Institut de Lingüística Aplicada

Third Mediterranean Meeting on Morphology (MMM3)


Mark Aronoff (SUNY-Stony Brook) and N. Fuhrhop (ZAS-Berlin)
Restricting suffix combinations in German and English

In both German and English, many fewer combinations of suffixes exist than should be possible, given the commonly discussed sorts of selectional restrictions. For each language we have found a previously unreported type of restriction that accounts for the missing combinations. German has CLOSING SUFFIXES which close the word that they end to further suffixation. English shows a pervasive tendency for a word to have no more than one Germanic suffix. We call this the MONOSUFFIX CONSTRAINT. Some simple examples follow.

German *Prüflingin is ungrammatical. -ling is a personal suffix: Prüf-er 'examiner', Prüf-ling 'examinee'. Since nouns that take the suffix -ling always denote males, -ling as a base should also be able to take the suffix -in which denotes females; words with other personal suffixes, like Lehrerin 'female teacher' and Wissenschaftlerin 'female scientist', are perfectly acceptable. Nonetheless, Prüflingin and any other word of the form Xlingin is impossible. Also, words like *Täuflingchen 'baptizee (diminutive)' are impossible in German. We therefore say that -ling is a closing suffix in German, and similarly -heit/ -keit/ -igkeit, -ung, -in, -eSuff and -isch.

Our research reveals a tight connection between closing suffixes and linking elements, which appear between the first and second member of a compound (e.g. Amtsrichter 'district judge', formed from Amt 'district' and Richter 'judge'). Although certain nouns like Amt are lexically marked to take a linking element after them, we have found that it is precisely the closing suffixes in German which are productively followed by linking elements in compounds. This allows us to reformulate the function of linking elements: they reopen closed stems for further morphological processes: Prüfling-s-angst 'examinee's fear'.

In English we cannot find a word *dressingless, although it should exist. -less forms adjectives from nouns, and dressing is a noun, so *dressingless should be acceptable. The putative meaning of the word is also reasonable: a salad without dressing is a *dressingless salad. But we have found a general constraint which says that only one Germanic derivational suffix is allowed in English (with the exception of -ness). This rules out Xingless and other such combinations.

The monosuffix constraint does not hold for Latinate suffixes in English, which attach to bases ending in Latinate suffixes. To a great extent, productive Latinate and Germanic suffixes in English are complementary: one set attaches almost exclusively to monomorphemic words, the other set attaches to complex words.

The monosuffix constraint has prosodic roots, yet we will show that it cannot be reduced directly to prosody, as either a constraint on rules or an output constraint. In other words, the prosodic basis has here been morphologized.

In both languages the restriction that we identify holds for inflection and for clitics: In English, a word may contain one Germanic suffix, one inflectional suffix, and one clitic. We show that the monosuffix constraint is responsible for a number of phenomena previously thought to be unrelated to each other, including the systematic ambiguity of the genitive plural form in English inflection (the spies' companion were women), the ungrammaticality of comparative and superlative forms of -ly adverbs (*quicklier, *slowliest), and the impossibility of sequences of clitics (*she's'nt).