Deriving the English Verb 2

Linguistics 323


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The past tense form as well as the non-progressive form of strong verbs is more irregular than the "t" and "d" classes. Here, the past tense is not marked by an affix, but it is associated with a stem-vowel mutation which it triggers. The lexical entry of this class of verbs includes the following:

 [+Past] --> [+Past, -Suf]

 Irregular Past Tense Formation Rule

This rule specifies that the grammatical feature [+Past] is not spelled out as a suffix. This takes place in the lexicon. When the default Past Tense Rule applies, it cannot apply to verbs now marked with the above, since morphological rules cannot replace the polarity sign of a feature (i.e., '+' -> '-' and vice versa). And since verbs of this class do observe stem-vowel mutation in the context of the past tense, this must be marked in the lexical entry; there is no standard form for this.

Let us use SWIM as an example. SWIM contains the above rule and the following one:

 /i/ --> /æ/ /  /s/___/m/+[+Past]  Past tense stem-vowel mutation rule.

All verbs of the strong class observe rules such as the above.

There is no branching in the tree representation of "swam". Initially the following appears:

[+Past] is marked as a non-suffix:

Then the stem-vowel mutation rule applies:

This forms a new word-form. We consider this a single morpheme. Some linguists think that the rule is the morpheme. We do not concur with this proposal. A morpheme is a set of allomorphs. An allomorph, we contend, is a form, not a function. These two concepts should not be confused. A lot of this to do with how grammatical information is stored in the brain.

The passive and perfect are formed by adjoining the same morpheme -- the non-progressive participle -- to a verb host, which is done in the syntax. We must find a short name for the feature and keep it distinct from the progressive grammatical feature. Let's call it [+Nonprog] (for non-progressive). This feature is in fact a combination of [+Perf] and [+Pass]. Unlike the [+Past], this feature may be spelled out as the affix [+Suf], or the feature may be -[Affix]. There are two suffixes: "-en" and "-n". The distribution of all three forms is fairly predictable; only exceptions to these rules need be marked in the lexical entry. First the rules apply that determine whether or not it is marked by a suffix:

[+Nonprog] --> [+Nonprog, -Suffix] / .....[+Nasal] ([+Velar]) + ____.

[+Nonprog] --> [+Nonprog, +Suffix] (elsewhere).

[+Nonprog, +Suffix] --> "-n" / /r/, /j/, [+Vocalic].([+Sonorant, -Lateral]) + ____.

[+Nonprog, +Suffix] --> "-en" / (elsewhere).

These rules are intrinsically ordered. They cannot apply until the appropriate context has been derived. Let us start with WRITE. It contains the information that allies in the context of the past tense:

 /rajt/  phonemic form
 [+Past] --> [-Suffix]  
/aj/ --> /o:/ / ____ C+[+Past]   Past Tense Formation Rule
 /aj/ --> /i/ / ____ C+[+Nonprog]   Non-progressive Stem Alteration Rule

Start with {WRITE,[+Nonpprog]}. Non-progressive Stem Alteration Rule applies:

 /aj/ --> /o:/ / [V w____ t]+[+Past]    Past tense stem-vowel mutation rule.
  /aj/ --> /i/ / [V w____ t]+{[+Perfect, +Passive]}  

It replaces the stem vowel of WRITE with the appropriate vowel in the context of the perfect/passive (non-progressive):

/rajt/, [+Nonprog] --> /rit/, [+Nonprog].

Since there is no contrary information in the lexicon, the default applies: Since there is no contrary information in the lexicon, the default non-progressive rule applies creating a suffix and assigning the grammatical feature to it:

/rit/,[Nonprog] --> /rit/+[+Nonprog, +Suf].

If the non-progressive suffix is follows a verb stem that ends in an obstruent, it is spelled out as "-en":

/rit/+[+Nonprog, +Suf] --> /rit/+/en/.

Stress is assigned to the stem by a default rule in this case. Stress is never assigned to inflectional endings in English. Since there is only one stressable vowel, it becomes stressed:


Note that the suffix should really be a schwa. or in many dialects, a central barred "i". I don't have a good way of representing this given the characters available.

The nonprogressive participle suffix is the only inflectional ending in the English language that occurs without exceptions. The form is "-ing". The grammatical feature is realized as a suffix by the following default rule:

[+Prog] --> [+Prog, +Suffix].

The suffix is spelled out as "-ing"; its phonemic form is /iN/, where /N/ is a velar nasal. This ending is often reduced to a syllabic alveolar nasal in North American English:

[+Prog, +Suffix] --> "-ing", /iN/ or /[+Nasal, +Alveolar, +Syllabic]/.


{WRITE, [+Prog]} --> {WRITE, [+Prog, +Suffix]}

--> {WRITE, [+Prog, +Suffix], /rajt+iN/.

/rajt/ needs lexical information that spells out /r/ as "wr"; the remaining rules spell the stem out as "write". The mute "e" rule deletes the mute 'e' when it precedes a suffix with an initial vowel:

/rajt+iN/ --> write+ing --> writ+ing --> writing.

Deriving the English Verb 1

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This page last updated 17 OC 2000