The Lexicon of English Inflectional Morphemes

Linguistics 322

Intermediate Syntax

Let's start with T. T always needs a host. Let's borrow the term bound from morphology:

(1)     [+Bound] = form requires a host, or S will crash.

(2)   Principle: *X if X is [+Bound] and X not adjoined to a proper host.

In the lexicon of English inflectional morphemes, we may enter T with the following general property:

(3)     T, [+Bound].

If there are no provisos on (3), it holds for every T in the language. There are no provisos on T. This principle in effect motivates the lowering of T to V.

In the past tense, there are various ways to spell out T. The default is '-ed', /'barred-i'd/. For some speakers the underlying phonological form may be /'schwa'-d/. Two other forms which are irregular in the sense that they cannot be predicted are '-t' and '-d'. Thus, we can expand (3) to:

(4)      T, [+Bound], [+Past] , -ed, -d, -t. Subject to checking with host.

The last proviso means that the ending must match the properties of the verb that determine irregular verbs. If a verb such as sleep requires '-t' in the past tense, then '-t' must be selected from (4).

Finally, we need to account for the past tense of strong verbs such as swim/ swam. Swam/ contains both SWIM and [+Past]. Let us call this merge. Merge means that [+Past] or whatever feature is not spelled out as an inflectional morpheme, but is incorporated into the verbal form. We can add merge to (4):

(5)     T, [+Bound], [+Past] , -ed, -d, -t, 'merge w/ V'. Subject to checking by the host.

In the present tense, the entry for T is more complex. In the third person singular [+T [-Past]] merges with the features of agreement (agreement). It is spelled out as '-s' (or '-es' after vowels) except in modal auxiliary verbs. Ha-s and i+s are apparent exceptions. Technically the stems 'ha-' and 'i-' are weak stems, and they don't require an 'e' in the spelling system. Note also that it is impossible to be certain that is consists of two morphemes as opposed to just one. I prefer the former analysis, as it makes the 's' rule for the third person singular present more predictable.:

(6)     play+s, dream+s, dream+s, walk+s, go+es, run+s, do+es, sit+s, ha+s.

Inflectional morphemes are bound morphemes which require a host. But what part of speech can the host be? T can be bound only to a verb (any category containing the features [+V, -N]. Suppose we introduce the feature "[V+____]" which means that a verb must be the host. This is a subfeature of [+Bound]. We can replace [+Bound] with the appropriate host-binding feature:

(7)     T, [V+____], [-Past] , [-Pers], [-Pl], -s/-es, [-Modal]/___. Subject to checking by the host.

In the remaining forms of the present tense, there is no overt marker. Rather than assume that there is a null ending, we assume that merge with the verb takes place. We can state this rule by means of the otherwise condition, a variation of the elsewhere condition, which can be assumed to be the default:

(8)     T, [V+____], [-{Past], merge with V otherwise. Subject to checking by the host.

If Rule (7) does not apply, then Rule (8) does. [-Past] merges with modals by means of the otherwise condition in (8) since (7) blocks '-s/-es' in modal verbs.

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