenon implies a blurred boundary between compounding and derivation (Booij, 2005a), since such words with a meaning bound to a morphological constructions become similar to affixes, which also have bound meanings.

Many compounds in Mandarin Chinese have constituents that do not occur by themselves or occur with a different meaning. Hence, this is another case where the boundary between compounding and derivation is blurred. This necessitates the assumption of compound schemas with one position lexically filled, i.e., constructional idioms (Arcodia, 2011).

Hugou (2013) gives a corpus-based analysis of expressions in English like I am coffeed out, an instantiation of the Xed out construction with the meaning ‘having done something to excess.’ This constructional schema is an example of a constructional idiom, with variable and lexically filled positions.

3.1 Affixoids

Words with meanings bound to their occurrence in complex words such as Dutch pracht- mentioned above are sometimes called affixoids. Their existence implies constructional idioms, idiomatic patterns with one or more positions lexically filled. In many languages, affixes derive historically from compound constituents, and these constructional idioms form the pathways along which words can become affixes. Leuschner and Decroos (2008) discuss affixoids in Dutch and German. Battefeld (2014) gives a survey of such affixoids in German, Dutch, and Swedish. Namiki (2010) presents an analysis of the Japanese morpheme hoodai that appears in the right-most position of compounds with a compound-specific submeaning ‘at will’ but is bound to its appearance in compounds, hence a typical affixoid. Booij and Hüning (2014) argue that the term ‘affixoid’ does not denote a new theoretical category in morphology but is just a convenient descriptive term for denoting lexical constituents in constructional idioms with a bound meaning, for example, reuze- ‘lit. giant, very’ in compounds such as Dutch reuzeleuk ‘lit. giant-nice, very nice.’ Van Goethem (2008) shows how compound constituents can develop into bound morphemes with a specific bound meaning. For instance, the adjective oud ‘old’ in Dutch compounds has acquired the meaning ‘former.’ Van Goethem (2010) presents an analysis of the development of the French adjective nouveau ‘new’ into a prefix-like element with a specific set of meanings.

3.2 Reinterpretation of Affixoids

Nominal affixoids may be reinterpreted as adjectives that can occur as words by themselves, a case of ‘debonding’ (Norde, 2009). For instance, the affixoid reuze- ‘giant-, great’ in Dutch and its Swedish equivalent can now be used as adjectives, and the same holds for the noun affixoid top ‘of high quality’ (Norde & Van Goethem, 2014; Van Goethem, 2014). Compound constituents may also develop into prefixes or suffixes, a process by some qualified as a case of grammaticalization. However, Hüning and Booij (2014) have argued that the development of compound constituents into affixes is not so much a case of either grammaticalization or lexicalization but should be interpreted as a case of constructionalization, the rise of a new morphological construction.

4. Second-Order Schemas and Sister Relations

Complex words are not always derived from simpler words. Complex words may have sister relations to other complex words. An example from English is the following set of English word pairs in ‑ism and -ist:


Construction Morphology

Even though they have no corresponding base word, the meaning of one member of a pair can be defined in terms of that of the other member. In particular, the meaning of the word in -ist can often be paraphrased as ‘person with the ability, disposition, or ideology denoted by the word in ‑ism.’ Hence, word formation may be based on paradigmatic relationships between words with the same degree of morphological complexity. The following paradigmatic relationship can be defined for the two schemas involved:


Construction Morphology

where SEMi represents the set of meanings {ABILITY, DISPOSITON, IDEOLOGY}. The symbol ≈ is used here to indicate a paradigmatic relationship between two constructional schemas. This is just a matter of notational convenience, as the actual correspondences between the schemas are expressed by means of co-indexation and the sharing of variables. The two x’s in (10) are the same variable, and hence they stand for the same base. A set of two or more paradigmatically related schemas is a schema of schemas, also referred to as a second-order schema.

The paradigmatic relationship between these two schemas may lead to the coining of new words. For instance, if we know what determinism is, we can easily coin the word determinist, and then we can compute its meaning and know that this word denotes a person adhering to determinism. The crucial role of paradigmatic relationships in the semantic interpretation of complex words also holds for nouns ending in -ist with an existing word as their base, such as Marxist and socialist. A Marxist is an adherent of Marxism and not necessarily a follower of Marx, since Marxism as a doctrine encompasses more than the ideas of Marx. Similarly, a socialist is not necessarily a social person, but an adherent of the ideology of socialism. Therefore, we need a second-order schema like 0 for an adequate account of the semantics of certain sets of words in -ist. The meaning of these nouns in -ist is not simply a compositional function of their constituent parts but contains the meaning of a related word with the same degree of complexity. Even though semantically the word in -ism is the starting point for the word in ‑ist, this does not mean that the actual order of derivation necessarily reflects this semantic asymmetry. For instance, the word abolitionist may have been coined before abolitionism. So, another advantage of paradigmatic relationships like that in 0 is that they allow for word formation in both directions.

The importance of paradigmatic relationships has been stressed in studies of allomorphy. Nesset (2008) is a study of of the interaction between phonology and morphology in Russian, in which allomorphy patterns are captured by means of paradigmatic relations between morphological schemas.

Kapatsinski (2013) also argues for the necessity of second-order schemas for generalizations on allomorph selection in Russian.

Paradigmatic relations are also essential in the analysis of form-meaning mismatches in complex words. Booij and Masini (2015) show that there are systematic mismatches between form and meaning of complex words in Dutch, Italian, and Russian that can be accounted for by second-order schemas. In Dutch, there is a systematic form-meaning mismatch between Dutch particle verbs and their nominalizations (Booij, 2015a). The latter are compounds of the particle and a deverbal noun, but semantically the nominalizations of particle verbs. This systematic mismatch, which also holds for other Germanic languages, can be accounted for by second-order schemas.

Spencer (2013) defends the claim that morphology is to be conceived of primarily as a theory of lexical relatedness (hence a theory of paradigmatic relationships), in line with CxM. Spencer also argues that CxM provides an adequate formalism for expressing various types of lexical relatedness.

5. The Relation Between Morphology and Syntax in CxM

The set of lexical expressions of a language comprises more than words: all words are lexical items, but not all lexical items are words. Languages also have lexical items that are phrasal in nature. English particle verbs are phrasal in nature, as are the particle verbs of other Germanic languages (Los, Blom, Booij, Elenbaas, & Van Kemenade, 2012). In their study of Dutch and English particle verbs, Los et al. (2012) argue for a set of lexical phrasal constructional schemas for the various types and subtypes of particle verbs. These particles may also incorporate into the verb but remain non-morphological in nature. Particle verbs, phrasal combinations of a particle and a verb, are characteristic for Germanic languages but have also emerged in present-day Italian and require phrasal constructions to be specified in the Italian lexicon (Iacobini and Masini, 2006). Particle verbs may change into prefixed verbs in the course of history. The gradual transition of phrasal word combinations into morphological constructions implies that both stages may co-occur in a given language, thus enhancing the complexity of a language (Dahl, 2004).

In many languages noun-incorporation results in phrasal N + V compounds. Because of their non-morphological nature, this is referred to as quasi-incorporation. For instance, Baker (2014) shows that incorporation of nouns and adjectives into verbs in the Australian language Wubuy is phrasal in nature and yet results in lexical expressions. This incorporation can, as Baker argues, be insightfully accounted for in the CxM model. Akita and Usuki (2015) present an analysis of quotative marking in Japanese in terms of a quasi-incorporation construction, a construction with both word-like and phrase-like properties. Kishimoto and Booij (2014) show that negative complex adjectives in Japanese can be either syntactic or morphological in nature. This study shows the gradual transition between these two types of negative adjectives. Both types must be listed in the lexicon as the choice between them is a matter of convention.

5.1 Multi-Word Sequences in the Lexicon

The set of lexical expressions also comprises lexical idioms of various types and formulaic language. The grammar therefore has to contain schemas for both morphological and syntactic constructions (Jackendoff, 2002b). Thus, the boundary between grammar and lexicon is blurred, and what has been called the ‘lexicon’ traditionally is more of a ‘constructicon.’ In particular, there are various types of phrasal word combinations that function as names for entities in Germanic and Romance languages (Booij, 2009b). Many English adjective + noun phrases function as conventional names for entities, for instance, acoustic guitar, blue cheese, red wine, red tape, and white flag. Such conventional phrasal lexical items may also be embedded in compounds, in the non-head position, as in blue cheese sale and red wine expert. However, phrasal constituents of compounds do not have to be conventional lexical items, as other phrases can appear as well, for instance, take home in take home examination.

There are various studies on the phrasal lexical items in Italian and the implications for CxM. Masini (2009) analyzes phrasal names in Italian. Masini (2015) shows that Italian verb + clitic sequences behave like syntactic combinations; yet, due to their idiosyncratic meaning they have to be listed in the lexicon. Masini (2016) deals with binominal constructions with light nouns in Italian, comparable to English type of N and sort of N, and the implications of these patterns for a proper conception of the architecture of grammar.

Cetnarowska (2015) shows that many Polish word combinations function as conventional names for entities. Hence they are lexical items. Yet they are not complex words but behave as small phrases. Dugas (2014) is a discussion of the demarcation of morphological and syntactic constructions involved in the formation of negative adjectives in French.

Schlücker (2014) analyzes the competition between morphological and syntactic constructions in German and Dutch. For instance, in German we find many cases of A+N compounding, where Dutch has a preference for A+N phrases; compare the German compound Rot-wein ‘red wine’ with the Dutch phrase rode wijn ‘red wine.’ Schlückers monograph scrutinizes the relevant differences between German and Dutch. Schlücker and Plag (2011) show that analogy to existing compounds and phrasal constructions plays a crucial role in the choice between a compound or a phrase as the form of a new name.

5.2 Periphrasis and Progressive Aspect

In the domain of inflection, the expression of morpho-syntactic properties by means of multi-word expressions is referred to as periphrasis. Periphrasis is another illustration of the insight that phrasal and morphological expressions may have the same function in grammar.

An example of periphrasis is the use of the be V-ing construction in English as means of expressing progressive aspect. Van Pottelberge (2007) shows that progressive periphrasis in Germanic languages should be analyzed in terms of a range of phrasal constructions with an aspectual grammatical function. Booij (2008) discusses the Dutch periphrastic progressive: it is a subcase of phrases of the form [PP V], but has acquired syntactic and semantic properties of its own, which implies that is must be represented as a specific construction in the grammar of Dutch. Lee (2007) shows that the English progressive form, a combination of a verb and an -ing form, is to be analyzed as a specific phrasal construction of English.

In many languages, postural verbs such as verbs of sitting and standing function in progressive constructions. Hilpert and Koops (2008) trace the emergence of this construction with the postural verb for ‘to sit’ in Swedish, where this postural verb has acquired a more abstract meaning of progressive aspect in this construction.

5.3 The Mental Lexicon

By giving up a sharp boundary between grammar and lexicon, the model of CxM can do justice to the occurrence of various forms of idiom. Taylor (2012) is a key study of the mental lexicon from a constructionist perspective. Taylor argues that the mental lexicon is to be seen as the individual repository of linguistic experience, which implies that a rich array of types of multi-word sequences are stored. Wray (2012) is a good survey of recent findings with respect to formulaic language, which is also stored in lexical memory, in chunks of various sizes. The analysis that Wray proposes is in line with the CxM model of the architecture of language.

6. Construction-Dependent Morphology

A specific form of interaction between syntax and morphology can be observed in a phrase like John’s book. The old genitive marker -s has become a morphological marker of the English possessive construction. In Dutch there is a construction of the following type:


Construction Morphology

in which the cardinal number is affixed with the suffix -en. This appearance of morphological markers in syntactic constructions is referred to as construction-dependent morphology (Booij, 2005b) and can be expressed by constructional syntactic schemas in which certain morphological constituents are specified. This type interaction of morphology and syntax can also be observed in the domain of derivational morphology. For instance, in Dutch nouns have to be used in their diminutive form in the VP construction for denoting children’s games of the type dokter-tje spelen ‘doctor-dim play, to play doctor’ and vader-tje en moeder-tje spelen ‘father-dim and mother-dim play, play father and mother.’

The old genitive case marking is used in modern Dutch as marker of various specific syntactic constructions (Scott, 2011, 2013, 2014). The genitive marker of Dutch with a partitive interpretation has been preserved as a marker of specific partitive constructions, for instance, in the schema [iets A-s] ‘something nice’ in which the adjective is marked by the old, now obsolete, partitive genitive marker-s (Pijpops & Van de Velde, 2016). This survival of case markers can only be understood by making use of the notion ‘construction’ and shows the direct dependence between morphology and syntactic constructions.

7. Inflection in CxM

The idea of paradigmatically related constructional schemas discussed in section 4 with respect to word formation is also relevant for inflection. The necessity of paradigmatically related schemas for the domain of inflection is shown in the Word-and-Paradigm approach to inflection (Blevins, 2006). In this approach, the forms in the cells of an inflectional paradigm are not computed on the basis of an abstract stem to which the inflectional endings are added. Instead, these forms are computed on the basis of principal parts of the paradigm. A schoolbook example is the way in which Latin noun declinations work. The nominative plural of rex ‘king,’ for instance, is computed by starting from the genitive singular form reg-is which is the revealing form: we compute the correct plural form reg-es by replacing -is with -es.

A particular inflectional form of a word may play a central role in accounting for the construction of other inflectional forms of that word. Specific inflectional forms or a combination thereof (the principal parts of a paradigm) identify the inflectional class to which a word belongs (Finkel & Stump, 2007). Thus, an inflectional form may be used to compute the form of other cells in the inflectional paradigm of a word (Ackerman, Blevins, & Malouf, 2009). The regularities within inflectional paradigms need to be characterized in terms of implicative relations. These relations can be expressed by paradigmatically related patterns, hence second-order schemas. For instance, the relations between the, the, and the essive of Saami nouns, as discussed in Blevins (2006), can be expressed as paradigmatic correspondence relations between the form tiers of morphological schemas for that share the variable x:


Construction Morphology

If the variable x stands for a strong stem with a geminate consonant, this geminate consonant will be predicted to recur in all three forms. Inversely, if x stands for a weak stem, it is predicted that this weak stem also shows up in these three inflectional forms. That is, these mutually implicative relationships between paradigm cells can be expressed straightforwardly by making use of schemas for fully specified inflectional forms and paradigmatic relationships between such schemas.

Since Construction Morphology allows for both morphological schemas and their instantiations to be listed, it is possible to list inflectional forms that are completely regular, because the inflectional schemas will indicate their predictable properties. This is necessary because inflectional forms may function as principal parts and because the form of one paradigm cell may be predicted from another.

Gurevich (2006) is the first study of inflection within the framework of Construction Morphology and deals with the complex inflectional system of Georgian. Harris (2009) argues for the necessity of inflectional constructional schemas in order to account for various inflectional forms in the complicated inflectional system of the Caucasian language Batsbi. Harris (2012) shows that inflectional forms in Georgian may have holistic properties that do not derive from their constituents. These holistic properties speak in favor of an approach to inflection that involves constructional output schemas.

8. Diachrony

The theory of Construction Grammar implies that constructions play a crucial role in language change. Traugott and Trousdale (2013) argue for the crucial role of the notion ‘construction’ in analyzing morphological and syntactic change. New morphological constructions can emerge in the course of time, and existing constructions can undergo various types of change. This is also shown in various studies by Hilpert. One (Hilpert, 2008a) is a study of the emergence and development of periphrastic forms for the expression of ‘future’ in German, based on a rich corpus of German usage data. Hilpert (2008b) provides an analysis of the emergence of a periphrastic construction for the expression of future in Swedish. Hilpert (2013) is a set of case studies of morphological and syntactic change in English in which the notion ‘construction’ plays a crucial explanatory role.

Another example of the relevance of CxM for the diachronic study of language is the emergence of derivational affixes from compound constituents, with affixoids (discussed in section 3) as intermediate stage. These affixoids (noun modifiers) can in turn be reinterpreted as adjectives, as is the case for the Dutch affixoid reuze (an allomorph of the noun reus ‘giant’), which has been reinterpreted as an adjective. The process is that of ‘debonding’ (see section 3.2) (Van Goethem & Hiligsmann, 2014; Van Goethem & Hüning, 2015).

9. Psycholinguistic Aspects of CxM

The possibility of storage of inflectional forms, as claimed by CxM, can also be justified from a psycholinguistic perspective. It has been shown, for instance, by Baayen, Dijkstra, and Schreuder (1997), that regular plural nouns in Dutch exhibit a frequency effect in lexical decision tasks. The data in this article are from Dutch, but many other studies have revealed the same effects on other languages, such as Italian.

The CxM view of the acquisition of morphology, namely that the acquisition of schemas for complex lexical items takes place based on the knowledge of some such words, is confirmed by studies of acquisition of Dutch complex words, reported in Mos (2010).

As for second language acquisition, there is similar evidence. Dal Maso and Giraudo (2014) is a study of word processing by second language learners of Italian. They conclude that the CxM model of lexical knowledge is confirmed by how L2 learners of Italian acquire and develop their lexical knowledge of Italian. Their analysis is based on a word-based view of morphology, in line with CxM. Voga, Anastassiadis-Syméonidis, and Giraudo (2014) is a psycholinguistic study of the acquisition of English as a second language by speakers of Greek. The effects reported require a word-based rather than a morpheme-based view of word structure and are also in line with the CxM model of morphological knowledge.

Further Reading

The basic ideas of CxM are spelled out in a monograph with a focus on Dutch data (Booij, 2010a) and in a number of handbook chapters (Booij, 2013; 2015b; 2016a) and in Hilpert (2014), which deals with English. The model of CxM is discussed and compared with alternative models of word formation textbooks by Fábregas and Scalise (2012) and Stewart (2016). Articles on CxM by Booij can also be found on his homepage. The concept of a morphological constructional schema has also been shown to be useful in the analysis of visual languages, in particular for the analysis of the characters in Japanese Manga (Cohn & Ehly, 2016).

Weidhaas and Schmid (2015) argue that output-oriented schemas and subschemas, standard notions in CxM, have to be assumed for an insightful analysis of German verbs ending in -eln such as hüsteln ‘to cough slightly.’ These verbs denote actions with semantic or pragmatic attenuation (e.g., low intensity, iterativity, contempt, or sympathy), and this range of meaning should be accounted for by a set of hierarchically ordered schemas and subschemas.


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Akita, T., & Usuki, T. (2015). A constructional account of the optional ‘quotative’ marking on Japanese mimetics. Journal of Linguistics, 52, 245–275.Find this resource:

Appah, C. K. I. (2015). On the syntactic category of Akan compounds. Acta Linguistica Hungarica, 62, 361–394.Find this resource:

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