18.100, Review: Morphology, Phonology: Vegas (2005)

Fri Jan 12 05:38:34 UTC 2007

LINGUIST List: Vol-18-100. Fri Jan 12 2007. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.

Subject: 18.100, Review: Morphology, Phonology: Vegas (2005)

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Date: 12-Jan-2007
From: Alejandrina Cristia < acristia at purdue.edu >
Subject: Introducción a la morfofonología contemporánea 

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Fri, 12 Jan 2007 00:31:48
From: Alejandrina Cristia < acristia at purdue.edu >
Subject: Introducción a la morfofonología contemporánea 

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-3296.html 

AUTHOR: Vegas, Rosa Ana Martín
TITLE: Introducción a la morfofonología contemporánea
SERIES: LINCOM Handbooks in Linguistics 21
YEAR: 2005
ISBN: 3895864633

Alejandrina Cristia, Linguistics, Purdue University

The object of morphophonology is doubly complex: first, it is in nature both
phonological and morphological; second, as all linguistic phenomena, it lives in
the minds of the language users but also in the history of language itself.
Morphophonology is, therefore, a complex field, which must pay close attention
to other disciplines while attempting to develop explanations for its own phenomena.

And yet, since Kilbury (1976) there has been no attempt to summarize the history
of the contributions to the field. Further, the field has suffered from the
divorce of diachrony and synchrony, as well as a pigeon-holed view of
morphological, phonological and lexical studies.    

In this context, _Introduccion a la morfofonologia contemporanea_ embarks on a
double enterprise: to define and characterize morphophonological phenomena in
all its complexity, and to describe the history of linguistic research related
to this field. This double objective is reflected in the structure of the book,
which is divided in two chapters. 

In the first chapter there are four main sections. The Introduction briefly
presents some examples of phonological, morphological, lexical and
morphophonological alternations, and provides a working definition of
morphophonology. In the second section, the issue of how to define which
alternations may be classified as phonological, morphological,
morphophonological or lexical is addressed. The third section deals with how
phonology and morphology interact, whereas the fourth one explores the factors
and processes that attempt to account for how morphophonological alternations
arise historically and extend within the system of a language. 

The second chapter is historical, presenting a summary of research that bears on
morphophonology, starting from Panini and ending with recent empirical and
psycholinguistic studies. Special attention is donned to generative theories
addressing phonology and morphology, to the Natural Theory of Dressler (1985, et
passim) and the morphological/phonological/lexical theory of Bybee (2003, inter
alia). The final section of the second chapter argues for a model that combines
the latter two frameworks with the goal of better addressing morphophonological

Finally, the book includes an extensive bibliography, with varied and updated


The organization of the book is clear, although the inclusion of summaries at
the end of the chapters would have been useful, as would have been a thematic
and a names indices, given that theories and authors are referred to and that
the same phenomena are revisited in different sections.

As to the contents, Martin Vegas' _Introduccion a la morfofonologia
contemporanea_ stands out for the ambitiousness of its goals. It constitutes the
first attempt at a complete introduction to the history of linguistic thought
pertaining to morphophonology in three decades and, to my knowledge, the most
comprehensive such attempt in Spanish. The second chapter of the book, dealing
with the history of the field, is certainly worthy of attention for those first
learning about morphophonology. It provides an excellent starting point, as the
author manages to summarize the leading contributions, as well as the criticisms
leveled against some of them.

There are a few aspects, however, that suggest the book has conflicting
objectives. On the one hand, the author presents it as a theoretical study of
Spanish Morphophonology in the first line of the Introduction, but, judging from
the title and other statements in the Introduction, the book is also aimed at
providing an introduction to morphophonological phenomena from a current
perspective. This disconnect might have affected both chapters of the book.

For instance, the use of examples in the second, historical, chapter of the book
might have been different if the goal was to provide a critical account of
several theories. In this case, theories could have been assessed on the same
corpus, in order to determine their strengths and weaknesses. Thus, the same few
examples could have been taken up once and again within each of the frameworks
reviewed, and it could have been evaluated how each fared in terms of coverage
of data and parsimoniousness. 

Two more aspects could have been improved in this analysis of theories. For some
of the theories, it appears that the author did not take into account how they
define their object. For example, in a subsection dealing with criteria used to
classify alternations, it is said that '[e]l estructuralismo utiliza criterios
de orden formal centrados en términos como la neutralización y la alofonía; el
generativismo habla de orden de reglas, opacidad, reglas de acortamiento,
dominio de aplicación de las reglas; y la T[eoría] N[atural], de criterios
funcionales semióticos' (page 17). It will be evident, even from this short
quote, that traditional generative theory is probably inadequate for defining
morphophonology, but it could be argued that this framework does not define its
object in such a manner as to be able to deal with the complex interaction
present in morphophonological phenomena (though see Ackema and Neeleman, 2005,
for a recent discussion of how different modules may interact). 

Conversely, subsections that outline pieces of criticism leveled against a
theory are present for all theories, except the two that the author will
ultimately choose to build her own proposal upon. Indeed, if this chapter wanted
to be a critical analysis of all linguistic currents (cf. the Introduction and
the back cover), the drawbacks of these two frameworks should not have been
omitted. For instance, Dressler's Natural Theory rests on the crucial
assumption, shared by Martin Vegas (e.g., pp. 144, 207), that all linguistic
change is in the way of 'naturalness', that is, from more 'marked' to more
'unmarked' (cf. Lahiri, 2000). The consideration of alternations as always
responding to naturalness criteria has been argued against both in phonology
(Lass, 1973; Buckley, 2000) and in morphology and morphophonology (Haspelmath,
2003, 2006).

The disconnect between goals might likewise have affected the first chapter,
aimed at clearly defining phenomena that should be within the purview of
morphophonology. This chapter details the many factors (phonological,
morphological, lexical, pragmatic) that impact on language. However, if the book
were an introduction to the topic, it would have been advisable not only to
mention these factors but also to lay out pristine examples that show the
contributions and limitations of these factors and how some of them are relevant
from a diachronic perspective and not a synchronic one, or vice versa. For this
reason, it would have been advisable to determine a corpus of examples and
explain the diverse pressures they have responded to. Instead, cases that show
an interaction of these factors spread out across the text, and, in fact, the
same few examples are used in favor of different arguments, and in every
instance one feels like pointing out other factors that were left without
consideration. For instance, the example of palatalization of a preceding velar
stop by a front vowel, historically related to the English alternation
electri[k]-electri[s]ity (cf. Chomsky and Halle, 1968), recurs several times.
First, it is used to illustrate how morphophonological phenomena are both
morphologically and phonologically conditioned in section 1.2.2. Thus, the velar
stop is palatalized in _boceras_ 'big mouth', as compared to _boca_ 'mouth', and
_porcino_ 'porcine', compared to _puerco_ 'pig'; it is not palatalized, however,
in _porquero_ 'pig man'. But then one might wonder, is this really
morphologically conditioned, or is it lexically conditioned?

This case is taken up again in the second chapter, section 2.7, where it is
argued that in a case like _tabaquismo_ 'smoking', not *tabacismo, it was more
important to keep transparent the relationship with the original noun, _tabaco_
'tobacco', rather than with other nouns that also take the suffix -ismo but
undergo palatalization, as in _academicismo_ and _catolicismo_. But the same
could be said of _academicismo_: why do we use this form and not *academiquismo,
which is more transparent with respect to the lexical base? Could this be
related to the time in which the derived form was coined? And in all of these
cases, is the phonetic environment that conditions palatalization relevant
either in acquisition or in the adult's grammar? In fact, the experiments
mentioned in a footnote in section 2.8.2 may lead one to believe that
phonetically conditioned alternations with such restricted application as
palatalization of the velar here would not have any synchronic reality. But, if
so, why would less lexical transparency be tolerated in one case but not in the

The answer might lie in one of the perspectives that was not dealt with in the
book, and yet would seem highly relevant; that is, the area of sociolinguistics
(e.g. Labov, 1994, 2001, passim). No mention is made of this area of research or
of its results insofar they pertain to language change and maintenance. Instead,
a pair of forms such as _cansado - cansao_ 'tired' are dealt with as a
rate-of-speech variation, in spite of the fact that the latter is never used in
some varieties of Latin-American Spanish while the former always is and the
opposite occurs in other varieties of Iberian Spanish. If morphophonology deals
with morphologized phonological phenomena (as stated in pp. 52-3, 89, inter
alia), and this process is to be grounded on the individual's reanalysis of his
or her linguistic input (e.g. pp. 209-210), it would have been worthwhile to
incorporate a framework dealing with how these individual reanalyses become more
widespread and, in time, part of a dialect. If not, it may appear that language
is a monolithic entity, in which some processes are either lexical or
morphological, automatic or consciously chosen, for one and all speakers of the

Nonetheless, Martin Vegas' book rests as a unique contribution to linguistics
for its comprehensive coverage of many theories pertaining to and detailed
discussion of the many complexities of morphophonological processes.


Ackema, P. and Neeleman, A. (2004). Beyond morphology. Oxford: Oxford University

Buckley, E. (2000). ''On the naturalness of unnatural rules''. Proceedings from
the Second Workshop on American Indigenous Languages. UCSB Working Papers in
Linguistics, vol. 9.

Bybee, J. (2001). Phonology and Language Use. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press.

Chomsky, N. and Halle, M. (1968). Sound Pattern of English. Cambridge, USA: MIT

Dressler, W. (1985). ''On the predictiveness of Natural Morphology'', in Journal
of Linguistics, 21, pp. 321-338.

Kilbury, J. (1976). The development of morphophonemic theory. Amsterdam: John

Kiparsky P. (1982). From cyclic phonology to lexical phonology. In Harry van der
Hulst and Norval Smith (eds.), The Structure of Phonological Representations:
Part I, 131-265. Dordrecht: Foris.

Lahiri, A. (ed.) (2000). Analogy, Levelling, Markedness: Principles of Change in
Phonology and Morphology. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Labov, W. (1994). Principles of Linguistic Change. Vol. 1: Internal Factors.
Oxford, UK and Cambridge, USA: Blackwell.

Labov, W. (2001). Principles of Linguistic Change. Vol. 2: Social Factors.
Oxford, UK and Cambridge, USA: Blackwell.

Lass, R. (1973). ''How Intrinsic is Content? Markedness, Sound Change, and
'Family Universals''', in Goyvaerts, D. L. and Pullum, G. K. (Eds.) Essays on
the Sound Pattern of English. Belgium: Story-Scientia Ghent.

Haspelmath, M. (2003). ''Against Iconicity and Markedness''. Presented at
Stanford University on March 6, 2003.

Haspelmath, M. (2006). ''Against markedness (and what to replace it with)''.
Journal of Linguistics. 42: 25-70. 


Alejandrina Cristia is pursuing an MA in Linguistics at Purdue University.
Her research interests include phonology, acquisition and syntax.

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