A Tour of Greek Morphology: Part 21

Part twenty-one of a tour through Greek inflectional morphology to help get students thinking more systematically about the word forms they see (and maybe teach a bit of general linguistics along the way).

I started this series with

I ultimately hope to cover everything that a beginner-intermediate grammar might but in a much more exploratory fashion. I’ll occasionally touch on morphological theory but I mostly want to point out phenomena in the language that students have already seen but perhaps have not thought about in any depth.

(emphasis added)

In short, the primary goal has been (and will continue to be) to take data the reader already is assumed to know and to make observations and construct relationships that the reader perhaps didn’t already realise or know. The secondary goal is to talk a little bit about linguistic theory and historical linguistics in relation to the specific phenomena being discussed.

Now that we’re finished our first pass over (particularly the endings of) the present indicatives and infinitives, I wanted to summarise a few key points we’ve touched on that are of a more conceptual nature.

  • A paradigm is a way of showing related forms next to one another for comparison. We often keep some morphosyntactic properties constant while varying others. We often but, not always, keep the lexeme constant.
  • We can look at paradigms along (at least) three dimensions: (1) we can take one lexeme’s inflection and look at what stays the same and what changes in different cells; (2) we can take a morphosyntactic property set and look at what stays the same and what changes across different lexemes; (3) we can take a subset of morphosyntactic properties and vary them while keeping the rest of the set (and the lexeme) fixed.
  • Greek rarely has a one-to-one mapping between an individual morphosyntactic property and some surface property of the inflected form.
  • There are some cells in a paradigm that are highly predictable and others than are highly predictive.
  • There are relationships between cells which are often more helpful than relationships between a cell and its underlying or historical stem.
  • The primary role of morphology is to discriminate between alternatives, not build up compositional meaning.
  • Ambiguity in morphology can be tolerated if other things (syntax, context) help disambiguate.
  • There is a big difference between looking at patterns in the surface forms and exploring the historical reasons those patterns developed. While the latter is vital for answering “why”, it is not a crucial part of language acquisition. (Native English speakers don’t acquire strong verbs by understanding how Proto-Indo-European ablaut patterns led to Germanic inflectional classes!)

As well as these conceptual points, we’ve talked about the actual endings, inflectional classes, vowel contractions, frequency effects, and which cells might be the best to use as a lemma.

We also spent time actually testing our models against the corpus data with some Python scripts and showed how that uncovered some patterns we hadn’t previously considered.

We haven’t looked at everything to do with the presents, but it’s time to move on, at least for a while, to a different part of the verbal system.

That said, if you have any questions about the previous twenty parts, or any questions you’re hoping will be answered in subsequent posts, just leave a comment (or email me if you want to ask anonymously).

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