Polarity and constraints on paradigmatic distinctness

Dieter Wunderlich

in The Morphology and Phonology of Exponence

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199573721
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199573738 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics

Polarity and constraints on paradigmatic distinctness

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  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Phonetics and Phonology


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Polarity, a type of syncretism, is decomposed into diagonal syncretism (one feature marked, the other feature unmarked, i.e. +F,-G and -F,+G expressed by the same form) and full reversal (two features either both marked or both unmarked). Diagontal syncretism is found in various inflectional systems and can be regarded as a phenomenon of second order natural classes, defined in markedness degrees. In contrast, full reversal should not exist because it would be hard to learn that a certain form expresses either –F,-G or +F,+G. However, several authors claimed the existence of morphological polarity (full reversal). The more detailed investigation reveals the possibility of inflectional class polarity (the exponents of +F vs. –F in one class of items are reversed in another class of items), either for semantic reasons: a certain affix might negate inherent number, or for phonological reasons: an ablaut vowel should be distinct from the underlying vowel. Polarity is also possible as the last resort for expressing contrast in a degenerate paradigm (Old French declension).

Keywords: morphological polarity; diagonal syncretism; full reversal; paradigmatic markedness; inflectional contrast; inherent number; ablaut; recursive paradigm construction; degenerate paradigm; contrast constraint

Chapter.  12457 words. 

Subjects: Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Phonetics and Phonology

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