Clitics - features and usage

Why clitics can help to illuminate the interface between morphology / phonology and morphology / syntax

Term Paper, 2009

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1 Analyze the forms we're and won't. Describe the difficulties of morphological analysis

2 Name and specify the features of clitics

3 Do you consider the assumption of another class of bound morphemes justified?

4 Comment on the Statement by Zwicky (1): "Most languages— very possibly, all except for the most rigidly isolating type— have morphemes that present analytic difficulties because they are neither clearly independent words nor clearly af­fixes."

5 Explain why clitics can help to illuminate the interface be- tween morphology - phonology and morphology - syntax

6 Why are clitics also called "post lexical affixes"?

Works Cited

1 Analyze the forms we're and won't. Describe the difficulties of morphological analysis.

The form we're seems to consist of two morphemes: we, a pronoun, and 're, which we syntactically interpret as an equivalent to the auxiliary are. Hence they are two grammatical words. Phonologically, however, they are a single phonological word. In fact, in contrast to its full form, the morpheme 're cannot stand in isolation, as (1) shows:

(1) a. We're going home
b. * 're we going home?
c. We are going home.
d. Are we going home?

This is because it does not constitute a phonological word by itself. As such, 're is a bound morpheme that must "lean" onto the preceding word (the host), in this case the pronoun we. Although 're is a bound morpheme, it does not seem to fit into the categories of either inflectional or derivational morphemes. Whilst English nouns have rather few forms, pronouns such as we are already inflected for number, case and person. "For this reason we would be unwilling to think of the clitic as some kind of inflection. In this sense clitics are more like independent words" (Spencer 14). The distinction between inflectional affixes and clitics will be discussed later on in section 3. Also, we're cannot be interpreted as a single grammatical word, thus excluding derivation.

In the case of won't, the situation is somewhat different. Again, the form consists of two morphemes. In contrast to before, the full forms are less obvious: will + not becomes won't. Also, the apostrophe does not indicate the boundary between the morphemes as it did in we're but is a part of the second morpheme n't, The attachment of which obviously changed will, whereas 're did not change we. Moreover, it is not an auxiliary attached to a noun but rather a negation adverb attached to an auxiliary. The latter seems to be a more natural fit, although this is a very subjective assessment.

A more in-depth account of clitics will be given later on. It should be noted, however, that there is another fundamental difference between 're and n't: their distribution. In any position 're appears, it can be substituted by its full form (although this does not always work the other way around, as (1b) shows). The same cannot be said about n't:

(2) a. Won't you please stop talking?
b. * Will not you please stop talking?
c. * Will you not please stop talking?

In fact, Zwicky and Pullum come to the conclusion that based ". . . on all the available evidence, n't should be treated as an (inflectional) affix rather than a clitic ..." (512).

2 Name and specify the features of clitics.

"As we shall see, the various elements which are called clitics form a hetero- geneous bunch ..." (Halpern 101). And indeed, giving a complete typology of clitics is a difficult task. One such attempt by Aikhenvald (43) lists 15 parameters for specifying clitics. A detailed account of these would surely be beyond the scope of this paper. Consequently, I will list the basic features of clitics and refer to the criteria for distinguishing clitics from inflectional affixes suggested by Zwicky and Pullum (503-5) in task 3, where they will be of great importance.

As mentioned in task 1, clitics form a grammatical word but by them­selves they do not constitute a phonological word and are always unstressed. Hence they can neither be pronounced in isolation nor stand alone in a sentence. Instead, they phonologically attach to another word, their host. Together, the host and the clitic are also called the clitic group. As Aikhen­vald puts it, "[c]litics occupy an intermediate position between a full-fledged phonological word and an affix ..." (43) and can attach either to the front of their host, making them a proclitic, or to their end, making them an enclitic.

Also, "the phonological and structural hosts of a clitic may be distinct" (Katamba and Stonham 341). One example of this is the possessive 's in English, as can be seen in these examples borrowed from Klavans (96-97):

(3) a. the queen of England's hat
b. the boy who I saw's mother
c. the boy I talked to's sister

In the examples, the clitic phonologically attaches to different hosts: a noun, a verb and even a preposition. Even though the syntactic host in each of the examples is the preceding NP (or DP for those who prefer to use the Determiner Phrase), the possessive 's phonologically simply attaches to the last word in the phrase.

This illustrates the difference between what Zwicky calls "simple" and "special" clitics (6). The previously talked about 're is derived from the full form are and occurs in the same position the full form does and therefore is called a simple clitic.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Clitics - features and usage
Why clitics can help to illuminate the interface between morphology / phonology and morphology / syntax
University of Göttingen  (Seminar für Englische Philologie)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
442 KB
Im Gegensatz zu regulären Hausarbeitn wurden bei dieser Hausarbeit die zu bearbeitenden Punkte vorgegeben. Konkret geht es hier um Klitika, ob die Annahme dieser Kategorie gerechtfertigt ist und inwiefern diese bei der Betrachtung der Interfaces zwischen Syntax und Morphologie bzw Morphologie und Phonologie helfen.
Clitics, Klitika, Englische Philologie, Sprachwissenschaft, Linguistik, Morphologie, Phonologie, Morphology, Phonology
Quote paper
Jörn Piontek (Author), 2009, Clitics - features and usage, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Clitics - features and usage

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free