Institut de Lingüística Aplicada

Third Mediterranean Meeting on Morphology (MMM3)


S. Lappe (University of Siegen)
English prosodic morphology: short names and y-diminutives

Being, in many languages, a fully productive morphological process which crucially relies on phonological, particularly prosodic criteria to define its shape, truncation has attracted a lot of interest in recent years (cf. e.g. McCarthy / Prince 1986, Mester 1990, Weeda 1992, Féry 1997, Scullen 1997, Wiese 1998). Specifically, truncation has become a very important test case for the research program of Prosodic Morphology (McCarthy / Prince 1986ff.). This paper is concerned with the shape of English short names and y-diminutives (e.g. Ed, Eddie < Edward; Mort, Mortie < Mortimer), testing theoretical hypotheses about the nature of the morphological process against larger amounts of data.

In many languages, truncated words exhibit an invariant shape that can be described as the minimal word (either bisyllabic or monosyllabic, depending on the language in question). A detailed survey of the patterns found in English short names shows, however, that the minimal word criterion, although a necessary restriction on the shape of the data, is by far not sufficient to describe the structure of the output. Contra to claims that this area of English morphology is 'idiosyncratic', the paper puts forward a whole range of systematic restrictions based on the systematic investigation of hundreds of short names and dozens of y-diminutives.

For example, a definition of the shape of the output solely on the basis of a minimal word criterion is not able to account for the productive formation of monosyllables: Edward, for example, is truncated to the monosyllabic foot Ed, while the bisyllabic foot, *Edwa, is ungrammatical. Furthermore, monosyllabic short names are not always simply minimal in English, but are subject to further restrictions, which, for example, call for consonant-final truncations (cf. Jude, not *Ju for Judith, although [dzu:] is a possible minimal word).

The claim that truncation involves 'further restrictions' bears important theoretical consequences for the way in which truncatory processes are to be represented in a model of Prosodic Morphology. While the minimal word pattern has traditionally been represented as a prosodically defined template that is mapped to the base (e.g. McCarthy / Prince 1988, Weeda 1992, Scullen 1997), the use of an optimality-theoretic framework in more recent analyses has led to a very interesting claim concerning the nature of the word formation process: In this view, the minimal word shape of truncations is itself the result of constraint interaction, with universal markedness constraints on prosodic structure dominating the relevant faithfulness constraints (cf. e.g. Féry 1997, Wiese 1998). This interpretation implies that the structure of truncated words is, at least in some languages, not a structure that is idiosyncratic to the word formation process, but an instance of what has been termed the emergence of the unmarked, i.e. a particularly unmarked structure (McCarthy / Prince 1995).

I will propose an analysis which shows that the shape of English short names can in fact be accounted for through constraint interaction in an optimality-theoretic framework. On the markedness side, this interaction involves the minimal word constraints proposed in earlier analyses as well as other constraints on word and syllable structure. On the faithfulness side, it will be shown that the structure of truncated names is dependent on a particular type of faithfulness constraints which results in the accumulation of prominent material in the base in a prominent position in the truncation (cf. Beckman 1998, Alber 2000).