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Reviewed by:
  • Morphological complexity by Matthew Baerman, Dunstan Brown, Greville G. Corbett
  • Andrea D. Sims
Morphological complexity. By Matthew Baerman, Dunstan Brown, and Greville G. Corbett. (Cambridge studies in linguistics 153.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. vii, 188. ISBN 9781107120648. $116 (Hb).

In Morphological complexity, Matthew Baerman, Dunstan Brown, and Greville Corbett (henceforth B et al.) offer a detailed investigation of inflection class organization from a typological perspective. While the title suggests a broader scope of investigation, the book starts from the stance that inflection class organization has inherently to do with morphological complexity, since classes represent morphological structure that mediates between form and meaning, interfering with direct form-meaning correspondences and sitting at the intersection between lexicon, morphology, and syntax. Data are drawn from sixty-four geographically and genetically diverse languages, ranging from the commonly studied (e.g. German, Russian) to languages that have received significantly less attention (e.g. Santa Ana Keres, a Keresan language of New Mexico, USA; and Lavukaleve, a language spoken in New Guinea belonging to the Central Solomons family). Examples from these and other languages highlight that inflection class organization exhibits more diversity than has generally been appreciated, giving the distinct impression that there are few (but perhaps some!) inherent restrictions on how inflection class distinctions may be constituted. This by itself is a valuable contribution, although certainly not the book’s only one. Ultimately, while the book restricts its focus to typological generalizations, it should be valuable to anyone interested in knowing what kinds of inflection class systems exist in the world, whether they are typologists or formal theorists or are concerned with modeling the emergence of inflectional structure.

The book contains eight chapters. Ch. 1 (‘Introduction’) sets out the authors’ goals and establishes their philosophical positions and assumptions, for instance, the autonomy of morphology from syntax and phonology. In framing complexity in terms of the paradigmatic organization of inflection, the authors largely assume what Ackerman and Malouf (2013) label an ‘integrative-complexity’ perspective.

Ch. 2 (‘External typology of inflection classes’) examines how inflection class distinctions are realized, with the point being that classes can be constituted via affixal morphology, supraseg-mental morphology, stem alternations, and seemingly any other kind of morphological operation. The most interesting part of the chapter is the illustration that inflection class distinctions can be based partly or entirely on how allomorphs are distributed among paradigm cells (‘distributional systems’), in addition to the more familiar pattern in which classes are defined by allomorph sets.

Ch. 3 (‘Features’) shows that inflection class distinctions can be based on allomorphy in the realization of seemingly any morphosyntactic feature. The authors conclude that inflection classes ‘have multiple sources, and there is no reason to believe in any kind of systemic oversight that regulates their distribution’ (43).

Ch. 4 (‘Motivation’) starts from the observation that in the literature there is an ‘implicit assumption … that membership in one class or another is arbitrary [i.e. lexically specified and unpredictable—AS ]: the lexemes all share the same morphosyntactic paradigm, and the differences in form have no transparent explanation in terms of any other linguistic property’ (44). They show that while this can be taken as the canonical situation (in the sense of Corbett 2009), inflection class assignment may be motivated from outside of the morphology, with a ‘fluid boundary’ (61) between inflection class membership being motivated and being arbitrary. As a side benefit, the chapter also offers a particularly lucid discussion of principles for inflectional description from a crosslinguistic perspective—analytic issues that are rarely the center of attention but that deserve to be. [End Page 803]

Ch. 5 (‘Conditions on paradigms’) examines paradigm conditions, meaning generalizations about allomorphy that cross-cut inflection class structure (e.g. animacy-conditioned accusative syncretism in Russian nouns and adjectives), and offers the most systematic survey of these that I am aware of. As the authors point out, previous work has focused on paradigm conditions as a basis for merging inflection microclasses, rather than as objects of investigation. In this chapter B et al. put paradigm conditions at the center of focus.

Distinguishing between the kind of antecedent (i.e. conditioning factor) and...


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