Autonomous Morphology in Diachrony: comparative evidence from the Romance languages

The Romance verb reveals some seemingly nonsensical, but diachronically and geographically recurrent, patterns in its paradigmatic structure, which show remarkable diachronic robustness, self-reinforcement and self-replication. The recurrent but autonomously morphological structures presupposed by such changes furnish crucial diachronic corroboration for the notion of ‘morphomes’ as elaborated by M. Aronoff (Morphology By Itself 1994), and in general for the importance of ‘inferential-realizational’ strategies in acquisition and language change (see G. Stump Inflectional Morphology 2000). Aronoff arguably underestimates the possibility that the ‘morphomic’ structures he identifies could be synchronically ‘accidental’, a mere inert residue of an earlier état de langue in which such structures had an extramorphological justification. Martin Maiden’s work has not only shown, from diachronic evidence, the correctness of Aronoff’s assumptions of psychological reality, but elevates ‘morphomes’ into the role of ‘major players’ in morphological change, as evidenced by various types of analogical change which are inexplicable without reference to morphomic structure.
The central question our project addresses is how pervasive are ‘morphomic’, autonomously morphological, structures in the Romance inflectional system, and their importance in determining diachronic change in the paradigmatic system. A major issue that the establishment of a corpus of Romance autonomous morphological structure promises to illuminate is the possibility that what matters most for speakers in the acquisition of inflectional paradigms is not so much functional transparency or phonological motivation, as systematic predictability of patterning.

Principal investigator
Professor Martin Maiden
Start date
Sunday, October 1, 2006
Completion date
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Maiden, Martin "On the morphology of Italo-Romance imperatives’. in Sui dialetti italoromanzi: saggi in onore di Nigel B. Vincent, edited by D. Bentley and A. Ledgeway, 148-64, Norfolk: Biddles.
Maiden, Martin "Un capitolo di morfologia storica del romeno: preterito e tempi affini", Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie (2008, in press)