Archive for the ‘Morphophonology’ Category

Scientific and non-scientific -ist

March 10, 2021

Yesterday, in my posting “And you thought -ize was complicated”, a Tom Gauld cartoon showing the great semantic versatility of the suffix –ist. And now, from the 2020 collection Department of Mind-Blowing Theories: Science Cartoons [from New Scientist magazine] by Tom Gauld, –ist as used for names of scientific fields vs. for a variety of other meanings (while showing considerable morphophonological variety in these words).

(#1) The cover of Mind-Blowing


The leek and the daffodil

March 1, 2019

(Warning: scattered amidst the daffodils, substantial allusions to some technical linguistics)

From John Wells, a greeting for the day, March 1st:

(#1) Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus! ‘Happy St David’s Day!’ (word by word: ‘Day Festival Davy happy’)


sg /u/, pl /i/

April 27, 2016

Recent One Big Happy, with Joe bedeviled by irregular plurals in English, especially in the sg /u/, pl /i/ pattern in goose – geese and tooth – teeth:

The morphophonological alternation has an interesting history, but from the point of view of modern speakers, it just is. One booth, two booths (not beeth), but one tooth, two teeth; one noose, two nooses (not neese), but one goose, two geese. And one Ruthie, two Ruthies (not Reethie).

What a difference 30 years makes: take 2

May 31, 2015

A paper given at Stanford on the 29th: “Pronouncing the Z’s: Epenthesis in English plural possessives” by Simon Todd (a Ph.D. student in linguistics). The beginning of the abstract:

The interaction between the English regular plural affix (PL) and possessive clitic (POSS) presents a theoretical puzzle (Zwicky, 1975). Both have the form /z/, and so the OCP [AZ: Obligatory Contour Principle] (Yip, 1998) predicts their combination (PL+POSS) should trigger epenthesis. Yet, in cases like my friends’ /fɹenz/ car, only PL is overtly realized. Why does the OCP fail to apply?

Two previous theories address this non-application of the OCP in PL+POSS constructions. The POSS-suppression theory (Stemberger, 1981; Zwicky, 1987) claims that POSS essentially inspects the morphological composition of its host and is actively suppressed by adjacent PL /z/, without exception. The alternative POSS-allomorphy theory (Bernstein & Tortora, 2005; Nevins, 2011) claims that POSS has a phonologically null allomorph, which is chosen when the possessor has the plural feature. Either POSS allomorph may be chosen for a singular possessor with embedded PL; thus, contra the suppression theory, epenthesis may be triggered in cases like the son of my friends’s /fɹenz ~ fɹenzəz/ car.

(Some of this is seriously technical, but try to get the drift.)

The crucial paper of mine comes from about 30 years ago, and the question can now be examined with tools that weren’t available then.


Annals of naming

July 23, 2012

From OUT magazine for August (pp. 13-4), a feature on the music world (“On a Mi(ssion): Cody Critcheloe has a high-concept queer art project with a beat” by Adam Rathe):

The name, copped from Boston post-punk pioneers Mission of Burma, sounds like shun, but bewilderment regarding how exactly to talk about the group – and people are talking — is just part of Critcheloe’s plan.

“I love the name, how it looks, and how it’s confusing for people,” he says. “I love that people can’t pronounce it or that they think it’s my name.”

Of course it’s confusing; it makes a name out of an unaccented syllable that isn’t in itself meaningful — but sounds like an existing English word. And it’s weirdly spelled.


Nucular postings

April 19, 2011

Over on Facebook, Kathryn Burlingham asks of the linguists in the crowd:

Have you ever heard anyone say that the proper pronunciation of “nuclear” as nookleear, is in part a way to distinguish the energy from the cell part, which is properly pronounced nookyoolar? A friend dumbfounded me with this explanation recently.


Undoing morphophonology

April 6, 2011

Ian Preston commenting on my “attriting” posting yesterday:

I have come across “attrit” quite often in statistical contexts, usually spelt without a final “e”, where it is used intransitively to denote what a respondent does who drops out of a longitudinal sample.

Ah, another back-formation from attrition, with the ‘drop out’ meaning of the first sense of back-formed attrite. The second, accented, syllable of attrite has the vowel /aj/, indicating an analysis in which the accented /ɪ/ of attrition is treated as a lax version of the vowel of the base verb (as in ignition, based on ignite); this bit of morphophonology is “undone” in the process of back-formation. However, the spelling ATTRIT strongly suggests a pronunciation with /ɪ/, taken directly from attrition (as in exhibition, based on exhibit).

The evidence of the dictionaries is not entirely clear, however.



December 28, 2010

From Rhymes With Orange, playing with morphophonology:

Some English nouns ending in voiceless fricatives (especially in /f/) voice these fricatives in the plural. There are three classes of cases:

(1) voicing obligatory in standard English: wife – wives, shelf – shelves;

(2) voicing variable in standard English: wharf – wharves/wharfs, dwarf – dwarves/dwarfs (see the Language Log posting here and the posting in this blog here on the plural of dwarf );

(3) no voicing in standard English: fife – fifes, oaf – oafs.

Nouns in class (1) are subject to regularization; there’s some pressure to move them into class (2). Nouns in class (3) are subject to playful irregularization — yielding things like arves.



August 30, 2010

Heard on NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” on Morning Edition Saturday yesterday: a re-play of a Listener Limerick Challenge in which the program’s limericist was referred to.

Since 2000 (and at least until last year) this position has been filled by Philipp [correct spelling] Goedicke. My focus here is not on the arrangements of this radio program but in the innovation limericist ‘someone who devises limericks’ (which seems to have a modest representation on the web, as on the website Here-Be-Limerick-Poems, with its page “Examples of Limerick Poems: The Work of Limericist Edward Lear”.)