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Title:Explaining Morphosyntactic Competition
Authors:Joan Bresnan
Comment:49 page postscript file
Abstract:Explaining Morphosyntactic Competition

Joan Bresnan

February 23, 1999

Morphosyntactic markedness theory classically assumes dynamic

competition among the members of a paradigm (Jakobson 1984). In

generative grammar this kind of competition has been viewed as

morphosyntactic blocking: morpholexical forms compete for insertion

into the same syntactic position, and a more specific or featurally

complex form preempts a more general, featurally simple form (Andrews

1982, 1984, 1990; Blevins 1995; Lumsden 1992; Halle and Marantz 1993;

Bonet 1995). Though blocking has been thought to apply only to

structurally local regions of syntax (Poser 1992), in fact

morphological forms can compete with large syntactic constructions, a

property that is captured by modern constraint-based theories of

syntax (Andrews 1990, Blevins 1995, Ackerman and Webelhuth 1998).

These modern, constraint-based theories limit the contents of

competing forms by featural subsumption. An examination of

negation in several English dialects shows that a morphological form

of negation (suffixal -n't, Zwicky and Pullum 1983) is actively

competing with syntactic forms (not, no, nae), but that neither

featural subsumption nor structural size is the determinant of

blocking. In this paper I show how OT can capture both the classical

morphosyntactic blocking effects, and these cases where

syntactic forms block morphological forms and featural subsumption

fails to hold. The data come from several dialects of English,

including Scots:

1a) *I amn't your friend.

b) I amnae your friend.

2a) Amn't I your friend?

b) *Amnae I your friend?

What is most striking about the use of negation in these English dialects is

that the specific properties of the output form depend upon the other surface

forms (both morphological and syntactic) that actively compete with it, and

not on the details of the derivation of its formal structure, as in the

classical generative approach to syntax. The results are attained by letting

surface morphological and syntactic forms express the same kinds of abstract

information, as in the feature-structure representations of syntax.

Optimality Theory, incorporating a feature-logic based theory of the candidate

set, shows that small (and even externally motivated) differences in the

evaluation of surface forms of expression can have visible and unexpected

repercussions in the syntax and semantics of verbal negation and inversion.

Type:Paper/tech report
Article:Version 1