Approaching Inflection: The functional head analysis versus Word-and-Paradigm

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007
19 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The functional head approach to inflection
2.1 Pollock’s functional analysis of Modern English and French verbs
2.2 Rivero’s analysis of verbs in Modern Greek and Albanian
2.3 Speas’ functional head approach to verbs in Navajo
2.4 Exploded Inflectional Analysis - The rejection of the functional head approach to inflection

3. The Word-and-Paradigm approach to inflection
3.1 Word-and-Paradigm morphology as proposed by Matthews
3.1.1 Homophonous morphs
3.1.2 Cumulation

4. Reanalysing the Modern Greek verb plí q ikame

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

A universal theoretical approach to inflection is just as difficult as the definition of inflection per se. Different theories have been provided over the past fifty years arguing and approaching inflection from a lexicalist or functionalist point of view. Other models that explain this linguistic process have been developed, too, as for example Distributed Morphology (Stump 1998: 35ff.). In this work two approaches will receive closer attention: the functional head analysis of inflection and the Word-and-Paradigm model – two theoretical views to describe this as we shall see highly debated linguistic phenomenon.

Although this work will closely follow Stump’s introduction and arguments to the diverging theoretical approaches (1998: Chapter 6), the aim is to contrast and discuss only two of the theories in detail, and hence, to argue in favour of a Word-and-Paradigm approach to inflection. Examples in this work will focus on the inflection of verbs only, since in my opinion the examination of verbs from these two angles will provide the most obvious and efficient arguments in preference of the second theoretical approach.[1]

This paper is organized as follows: Section two will introduce the functional head approaches as proposed by Pollock (2006), Rivero (1990), and Speas (1990). The first two parts of this section will introduce the model for Modern English, Albanian and Modern Greek, and show how a tree-structured approach works on explaining inflection. In the third part Speas’ analysis of Navajo will present a strictly argumentative functional head approach. The end of the section will focus on the critics brought forward by Joseph and Smirniotopoulos (1993) on Rivero’s work.

Section three focuses on the Word-and-Paradigm approach to inflection as advanced in an early theoretical approach by Robins (1959) and followed by Matthews (1970, 1972) and Anderson (1977, 1982). The model itself, terms and conditions will be presented in the first part, followed by two examples: homophonous morphs in Latin (Bauer 1999) and cumulation in Georgian (Anderson 1982). These two examples will support a Word-and-Paradigm analysis instead of a functionalist analysis of inflection, by pointing at the weakness of the latter model.

Section four offers an advanced analysis with the Word-and-Paradigm model and will reload Rivero’s examples of Modern Greek verbs and show how Word-and-Paradigm provides a more favourable analysis following the critical answer to her article by Joseph and Smirniotopoulous (1993).

Section five will end with a preliminary conclusion on this paper.

2. The functional head approach to inflection

What does it mean to approach inflection with a functional head model? Obviously, it is a way to explain the linguistic phenomenon of inflection. The most significant, and therefore, as it will be seen, the most criticized characteristic of this model is that each exponent of an inflected verb is assigned an inflectional category such as Tense, Agreement, Negation, Aspect and Voice. Some of the given examples will show that this correspondence can be depicted in a tree-structure, which bases on the extended X-Bar-Theory, as developed by Chomsky (cp. 1957, 1970). The production of forms of lexemes, which are traditionally regarded as part of inflectional morphology, would then be considered as a syntactic process (Bauer 1999: 12). Therefore, generative approaches to inflection as proposed in the works of Pollock (2006), Rivero (1990) and Speas (1990) can lead to the assumption “that inflection is not a morphological phenomenon at all, but rather a syntactic one” (Stump 1998: 37). Such proposals, where inflectional categories of verbs are marked within a syntactic process, will be presented in the first part of this section.

The second part of the section will focus on the rejection of the functional head approaches as presented in the work of Joseph and Smirniotopoulos (1993), giving a counterview on the functional head approach to Modern Greek verbs as discussed by Rivero (1990). It is the purpose of this part to show, how easily a straight-forwarded tree-structured model can lead to false linguistic assumptions concerning an approach to inflection, when it is applied to other languages.


[1] Some of the references provided do focus on the inflection of nouns and adjectives, too, from respectively different angles. This work will refer to those parts and examples that concern the inflection of verbs. For a detailed view on Word-and-Paradigm and the inflection of nouns see Zwicky (1985).

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Approaching Inflection: The functional head analysis versus Word-and-Paradigm
University of Cologne  (Englisches Seminar)
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Fluent language use and good command of the target language. The paper is in line with general syle sheet conventions. Well-defined structure and coherent argumentation. The author shows a good understanding of the topic. The description of different models is thorough and leads up to the conclusion of the paper. Considerable amount of relevant literature.
Inflection, Word-and-Paradigm, Morphology, Functional, X-bar Theory, Linguistics, Head, Morphosyntax, X-bar
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Carol Szabolcs (Author), 2007, Approaching Inflection: The functional head analysis versus Word-and-Paradigm, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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