LSA 120: Morphosyntactic features and inflectional morphology

Greville G. Corbett | session 1 | TuTh 10:30 – 12:15, 2060 Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB)

Within the variety of approaches to the core areas of linguistics, relatively few things are shared.

One thing that is "common currency" among linguists, however, is the use of features. From the most theoretical investigation to the most applied computational work we find features being used. Perhaps surprisingly, while we use features more and more, we rather take them for granted. Thus we still have no generally agreed inventory of the features and their values. Features like number, gender and case are widely found, but they can differ dramatically across languages: the system for each may be quite small (with two members or values) or quite large.

The course is therefore designed to bring together work on the formal properties of features with research into the substantive semantics of features (mainly in typology). It concentrates on the morphosyntactic features, those which straddle the syntax-morphology border. It is intended to give participants a chance to reflect on some underlying core issues in morphology and syntax, irrespective of which approaches to these areas they prefer. The following topics are covered:

1. Why linguists use features: we examine why features have such an important place in linguistics, partly by considering what linguistics would look like without them

2. Features and components: we distinguish the different types of features, and then concentrate on morphosyntactic features

3. Justifying particular features and their values: we consider the basic question of how we establish the features and values in a particular language, with examples of some less obvious feature values.

4. Features and typology: we enjoy the remarkable variety of what is out there, and adopt a canonical approach, as a means of addressing the difficult issues that arise when we compare across languages.

5. Feature mismatches: a prime justification for the use of features is the matching we find in agreement systems: and yet often the feature values do not match. We therefore analyze different types of mismatch, some of which are easy to account for, while some are quite troublesome.

6. Interactions of features: in attempting to maintain a simple typology we restrict possible interactions between features. This means re-examining some analyses proposed in the literature for more exotic systems.

We shall look at interesting and relevant data from a wide range of languages, including those which have particularly large or particularly significant inventories of values for gender, number, person, case, respect or definiteness.

Required reading: Selected materials available online.

Recommended reading: Greville Corbett, Agreement and Ivan A. Sag, Thomas Wasow, and Emily M. Bender, Syntactic Theory: A Formal Introduction.

On reserve at Graduate Services, 208 Doe Library: Martin Haspelmath, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil, and Bernard Comrie, The World Atlas of Language Structures.

Areas of linguistics: Syntax, semantics, and morphology

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