Bracketing paradox

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In morphology, bracketing paradox is a situation in which the morphological structure of a word which one would like to propose for semantic reasons does not correspond to the structure one would like to propose for phonological reasons.

Examples

A well-known case of a bracketing paradox independent of level-ordering (see Level Ordering Hypothesis) involves the English comparative suffix -er and the negative prefix un-. In this case the phonological argumentation derives from a well-known restriction on the attachment of -er. This suffix is subject to the following constraint: it may attach to monosyllabic adjectives, and a small class of bisyllabic ones with a light final syllable, while it may not attach to adjectives with two or more heavy syllables. Compare the words

 blacker,   softer,     poorer,      nicer
 happier,   luckier,    heavier
 *directer, *complexer, *eloquenter, *importanter

Apparent counterexamples involve the prefix un-, since unhappier, unluckier etc. are well-formed. In level-ordering theories, the solution to this problem is almost trivial: assume that -er suffixation takes place at an earlier level than un- prefixation. In that case -er is added to, for instance, happy, and un- to happier, and the phonological condition on -er suffixation is not violated. Hence, the phonologically motivated morphological structure of unhappier is [un [happy-er]A]A. However, this structure raises a problem of interpretation. The meaning of the word unhappier can be paraphrased as 'more not happy', i.e. with more having scope over un-, and crucially not as 'not more happy' with reversed scope. Hence the semantically motivated structure is [[un happy] er].

Comments

A situation in which morphophonological structure and semantic structure are not isomorphic. The existence of bracketing paradoxes is closely associated with level-ordering theories such as Pesetsky's (1979) and Kiparsky's (1982) theories of Lexical Morphology/Phonology. These theories propose morphological structures on the basis of level-ordering which are sometimes in conflict with the semantic structure.

All bracketing paradoxes take the form: [ prefix [ root+suffix]] <-> [[prefix+root] suffix].

Synonym

relatedness paradox

Link

Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics

References

  • Halle, M. & Vergnaud , J.-R. 1987. An Essay on Stress. Cambridge: MIT-Press.
  • Hoeksema J. 1985. Categorial Morphology. PhD. diss. Groningen University.
  • Hoeksema, J. 1987. Relating Word Structure and Logical Form. Linguistic Inquiry 18, 119-126.
  • Kiparsky, P. 1982. From Cyclic Phonology to Lexical Phonology. In The Structure of Phonological Representations (I). van der Hulst, H. & Smith, N. (eds.), 131-175.
  • Kiparsky, P. 1983. Word formation and the lexicon. In Proceedings of the 1982 Mid-America Linguistics Conference. Ingemann, F. (ed.), 3-32. University of Kansas.
  • Pesetsky, D. 1979. Russian Morphology and Lexical Theory. ms. MIT.
  • Pesetsky, D. 1985. Morphology and Logical Form. Linguistic Inquiry 16, 193-246.
  • Sproat, R. 1985. On Deriving the Lexicon. PhD diss. MIT.
  • Sproat, R. 1988. Bracketing Paradoxes, Cliticization, and Other Topics. In Morphology and Modularity. Everaert, M. et al. Dordrecht, Foris.
  • Williams, E. 1981. On the notions 'Lexically Related' and 'Head of a Word'. Linguistic Inquiry 12, 245-274.