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Default inheritance, Word Grammar morphology and French


Richard Hudson

last changed 23 March 2014

Bibliographical information

Written first in August 2012 and heavily revised in March 2014, but intended for a proposed volume arising out of a conference in Lexington, Kentucky (USA) in May 2012 on Defaults in Morphological Theory: Andrew Hippisley and Nik Gisborne (editors) Defaults in Morphological Theory (Oxford University Press). My slideshow for the conference can be found here, but is very different from this paper.


After a general introduction to the theory of Word Grammar (WG), including a discussion of why a cognitive perspective is important, the paper focuses on two issues: the theory of default inheritance, and (as an example of defaults in action) a detailed analysis of the morphosyntax of French clitics. For default inheritance (DI), there are six potential problems which the paper addresses, and solves:


  1. generality (how to generalize beyond morphology)
  2. reliability (how to ensure monotonicity)
  3. certainty (how to recognise and resolve conflicts)
  4. relevance (how to avoid inheriting irrelevant properties)
  5. economy (how to avoid storing inherited properties)
  6. ‘sensibleness’ (how to avoid silly classifications).


WG avoids or solves these problems by assuming a network structure rather than attribute-value matrices, and by restricting DI to tokens. For French clitics, the analysis takes clitics as words realized by affixes which each have a ‘hostform’, a schematic morphological structure containing ordered position slots. Each clitic has an abstract syntactically-oriented relation to its hostform (such as ‘subject’ or ‘3rd-person direct object’) which is mapped onto one of the position slots by general rules, but these general mappings vary between the default hostform, found (surprisingly) with affirmative imperatives, and the exception, found with all other verbs. According to this analysis, clitics show the same default orders as their non-clitic equivalents: subject before the verb, and direct object followed by indirect after the verb.


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