The Evolution of Morphology

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Overview


This book considers the evolution of the grammatical structure of words in the more general contexts of human evolution and the origins of language. The consensus in many fields is that language is well designed for its purpose, and became so either through natural selection or by virtue of non-biological constraints on how language must be structured. Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy argues that in certain crucial respects language is not optimally designed. This can be seen, he suggests, in the existence of not one but two kinds of grammatical organization - syntax and morphology - and in the morphological and morpho-phonological complexity which leads to numerous departures from the one-form-one-meaning principle.

Having discussed the issue of good and bad design in a wider biological context, the author shows that conventional explanations for the nature of morphology do not work. Its poor design features arose, he argues, from two characteristics present when the ancestors of modern humans had a vocabulary but no grammar. One of these was a synonymy-avoidance expectation, while the other was an articulatory and phonological apparatus that encouraged the development of new synonyms. Morphology developed in response to these conflicting pressures.

In this stimulating and carefully argued account Professor McCarthy offers a powerful challenge to conventional views of the relationship between syntax and morphology, to the adaptationist view of language evolution, and to the notion that language in some way reflects 'laws of form'. This fundamental contribution to understanding the nature and evolution of language will be of wide interest to linguists of all theoretical persuasions as well as to scholars in cognitive science and anthropology.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy is Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He has a BA (Hons) in Literae Humaniores from Oxford and a PhD on inflectional morphology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. In 1969 he was awarded a Harkness Fellowship and from 1969 to 1972 he was in the linguistics PhD program at MIT. His books include Allomorphy in Inflexion (Croom Helm, 1987), Current Morphology (Routledge 1992), The Origins of Complex Language (OUP, 1999), and An Introduction to English Morphology (EUP 2002).

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Table of Contents

1 Design in language and design in biology 1

2 Why there is morphology : traditional accounts 15

3 A cognitive-articulatory dilemma 57

4 Modes of synonymy avoidance 81

5 The ancestors of affixes 101

6 The ancestors of stem alternants 139

7 Derivation, compounding, and lexical storage 192

8 Morphological homonymy and morphological meanings 210

9 Conclusions 223

References 236

Language index 248

Name index 249

Subject index 252

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