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Orthographic context


The English plural morpheme s is written the same regardless of its pronunciation: cats, dogs. This is a morphophonemic spelling. If English used a purely phonemic orthography, these would instead be spelled cats and *dogz, because IPA: /s/ and /z/ are separate phonemes in English.

To some extent English orthography reflects the etymology of its words, and as such it is partially morphophonemic. This explains not only cats /s/ and dogs /z/, but also science /saɪ/ vs. unconscious /ʃ/, prejudice /prɛ/ vs. prequel /priː/, chased /t/ vs. loaded /ɪd/, sign /saɪn/ signature /sɪɡn/, nation /neɪ/ vs. nationalism /næ/, and special /spɛ/ vs. species /spiː/, etc.




Task 2. Answer the questions


1. Analyse the examples and say what phonic modifications happen to morphemes when they are combined.

2. How is the language typology connected with its morphophonology? Why doesn’t English have much morphophonology?

3. What is the difference between morphophonemic and phonemic orthography? Give English words to exemplify the both.



Text 2. Allomorphs and morphemic rules


Task 1. Compare definitions of the term allomorph as it is used in chemistry and linguistics. What do these concepts have in common?

allomorph (Chemistry) – any of several different crystalline forms of the same chemical compound.


allomorph (Linguistics) – one of a set of forms that a morpheme may take in different contexts



Task 2. Read the text.


Just as phonemes have predictable variants, called allophones, morphemes have predictable variants called allomorphs. Allomorphs are semantically similar but phonetically different. They have variants due to different conditioning environment and are said to be in complementary distribution. Allomorphs are predicted, or “conditioned”, in one of three ways:

1. the appearance of a particular allomorph is predictable from the phonetic environment, hence phonologically conditioned;

2. the appearance is unpredictable phonologically but is determined by the grammar of the language, hence grammatically conditioned; or

3. the allomorphs are used interchangeably in all environments, hence in free variation.

Let’s consider the following example involving regular plural formation in nouns in English, as shown in the table


Table 1. Regular Plural Formation in Nouns

bushes /∫/ buses /s/ mazes /z/ judges /ʤ/ matches /t∫/ boxes /s/ garages /ʒ/ rouges /ʒ/ maps /p/ cats /t/ racks /k/ ropes /p/ laughs /f paths /θ/ knobs /b/ rods /d/ logs /ɡ/ seals /l/ mirrors /r/ pans /n/ tombs /m/ rings /ŋ/ lathes /ð/ coves /v/ rays /eı/ sofas /ə/ toys /ɔı/ keys /ı:/ news /ju/

Although the orthographic form of the plural is s or es in all cases, you will notice that the phonological form of the plural morpheme in column A is /əz/, in column B /s/, and in column C /z/. Thus, there are three allomorphs of the plural morpheme. These allomorphs are semantically similar, all expressing the concept ‘more than one’.

A speaker of English knows which of these three forms to choose in any particular case. For the made-up noun, prat, the speaker would know to add the /s/ plural, whereas with the made-up noun stad, the speaker would add /z/. Thus, the particular endings, or allomorphs, are predictable – but how? If they are phonologically conditioned, there must be something about the phonetic environment of the noun which determines the choice of allomorph. In fact, it is the final sound of the root of the noun which is the determining factor. Note that in column A, all of the nouns end with a fricative or an affricate, in column B, with a voiceless consonant, and in column C, with a voiced consonant or vowel. We can refine this information and state it in terms of a morphemic rule. We must first recognize that the sounds found in column A /s, z, ∫, ʒ, t∫, ʤ/ constitute a natural class called sibilants. It would be inaccurate to say that /əz/ occurs after fricatives, since certain fricatives such as /f/ take the /s/ allomorph while others such as /v/ take the /z/ allomorph. Once we recognize the class of sibilants, we can state the rule as follows:

The allomorphs of the plural form of nouns have the orthographic form – s/es, but phonologically they are [əz], [s], and [z].

The [əz] allomorph follows roots ending in sibilants; the [s] allomorph follows roots ending in voiceless consonants, and the [z] allomorph follows roots elsewhere.

This morphemic rule may be given as a scheme:

{pl} → [əz] / sibilants —

[s] / voiceless consonants

[z] / elsewhere

Remember that the rule is read downward, so that “voiceless consonants” in the second line would exclude any voiceless consonants already included in the first line among sibilants.

We specify one allomorph as “elsewhere”. This is the form with widest distribution or the one found in the most diverse phonetic environments, in this case, after voiced consonants and vowels.

The table above gives the forms of noun plural in English that are phonologically conditioned, but certain noun plurals are grammatically conditioned:


Table 2. Irregular Plural Formation in Nouns

Ø fish, sheep, deer
vowel alternation mice, lice, geese
-en children, brethren, oxen
foreign plurals -a phenomena, data, criteria -i stimuli, foci -ae alumnae, formulae -ices indices, appendices -es bases, axes -im kibbutzim, cherubim


These endings are not productive: they are either linguistic fossils (remnant forms from an earlier stage of English) or foreign borrowings.

Finally, it is interesting to note that bound roots may show root allomorphy; for example, ‑cept is a predictable variant of ‑ceive before ‑ion, as in conception, perception, reception, and deception.

Generally, English is not rich in allomorphy, though this language has inherited quite a lot of it with the Latin vocabulary that was borrowed.


Task 3. Some terms in the text are italicized and underlined (e.g. allophones). Match these terms with definitions given below.


1. __________ – one of the phonetically distinct variants of a phoneme.

2. __________ – the use of different allomorphs of the same root in various morphosyntactic constructions.

3. __________ – the set of phonetic environments in which a sound occurs.

4. __________ – the occurrence of sounds in a language such that they are never found in the same phonetic environment.

5. ______ – neighboring sounds of a given sound that cause it to undergo a change.

6. __________ – a principle or regulation accounting for the allomorphs of a morpheme, giving their conditioning environments, e.g. setting phonological conditioning of the allomorphs /t/d/id/

7. __________ – the occurrence of sounds in overlapping environments but causing no distinction in the meaning of their respective words.

8. __________ – retention in the language of some old and unproductive forms

9. __________ – a word taken from one language for use in another.

10. __________ – a consonant produced by the forcing of breath through a constricted passage (such as /f/ or /s/ in English). Also called spirant.

11. __________ – a consonant sound that begins as a stop (sound with complete obstruction of the breath stream) and concludes with a fricative (sound with incomplete closure and a sound of friction). Examples of these sounds are /t∫/ in English chair, which may be represented phonetically as a /t/ sound followed by /∫/; the /ʤ/ in English jaw (a /d/ followed by the /ʒ/), sound heard in French jour or and the ts sound often heard in German and spelled with z as in zehn, meaning ten. Also called semiplosive.

12. __________ – a consonant sound that is made by vibrating the vocal chords.

13. __________ a consonant produced without sound from the vocal cords.

14. __________ – a fricative consonant sound, in which the tip, or blade, of the tongue is brought near the roof of the mouth and air is pushed past the tongue to make a hissing sound. In English /s/, /z/ /∫/, /ʒ/ are sibilants.

15. __________ – a speech sounds in the articulation of which the oral part of the breath channel is not blocked

Definitions are taken from:








Task 4. Give Russian equivalents to the terms from Task 3.



Task 5. Use some terms from Task 3 to fill in the gaps.


When linguists find that the same morpheme has more than one form (or ______1), they often seek to set up a single underlying representation for the morpheme and to formulate ______ 2 that will derive the appropriate pronunciation for any particular context. To see how this works, let us consider in more detail the _______ 3 in which the different allomorphs of the English plural morpheme occur (see Table 1 in Text 2).

As you can see, the choice of plural allomorph is determined by the final segment of the base. Bases that end in a ______ 4 take the voiceless /-s/ allomorph. Bases that end in a ______ 5 or a voiced consonant take the voiced /-z/ allomorph. And bases that end in a ______ 6 consonant occur with the /-əz/ allomorph.

In selecting the underlying representation of a morpheme, it is common to choose the allomorph with the widest ____ 7. This happens to be /-z/ in the case of the English plural morpheme because it occurs after most voiced consonants and after all vowels (which are also voiced). This is no accident, of course, since /-z/ too is a _____ 8.


Based on Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction



Ex.1. Examine the following past tense forms in English:



























(a) Determine the allomorphs of this inflectional suffix.

(b) Determine the conditioning environments for each of the allomorphs.

(c) Write a morphemic rule.



Ex. 2. Examine the following past tense forms.











(a) How are they conditioned? How are they realized?

(b) How do you account for the following variants: learned/learnt, dreamed/dreamt, burned/burnt?



Ex. 3. Examine the following words:






















(a) Determine the allomorphs of this derivational prefix.

(b) Determine the conditioning factors for each of the allomorphs.

(c) Decide on the underlying (or "elsewhere") form of this morpheme. Justify the base form.

(d) Write a morphemic rule.

(e) State the meaning of the morpheme.


Ex. 4. Examine the following words:























(a) Determine the allomorphs of this derivational prefix.

(b) Write a morphemic rule, specifying the underlying form, allomorphs, and conditioning environments.

(c) State the meaning of the morpheme, if possible.


Ex. 5. Examine the following pairs of words:


sign signature

design designation

resign resignation


(a) What is the root allomorphy exhibited by all of the forms?

(b) Write a morphemic rule for the first set of words.


Exercises 1 – 5 are taken from The Linguistic Structure of Modern English by Laurel J. Brinton and Donna M. Brinton// http://benjamins.com/series/z/156/workbook/exercise




Date: 2014-12-28; view: 2269

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